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  • Q&A with Australian Health Practitioners

    How do I help someone who is on antidepressants and drinks excessive alcohol?

    Concern for a family member who i know is on a high dose of medication for depression, and is also drinking quite a lot at home each night. Her young children are getting very worried and scared for her.
    We all love her dearly but she is very strong willed and hard to aproach at times.
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    My research interests include immunology and the mechanisms of amyloid formation. The latter has implications for people who are dealing with Alzheimer's Disease, Parkinson's Disease … View Profile

    It depends on the details of the relationship between you and your family member.

    You could try to explain to her that alcohol is, in a pharmacological sense, a depressant.

    Therefore, taking two drugs (alcohol and an antidepressant) which “fight against each other” is not a good idea.

  • I have been working in Eltham, Melbourne as a relationship and family counsellor for over twelve years. I draw on current theory and research about … View Profile

    This is concerning - you may also be worried about your family member's ability to care for her young children if she is drinking quite a lot. Although I understand it may be difficult to approach her if she is defensive, it may be helpful to let her know that you are worried about the effect on her kids of her choice to cope through drinking excessively. It's hard, when we're struggling, to know about the impact of our behaviour on those we care most about, however it can be a motivator to getting help. I would then perhaps suggest that your family member may need more help that she is currently accessing to treat her depression. Simon is right - any benefits that medication may achieve would be undone by drinking, Your family member may need counselling support in addition to medical treatment to help develop more useful coping strategies for managing her depression, as well as exploring what the depression is about and making sense of it.

  • Renee Mill

    Clinical Psychologist, Psychologist

    Empowering people is my passion and life work. I have been working as a Clinical Psychologist in private practice for over thirty years. I have … View Profile

    The first step is to speak calmly and rationally to this family member who I will call the "identified patient". Explain what you are seeing and why you are worried.

    My experience is that it is always difficult to get through to the patient. One reason for this is that the patient knows she is "wrong" and becomes defensive. Also, she may feel helpless to change and, when you point out her "bad behaviour", (which is how she hears it), she feels worse about herself.

    I am very positive about 12 twelve step programs. Al-Anon was started by family members of alcoholics who felt powerless to stop their patient from drinking excessively. I recommend that you attend a few meetings of Al-Anon to get some ideas  and some support. I am not diagnosing your family member as an alcoholic, but I know that the strategies Al-Anon use will benefit you.

    Another strategy is a family conference, also called an intervention. This was done with Barbara Bush and a movie has been made about it. The whole family gets together and confronts the person who is behaving in a self -destructive manner. The family insists that the patient gets suitable treatment. If you want to take this route, I suggest you speak to a health care professional who has done this before and get clear guidelines. 

    I hope that you find a strategy that works. Sometimes the only thing you can do is to get support from a psychologist to help you manage your frustration and concern.

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