There are tons of articles out there that discuss the signs you have a drinking problem, or the signs you’re alcohol dependent, or signs you might need to take a break from drinking. What we need more of, however, are articles that guide problem drinkers towards a solution, and help people to become less dependent on alcohol. It’s crucial to support those struggling with an unhealthy or toxic relationship with alcohol. If you know someone who needs help or needs to recognize their problem, send them this article. We need to push each other, fight for each other and help each other get help. Here are 4 things you can do if you or a loved one has developed a problematic relationship with alcohol:
1. Seek medical and professional support
Talk to your doctor, especially if you have been drinking very heavily. Sudden detox from alcohol and the accompanying alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be dangerous for very heavy drinkers. You may need medical supervision, such as staying in a detox centre for a few days. It would also be beneficial to speak to a trained mental health professional such as a psychiatrist or psychologist to better understand the function alcohol served for you.
2. Modify your environment to support behaviour change, and get rid of all alcohol in your home
If you live with others who drink, ask them to keep alcohol somewhere out of your sight and preferably inaccessible to you. Find a non-alcoholic beverage you enjoy that you can keep stocked to reach for when you have a craving. One individual I knew quite well bought cases of club soda to replace beer- they gave him the similar experience of grabbing a cold can and clicking back the tab. Part of what makes habit change difficult is the loss of ingrained, familiar, and comforting rituals. However, willpower must be practiced and exercised in order for it to work. It won’t be easy at first, but eventually you can break out of your habits.
Make it easier on yourself by creating replacement rituals. Even if your replacement ritual has some negative effects (such as choosing a sugary soda as a substitute for alcohol), it will at least be better in the short-term as a transitional step. Alcohol turns to sugar in your body, so it is common to crave sweet foods and beverages in the early stages of alcohol detox. Be patient with and kind to yourself as you make progress towards healthier options. You’ll get there.
3. Remember you are not alone: alcoholism or substance abuse is a common ailment
There are many people out there who have gone through what you are going through and can help you, such as 12-step groups which are all over the world. Find people who can relate to your experiences and share what worked for them to get better. If it helps you, you can also think about celebrities, athletes, and other role models who are sober – there are many of them out there!
4. Reach out to your support network: tell your loved ones that you are working on reducing or quitting drinking
The good people in your life will not reject you. If they get defensive, it is probably more about their own issues with drinking than with you. Your friends and family can support you by doing new activities with you that don’t revolve around alcohol, and just by being there to support you. They’ll also help by being someone you can be accountable to.
You may have related to some or all of the above warning signs and found yourself thinking the “yeah, but” thoughts. “Yeah, but all of my friends do that” or “Yeah, but that’s normal” or “Yeah, but I’ve been doing that for years and I haven’t lost my job or anything so it can’t be that bad.” These thoughts are part of the mechanism of denial that protects us from facing uncomfortable truths. It can be hard to admit you have a problem, especially when you are unsure or ambivalent about your readiness to change. The idea of making changes or abstaining from alcohol might give you a lot of anxiety.
If you have the inkling that you might have a problem, you will be doing yourself (and your loved ones) a favour by looking into it and getting support sooner rather than later. You may not be at full-blown alcoholism yet, but if it looks like that is the direction you are heading in you can do something to change it now. You don’t have to ride the garbage truck all the way to the dump. You can get off now by admitting you might have a problem, telling those you trust, and looking into an alcohol detox program. You’re not alone, and you’ll improve so much as an individual if you face the problem instead of ignoring it.