Alcohol use disorder, formerly known as alcoholism, is an addiction to alcohol. Someone with the condition is unable to stop or control their alcohol use.
If a person is worried that someone they know has alcohol use disorder (AUD), there are ways in which they can provide support.
The help and support from partners, relatives, and friends are invaluable to a person with AUD. However, it is crucial that an individual with AUD receives professional medical help, as well.
In this article, we define AUD and identify when alcohol use becomes problematic.
We also explore how to approach and support someone with AUD, and offer self-care advice for people recovering from AUD.
The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines AUD as “a chronic relapsing brain disorder characterized by an impaired ability to stop or control alcohol use despite adverse social, occupational, or health consequences.”
It is important to acknowledge AUD as a brain disorder. It is also necessary to understand the social and psychological reasons why someone may develop AUD.
There is a lot of stigma around AUD. A person with AUD is not to blame for the disorder, however.
As with any addiction, there is a need to treat AUD as a serious health condition.
Drinking alcohol in moderation is not usually a cause for concern. However, someone can misuse alcohol and show drinking behaviors that may be problematic. These may include:
- Binge drinking: Binge drinking is when males consume more than 8 units of alcohol, and females consume more than 6 units in a single drinking session. This can have long- and short-term consequences.
- Problem drinking: This is when someone drinks to develop a different state of mind. Someone may be a problem drinker if they drink to feel happy, forget their worries, or feel confident.
Although someone with AUD may show some of these behaviors, exhibiting them does not necessarily mean someone has AUD.
The key difference between AUD and these behaviors is that AUD is an addiction. This means someone with AUD is mentally and physically dependent on alcohol.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) lists a number of symptoms for AUD. These can act as guidelines for assessing if alcohol use has become problematic. Some of these include:
- being unable to control how much alcohol is consumed
- having cravings for alcohol
- spending a lot of time seeking or using alcohol
- spending a lot of time recovering from a hangover
- experiencing relationship troubles from alcohol use
- being unable to maintain work, school, or home commitments
- having withdrawal symptoms when not drinking alcohol
If a person is worried someone they care about has AUD, they should consider the following steps.
Stage 1: Get educated on AUD
It can be challenging to provide the appropriate help and support without the right knowledge. To help someone with AUD, a friend or relative can begin by reading about AUD and the reasons it might develop.
It might also be useful to contact a healthcare professional who specializes in addiction. They may be able to provide guidance on the best ways to approach someone with AUD.
Stage 2: Research possible treatment options
The type of treatment someone may need will depend on personal circumstances, such as underlying mental health issues, current alcohol use, and any previous attempts to quit.
The American Addiction Centre (ACC) are available 24/7 to provide confidential advice regarding treatment options.
Stage 3: Pick an appropriate time and place
It is important that the conversation happens when the person a friend or relative wants to help is sober. They are best to pick a place that is private, safe, and comfortable for both parties.
Step 4: Be gentle but assertive
When dealing with someone who potentially has AUD, it is important not to blame them. It is also essential to remember that this is something they cannot control.
During the conversation, people may want to explain the effects that the person’s drinking behavior is having on themselves and others.
It is important to approach this conversation calmly. If the conversation becomes heated, it is best to end it and try again on another occasion.
It takes courage for someone to get help for AUD. This means it may take several conversations before they accept that they have a problem and need treatment.
If during the conversation, the person becomes violent or they make threats to harm themselves or others, the person with them is best calling 911.
Step 5: Intervention
If the previous steps do not work, and the person continues to drink and not seek treatment, it may be time to stage an intervention.
Staging an intervention involves a doctor or an intervention specialist approaching the person along with family and friends.
The main goal of an intervention is to help the person start treatment.
The intervention must be at an appropriate time and place. It may also be useful to rehearse the intervention with those involved prior to approaching the person with AUD.
In some cases, a person might believe someone they care about does not have AUD but still has a drinking problem. In these instances, the steps in this section may still be useful.
There are many ways someone can support a person with AUD. These include:
- Do learn about AUD: The more someone learns about AUD, the more information they have to help someone with the condition.
- Do participate in self-care: Looking after a loved one with AUD can be challenging. If someone is supporting a person with AUD, they should also make sure to take care of themselves.
- Do participate in treatment with them: If the person with AUD agrees to treatment, they may find it supportive to have someone go with them.
- Do not put blame on a person with AUD: A person with AUD cannot control their alcohol use, and for that reason, it is not fair to make them feel guilty.
- Do not enable a person with AUD: While people may think they are being supportive, they may instead encourage drinking behavior by enabling a person with AUD to access alcohol.
If someone has AUD, they must not blame themselves for the condition. However, they may want to try and understand how their actions might be affecting those they care about.
People with AUD may have a history of self-neglect. This neglect is why self-care while recovering from AUD is essential. There are a few ways to do this:
- Support network: It is vital to have people around who do not enable alcohol use but provide support and encouragement during recovery.
- Set boundaries: During recovery, setting boundaries about who to spend time with and where to go may help avoid situations that could lead to relapse.
- New hobbies: Trying to find new sources of enjoyment can be a distraction. A new hobby can be a fun way to learn new skills.
- Exercise: Exercise can provide many mental and physical health benefits. A systematic review found that exercise might be useful alongside AUD treatment.
If someone wants to learn more about AUD or they needs to seek help for AUD, there are organizations that can help:
- Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)
- American Addiction Centers
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
People can also make contact with an AUD counselor who is local to their area and can provide therapy and support.
AUD is a serious condition where someone is unable to control their use and consumption of alcohol. AUD is different to binge and problem drinking as it is an addiction and is a formal diagnosis that experts base on a set of symptoms.
When approaching someone with AUD or a drinking problem, it is important to do research and approach them calmly at an appropriate time and place. If this conversation does not work, it may be necessary to stage an intervention with the support of a professional or others.
If someone is helping a person with AUD, they must be mindful not to enable drinking behavior. During AUD recovery, a person should focus on taking care of themselves and engaging in positive self-care behaviors.