Counseling Center
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Does someone you care about have a drinking problem?


Jeanne Keahon, LMSW ACSW

"When he drinks, he gets way out of control, We don't know what to do about it."

"I worry that she's going to get hurt, her personality changes when she drinks, you can't reason with her. Someday she's going to go home with the wrong guy."

"He's going to fail out if he doesn't cut down on his drinking, I know he's missing his classes."

You might be a partner, family member or a friend. Whatever the relationship, a problem drinker's behavior can be a great source of worry. Eventually your worry and concern about the drinker begins to impact on your life.

You are not alone if you think you need help. Many students seek counseling to address their concerns about someone else's drinking. They have begun to realize and accept that there is a problem and it is out of their control. Many attempts to limit the drinking or control the drinker's behavior have failed. They ask, "How can I help?" Often they find they need help themselves because of the impact on their own lives.

According to addiction experts, the first step is recognizing and accepting that there is a problem. Unfortunately everyone around the drinker reaches this step before the drinker. Family and friends begin to identify how the drinking impacts on them. Partners complain of a range of emotional problems from mild anxiety to depression. In addition to the emotional strain, there may be relationship conflicts with friends, family and community. There may even be encounters with law enforcement. They feel frustrated and powerless.

If you are one of the lucky ones, you will seek help from a counselor or support group before losing yourself in the problem. People experienced with addictions know how easy it is to slip into a care-taking or rescuing role when closely involved with a problem drinker. A counselor can help you understand the dynamics of addiction and help you to realize what helps and what doesn't. The terms "enabling" and "detachment" will be introduced. The initial goal would be to help you sort out what is your responsibility and what is the drinker's responsibility, and to hold the drinker accountable for his or her own behavior. This is easier said than done.

How close you are to the drinker, and how long you have shared your relationship, can make "detachment" difficult. Coping patterns such as controlling, blaming and manipulating the drinker might be well established. Finding alternate ways of coping takes time, skill, and trust in your counselor. Slogans borrowed from AA can keep you on track when the going gets rough. "One day at a time" and "First things first" can help you with the problem of obsessive worry. If you are closely involved with a problem drinker, it is likely that you have become an expert worrier. You have the amazing ability to look into the future, anticipate catastrophes and develop a contingency plan. This coping pattern can be exhausting and is usually ineffective, but provides the comforting illusion that progress is being made. Many students report problems with concentration and memory. Their preoccupation with the problem drinker makes them tired and emotionally worn out which begins to impact on their academic performance.

Probably the most important thing to remember about someone else's drinking is that, you didn't cause it, you can't control it and you can't cure it. Many close friends and relatives affected by someone else's drinking, feel guilty and ashamed. They often feel responsible for the problem drinker's behavior. This is especially so, because the problem drinker rarely accepts responsibility for his or her behavior, and will often attribute their difficulties to other causes.

"Letting go" is another helpful slogan. The phrase is a reminder to let the problem drinker experience the consequences of his or her drinking. This is where a professional counselor can be a great support. Establishing your own boundaries and limits, will help you to avoid "enabling" behavior, when the problem drinker asks you to make excuses or bail him or her out of trouble. "Letting go" is also a reminder to keep the focus on yourself and avoid trying to control someone else's drinking while letting them know how their problem impacts on you and suggesting where they can get appropriate help.

As you put into practice some of the concepts mentioned, you might find that the problem drinker's problems seem to escalate. This might be an effort to re-engage you in old familiar enabling behaviors and sometimes it's a natural course of events with an untreated drinking problem. A counselor can help you get a handle on your life, avoid self blame and feel better about yourself whether the person you care about continues to drink or not.

If you would like more information about these issues, please contact Jeanne Keahon or Brandon Roman (AOD Counselor) at the Counseling Center.

Here are some websites that provide resources for children of alcoholics or drug addicts:
Adult Children of Alcoholics
The Awareness Center Resources for Adult Children of Alcoholics
Al-Anon/Alateen website
There are also books in our recommended readings page that may be helpful.