These days a drink goes hand-in-hand with a good time (let’s face it, a glass of vino is pretty much a must for Netflix binges with your roommates) — nothing wrong with that. But when alcohol becomes the fifth wheel at every event, there might be reason to worry. About 16.6 million U.S. adults aged 18 and older reported an alcohol use disorder in 2013, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, and the warning signs of alcohol dependency might not be as easy to recognize as you think. From the social weekend drinkers to the high-functioning dependents, those dealing with an AUD come in all forms. If you’re concerned there’s a reason to worry, our expert offers some advice on recognizing the early signs of alcoholism and how you can get your roommate on the right track again.
Where Do You Start?
It’s important to remember that a bit of positivity can go a long way in working with your roommate, and that goes double for when they’re going through something serious.
“Many people in the beginning stages of dependency or alcoholism will resist the suggestion that they may have a problem severe enough to have to quit,” says Caitlin Padgett, a holistic health coach specializing in alcohol addiction, and author of ‘Drink Less, Be More.’
“You want your roommate to feel that they can keep talking to you, but admitting to a problem with alcohol can be challenging.”
Some Symptoms to Look For
- Has drinking become more important than your roommate’s responsibilities and pastimes?
- Do they need an increasing amount of alcohol to be satisfied or “have fun”?
- Do they have trouble stopping at just one drink?
- Do they make excuses for drinking, and seem defensive about the subject, regardless of whether it’s broached?
- Do they obsess over keeping “enough” alcohol around? (Do they anticipate local liquor stores hours to avoid running out after it closes?)
- When they drink, do they lose things, hurt people, or put themselves in danger, but continue to drink?
- Do they mention wanting to cut back, but seem depressed or unable to sleep when they don’t drink and return to drinking to relieve these symptoms?
Helping Your Roommate
If your roommate is showing signs of an alcohol dependency, the good news is, you’ve spotted it. Th better news is there are a lot of ways you can help. Broaching the subject may be met with a variety of defensive excuses, but Padgett emphasizes the importance of genuine concern, non-judgment and offering support.
“The minute someone feels judged, they will be on the defensive,” she adds.
It’s easy to fall into a negative approach if you’re scared or worried about someone important to you, but the key is to stay positive. Start by waiting for the right moment, preferably when they’re sober and in a good mind-set. Prepare “I statements” and helpful resources, and consider alternative suggestions and strategies for their habits. Remember to keep it positive and judgement free, and if they fall back into the same habits afterwards, try not to let it frustrate you.
“Try not to judge their behavior or consequences, or get frustrated if they repeat the same patterns,” Padgett advises.
Some Ways to Break the Ice:
- Point out they could just cut back. Try something like: “I’m starting to feel worried for you — it seems like you’re really struggling with your hangovers and it’s affecting your work.”
- Suggest helpful materials. You can say: “I was reading an article the other day on how to cut back on drinking, I could pass it along if you’re interested. I thought it was interesting because it gave you strategies that you can use so that you don’t necessarily have to quit.”
- Redirect their invitations to drink. Try responding: “Thanks, but I’m feeling like a bike ride. Want to come?”
- Express genuine concern. Make sure to wait until they’re sober to bring it up, but you can say: “I really care about you, and I’m actually quite worried about your safety when you drink.”
Though it might be difficult to get through them at first, if they see how important it is to you, it might begin their process of realizing they need to seek help. Be an open ear and a source of support. A great place to start is Al-Anon Family Groups, a support group for friends and family of alcoholics. For general information on substance abuse, you can also visit the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism website. And finally, when your roommate decides they have a problem and want help, Alcoholics Anonymous offers a range of literature and support. Ultimately, anyone suffering from alcohol dependency needs to seek help on their own terms, but with the right support from those closest, they can find the courage they need to reach out.
Have you ever helped someone get through an alcohol dependency? Share your story below.