April is Alcohol Awareness Month, a time when we pause to reflect on alcohol as a substance, our relationship with it, and learn how to help ourselves or others who may be struggling with it. As a mental health clinician who helps people find recovery and hope after living with substance use disorder, I am thankful for this observance. It gives us a chance to evaluate the role that alcohol plays in our lives, so we can live the healthiest version of our life as possible.
Our Relationship with Alcohol
Everyone in America has a relationship with alcohol - be it direct or indirect. This relationship is framed around whether we choose to drink, choose not to drink, know somebody who drinks, know somebody who drinks too much, or know somebody who makes a point to abstain from alcohol use. Everyone has their opinions and thoughts as it relates to alcohol use – it’s unavoidable. Yet interestingly enough, alcohol and its effects are topics we often avoid talking about.
The Dichotomy of Alcohol Use
The subject of alcohol use is tricky because not everyone is predisposed to alcoholism, yet an unhealthy relationship with alcohol can happen to anyone. There’s not a one size fits all for alcoholism. And while some people can drink socially in ways that don’t impact their ability to manage their life, alcohol is a substance that can wreak havoc on anyone’s physical health.
Risks that Increase with Alcohol Use
When we think of risks related to alcohol use, our thoughts may naturally gravitate toward cirrhosis and DUIs. But there are other increased risks related to alcohol use that are often overlooked.
- Alcohol-related accidents
- Alcohol poisoning
- Unsafe sexual behavior
- Late-stage liver failure at an early age
- Difficulty managing conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, etc.
- Heart conditions
- Assault charges
- Domestic violence
- Sleep disorders
The social acceptability of alcohol makes it easy to minimize the impact that alcohol use can have on our overall wellness. In fact, alcohol can be particularly harmful because it seems harmless.
When evaluating whether a relationship with alcohol has become harmful, the first step is to look at alcohol’s impact on our ability to maintain balance in our life (relationships/work/self-care etc.) If you wonder about whether your relationship with alcohol is negatively impacting your life, the first thing to consider is how alcohol use impacts your ability to function.
Is your alcohol use affecting your relationships?
- Have other people said something to you about your alcohol use?
- Have people said they don’t want to be around you when you’re drinking?
- Is alcohol affecting your ability to connect with your loved ones in the same way?
- Are issues in your relationships exacerbated by your alcohol use?
Is your alcohol use affecting your work?
- Are you going to work more tired or worn out?
- Are you going to work hungover?
- Are you missing work due to alcohol use?
- Are you drinking before or during work?
Is your alcohol use impacting your ability to function overall?
- Are you drinking to avoid difficult emotions or uncomfortable feelings?
- Are you having cravings for alcohol?
- Are you hiding your alcohol use?
- Are you using alcohol to function?
If you think you might have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol, it’s okay to want to stop at whatever level you are at right now. There is no rule that says you must drink alcohol at any point in your life. You have the right to say no, just because.
Out of Sight, Out of Mind… or Not
For those who haven an unhealthy relationship with alcohol, it can be a particularly difficult battle to fight because of alcohol's prevalence in our culture and ease of access. There is social pressure to drink in many situations. Alcohol is in our grocery stores, convenience stores, restaurants, and movie theatres. You don’t have to look far to find a liquor store in your neighborhood - and when you do, the storefronts are bright with big blinking signs shouting “LIQUOR.” In recent years, the Colorado craft brewing culture has helped to push alcohol use more mainstream. It’s not unusual for professional networking activities to offer opportunities for alcohol use. And our college towns experience people drinking at young ages, yet often write it off as nothing more than a typical party phase. The challenge is that the line between party phase and alcoholism is different for everyone and can be crossed at any time. The slippery slope into alcohol misuse is very real.
Loving Someone Living with Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)
It can be difficult to talk about alcohol use with someone who has an unhealthy relationship with drinking. Years ago, we believed that tough love and harsh treatment methods were the only way for people to find recovery. We know now that forced methods rarely result in a lasting recovery. But then, if you are extra compassionate, are you enabling? It can be very overwhelming and confusing for a person who has a loved one that is misusing alcohol.
When loving someone with an alcohol use disorder, the point is to plant the seed. There are a lot of feelings that come with worrying about someone’s alcohol use. And that means there is no right or wrong way to love an alcoholic.
The goal is to:
- Be authentic about your feelings.
- Share what you are perceiving from the outside looking in.
- Explain why you are concerned.
- Communicate your love for them.
Hope and Recovery
Just as alcohol use disorder is on a spectrum, so is recovery. Healing is possible when people connect with support that renews hope and acknowledges that recovery looks different for everyone.
North Range’s evidence-based treatment programs are designed with flexibility to include both traditional and modern approaches to care, which combine to help each patient reach their maximum potential for a lasting outcome of recovery and overall wellness.
There are resources and supportive tools that function as bridges to help people find their way.
Struggling with Alcohol Use? North Range Can Help.
Visit NorthRange.org or call 970.347.2120 to learn more.