How to Live with an Alcoholic in Recovery
Alcoholism affects all members of a family. When you live with an alcoholic, the day he or she decides to get sober is a day that you probably feel extremely relieved. You may wish that from this point on, everything will get back to normal, as if alcoholism never touched your relationship or your family.
Many people who have been through the recovery of a loved on know that it’s not quite that simple. Alcoholism is a disease that develops gradually, usually over the course of several years. Recovering from the hold that alcohol has on a person takes effort and commitment, and at times is anything but easy.
Educate Yourself About Alcoholism
Alcoholism is a complicated illness, and learning as much as you can about alcoholism and the actions needed for recovery can help you face what is ahead. Learning about the illness helps you to understand that a person with a substance use disorder does not choose to continually keep drinking in spite of negative consequences. The compulsion to drink is beyond their control.
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Understanding as much as you can about alcoholism and the recovery process will help you to be a source of support to your loved one. It will also help you to be less reactive if the alcoholic experiences mood swings or experiences the urge to drink.
Allow the Alcoholic to Communicate Their Needs
Different people need different things from their loved ones as they begin their journey of recovery. While some alcoholics welcome their loved ones participating in meetings and support groups, others may feel that they need space or distance as they try to learn about their disease and what they need to do to learn to lead a comfortable life of sobriety.
Don’t try to dictate how many meetings your loved one needs to go to or insist that you are going to attend meetings if he or she isn’t comfortable with that. Let the recovering alcoholic communicate their needs.
Be Prepared for Turbulent Ups and Downs
People who turn to alcohol or other substances often do so to escape from painful emotions. There’s a good chance the alcoholic has been numbing their feelings for quite a while, and once alcohol is no longer silencing their emotions, emotional turbulence may hit with a vengeance.
When you live with an alcoholic in early recovery, you are likely to be confused and hurt by the intensity of their emotions. Try to stay calm and don’t take these emotions personally. Family therapy may help everyone involved learn to listen and communicate in healthier ways.
Take Care of Yourself
Alcoholism affects just about everyone it touches. Although you may be tempted to monitor and focus on the recovery of the alcoholic, you have your own recovery journey to focus on. The urge to focus on the behavior of someone else who is dependent on a substance is called codependency.
When the alcoholic was drinking, you may have behaved as if you were insane, calling bars to track him or her down, crying, pleading, begging or screaming at the alcoholic. Your own emotions probably became raw and volatile. Now that he or she is sober, you may still feel anxious or fearful. The fact that they are sober doesn’t change the fact that you have been deeply impacted by what has happened.
Support groups such as Al-Anon or Codependents Anonymous can teach you the skills you need to learn to put the focus back on yourself. They can also help you to avoid enabling or even encouraging the alcoholic to give in to the urge to drink.
A Continuing Journey of Recovery
Recovery is not a destination; it is a journey. A recovering alcoholic may need to spend more time with other people in recovery groups than with their family for a period of time. They may go through many different emotions and changes.
Living with an alcoholic in recovery requires you to allow the alcoholic to make their own choices as they learn to be sober. Be as supportive as you can, and keep in mind that the alcoholic is not cured. Relapse is possible, but even if that happens, there is still hope of continuing the recovery journey.
If you or a loved one are struggling with alcoholism, please call us at (866) 339-3544 or submit the form below to learn more about our alcohol addiction treatment programs in Los Angeles.
Since 2004, Lori has worked with the behavioral health treatment community to bring awareness about mental health disorders and evidence-based treatments. Lori strives to help people better understand mental illness and provide support to those needing help and their families. As a mental health advocate, Lori works to be a voice for those suffering from substance abuse, dual diagnosis, borderline personality disorder, depression, anxiety, trauma, or any other disorder.