Alcoholism can devastate a family in many ways. A death caused by alcohol abuse is likely one of the most traumatic events family members will ever face. Regardless of how your loved one’s drinking affected your relationship, losing them is heartbreaking. You may feel guilty or blame yourself for not doing or saying the one magical thing that might have changed the course of someone’s life.
During this challenging time, it’s important to remember that you can’t control someone else’s recovery no matter how badly you may want to. Addiction is a multi-layered disease that too frequently leads to death.
Alcohol-Related Deaths in the U.S.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, every day in the U.S., there are 261 alcohol deaths. It’s estimated that approximately half of all alcohol-attributed deaths are due to the effects of long-term drinking. The fact that alcohol-related deaths are the leading cause of preventable deaths in our country makes it even more tragic. Coping with the death of a loved one is always tricky, but when their passing is preventable, it is even more painful to deal with.
Concerns about driving while drunk or dying from alcohol poisoning are valid. Car crashes and binge drinking are both methods that can take a life. However, there are several life-threatening health conditions related to alcoholism that most people don’t consider.
Alcohol is classified as a carcinogen, a substance that increases your risk of cancer. People who drink heavily are at a higher risk of developing liver, stomach, throat, and esophagus cancer. Some studies suggest there may also be a link between alcohol and some types of breast cancer.
The liver has the job of metabolizing everything we put into our bodies. If the liver cannot filter blood, the rest of the organs will eventually begin to fail. Alcohol inflames the liver and can cause scarring, both of which affect the organ’s ability to do its job. Long-term alcohol abuse can lead to cirrhosis or hepatitis.
Cirrhosis is a slow-growing disease, and many people don’t realize they have a problem until the disease has caused severe damage.
Heavy drinking takes a serious toll on the drinker’s heart health that can lead to long-term health issues. It increases blood pressure which can lead to a heart attack or stroke. Excessive alcohol use also increases the risk of obesity and increases a person’s risk for diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, and heart disease.
Alcohol consumption is linked to lethal violence. Nearly half of all people convicted for homicide were under the influence of alcohol when they committed the crime. Drinking increases your risk of dying under violent circumstances because it negatively impacts decision-making and sometimes even prompts aggression or violence by disrupting normal brain function.
People struggling with drug or alcohol addiction are more likely to suffer from a mental health disorder than those who are not. The combination of alcoholism and depression can be lethal. Even a moderate alcohol use disorder increases the risk of suicide. Some people turn to alcohol to relieve feelings of depression which may work temporarily. But alcohol is a depressant that makes mental health disorders more dangerous in the long run.
If you or someone you love drinks excessively, maintaining regular health care is vital. Even if they are not yet ready to quit drinking, keeping up with check-ups, including a mental health evaluation, could improve their overall condition and give them more time to embrace recovery.
Support for Families of Alcoholics
All humans share a similar grieving process no matter what causes their loved one’s death. The friends and family members of someone who died from alcoholism or substance abuse are no different. Experts divide the process of grief into five basic stages.
Denial is usually considered the first stage of grief because it can be difficult for the brain to accept the reality of death. You may have just seen your loved one days or even hours before they died. It is normal to respond in disbelief when you hear of their death.
Anger can be a complicated thing to process when you have lost a loved one to addiction. You may feel angry towards the person who has died or angry at others—including yourself—who you blame for not doing enough to help them.
Bargaining is a way we try to control the situation in our heads. Thoughts like “If I had done something sooner” or “If I had forced her into rehab” are our mind’s way to try and make sense of a situation that is too painful to understand.
Once you begin to realize the loss is real and there’s nothing you can do to change things, it is normal to feel depressed. Losing a loved one to drugs or alcohol feels especially senseless and pointless.
Accepting the loss doesn’t mean the grieving process is over; it simply means you have come to a place of accepting that the tragedy happened, and you must move on. This can be extremely difficult for families coping with alcohol-related deaths. But, eventually, you will come to accept that there was nothing you could have done to change the outcome.
It’s important to note that grief doesn’t happen in a straight line. It is completely normal to feel angry one moment, depressed the next, and back to denial by the end of the day.
Grief has no timeline, but if you feel “stuck” in any one stage so long that it affects your well-being, reach out for help.
Therapy and Support Groups for Families of Alcoholics
You are not alone in your grief. Alcohol deaths affect thousands of families every year. The family members or your loved one are going through the same stages of grief and experiencing the same uncomfortable feelings. Whether you are feeling anger, sadness, guilt, or relief, other people in your situation have felt the very same things.
If possible, reach out to the other important people in your loved one’s life. This can sometimes be difficult when death is caused by addiction. It is not unusual for families of alcoholics to be dysfunctional, already torn apart by blame, guilt, and anger even before their loved one’s passing.
There are many support groups to help people cope with loss, and some specialize in providing support for families of alcoholics.
Finding Support Groups for Families of Alcoholics
There are many types of support groups for families of alcoholics that can help you cope with the loss of a loved one. If you’re uncertain where to find support in your area, contact a nearby 12-Step program or a treatment center for local information. Search for the following support groups online to find meetings close to you:
● Families Anonymous (a 12-Step program)
● CoDependents Anonymous (a 12-Step program)
● Adult Children of Alcoholics (a 12-Step program)
● Al-Anon (a 12-Step program)
● Al-Teen (a 12-Step program)
● Parents of Addicted Loved Ones (PAL)
● Grief Share (online support)
● Hospice Foundation of America
If you can’t find a support group specific to alcohol deaths or prefer private counseling, contact a mental health clinic to speak with a therapist. Online therapy is also available. You don’t have to suffer in your grief alone. The feelings involved with losing a loved one to addiction are complex. You deserve a safe, supportive, welcoming place where you can explore all the emotions that come up during this difficult time.
Preventing Alcohol Deaths
There is only one way to prevent alcohol deaths: for the person with alcohol use disorder to enter treatment. Family members must take care of themselves no matter what the alcoholic decides to do. Understanding more about treatment and recovery will help. Participating in family treatment also offers many benefits and helps family members learn to stay healthy when dealing with an addict.
Will Intervention Help?
Interventions can be successful in getting someone into a treatment facility. As with court-mandated rehab, being forced into treatment can still have positive results for a person with substance use problems. However, family members need to remember that they can’t control someone else’s recovery. Hosting an intervention could provide the push an addict needs to accept help. What they do with that help is up to them.
Find Help at Indiana Center for Recovery
If you are concerned about your own health or are worried that a loved one is at risk of dying from alcoholism, call for information about our detox and treatment programs. We can provide more details about the intervention process and connect you with a treatment specialist who can help. Our family programs give all family members new tools and techniques to improve their family life independent of the choices made by a family member with alcoholism.
If you have lost someone to alcoholism or drug abuse, our hearts go out to you and your family. Contact us to find help for families of alcoholics, such as support groups, family therapists, or private therapy options that can help you heal from this painful tragedy.