Living With An Alcoholic: How To Support And Not Enable

Living with an alcoholic is a common reality for many Americans. Around 15 million people in the United States, ages 12 and over, suffer from Alcohol Abuse Disorder (AUD) annually. In Pennsylvania, alcohol abuse is a factor in nearly 4,000 deaths a year. It also costs the state billions, on average—8.3 in 2006—due to loss of workplace productivity, healthcare costs, and crime. 

Despite how many people are going through life with an alcoholic, it can be challenging to know what to do when your loved one is experiencing alcohol addiction. If you’re wondering how do you live with an alcoholic, there are a few different ways to cope. 

What Is An Alcoholic?

First, an alcoholic is someone who struggles with an intense need to consume alcohol. Their preoccupation with alcohol often leads to problems in their personal life, at work or school, or with their loved ones. If you’re unsure if you’re living with an alcoholic, here are some common signs that someone is suffering from AUD:

  • They are constantly drunk or hungover
  • Hiding bottles of alcohol or their drinking
  • Having an unusually high tolerance when they drink
  • When they stop drinking, they experience withdrawals
  • Regardless of the consequences, they drink consistently
  • They appear to be unable to control or stop their drinking
  • Alcohol has begun to affect their work or school performance
  • They have a lack of interest in situations that don’t involve alcohol

An alcoholic’s obsession with alcohol goes beyond the norm as they prioritize drinking over their physical and mental wellbeing. For instance, many alcoholics neglect basic health-related activities such as healthy meals or taking care of their hygiene.

Coping with an alcoholic can be difficult as AUD is a progressive disease that gets worse over time. Without treatment, alcoholics are often unable to stop drinking and prone to relapse. If you’re living with an alcoholic, there are many unintended consequences of alcoholism. These include:

  • Neglect of chores, responsibilities, or obligations 
  • Risk of violence or abusive behavior while the alcoholic is intoxicated
  • Increased risk of health-related issues such as cancers and various diseases

Many of the effects of alcoholism impact the people closest to the alcoholic. Subsequently, this means that the people they live with are usually impacted the most. It’s important to mitigate the consequences of your loved one’s behavior by refraining from any enabling behavior.

What Is Enabling An Alcoholic?

Enabling is when someone in an addict’s life behaves in a way that supports their addiction. As opposed to helping an addict overcome addiction, enabling allows them to ignore their addiction and how it affects their life or the people around them. Enabling can take many forms, including:

  • Lying on their behalf
  • Rationalizing toxic behavior 
  • Making excuses for the addict’s behavior
  • Downplaying their addiction or how it affects you
  • Letting them refuse to take responsibility for their actions

When living with an alcoholic, it’s imperative to avoid enabling behaviors. Moreover, it’s important to note that providing someone with food and shelter is not enabling. Enabling goes deeper to prevent them from facing the truth about their alcohol use: that it’s gone beyond casual drinking and developed into a life-altering disease.  

Living With An Alcoholic: What Not To Do

While treatment is required for addicts to overcome their addictions, there are a host of actions you should avoid when living with an alcoholic. If you’re wondering how do you live with an alcoholic, here are a few things to avoid:

  • Refrain from personally funding their addiction
  • Avoid taking full responsibility for them getting well
  • Do not be afraid to set boundaries or issue ultimatums
  • Avoid suffering alone, in silence, or avoiding the problem
  • Don’t tolerate abuse, violence, bad behavior, or aggression 
  • Don’t put yourself in the position of nursemaid to the alcoholic
  • When consequences arise, do not save them from facing them 

Coping with an alcoholic, especially once you live with, is not an easy accomplishment. Avoiding enabling behaviors may be difficult, but beneficial in the long run as it can help shorten the amount of time between active addiction and life-saving recovery treatment. 

Living With An Alcoholic: What To Do

Not only does AUD affect the alcoholic, their friends, family, and loved ones suffer as well. For those living under the same roof as an alcoholic, it’s important to take a constructive approach to the addict’s condition. 

In addition to avoiding certain actions, there are many things you should do when living with an alcoholic, such as: 

  • Implement boundaries 
  • Educate yourself and the addict on alcohol addiction 
  • Remove yourself if you feel overwhelmed or threatened 
  • Ensure your safety and the safety of children in the home
  • Be honest about how their alcoholism affects you and others
  • Acknowledge when the addict lies, breaks promises or avoids obligations

Taking care of yourself instead of your loved one may not seem important, but without focusing on yourself you won’t be able to help them in constructive ways. Above all, meeting your own needs is a critical part of coping with an alcoholic in your life. 

Coping With An Alcoholic

Coping is when you use strategies to overcome stress, unpleasant emotions, or triggering stimuli. If you’re living with an alcoholic, some of the best ways to cope include:

  • Practicing self-care: It can be hard to focus on taking care of yourself when someone else’s needs seem more important. Neglecting your health and wellbeing, though, prevents you from showing up as your best self in this difficult situation. 
  • Seeking support: Support from family and friends is an invaluable tool to mitigate the alienating aspects of living with an alcoholic. No one has to go through addiction or live with an addict alone. 
  • Try a support group: There are many support groups for those suffering from alcoholism or those who are living with an alcoholic parent or partner. These groups are a great way to receive support that may not be present at home or in general. They can also provide different ways to cope with the challenges brought on by AUD. 
  • Go to therapy: Therapy provides a safe space to talk about the emotions and stress that AUD causes. Family therapy may help the alcoholic in your life realize they have a problem with alcohol abuse or need treatment. 

Having different strategies to cope is essential when living with an alcoholic. What works one day may not work the next as AUD develops and your loved one’s symptoms change. Therefore, with a robust coping strategy toolkit, you’ll be prepared for the challenges that come with living with an alcoholic. 

What To Do If You Live With An Alcoholic

Living with an alcoholic is difficult. Getting help doesn’t have to be. If you or a loved one suffers from an alcohol use disorder, luckily there are resources out there including this guide. Contact us today, at Little Creek Recovery, for immediate and confidential help and advice.


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