How To Help An Alcoholic? Get Resources to Beat and Prevent Alcoholism

Last Updated: April 2, 2021

Reviewed by Michael Espelin APRN

Living with an alcoholic can be a mentally and emotionally draining situation, especially if one is a best friend or a loved family member. It can be hard to figure out how to handle the problem and how to help an alcoholic. However, armed with the right information and resources, figuring out how to help an alcoholic is less of an impossible task than it may appear to be.

This article aims to provide these resources, as it takes a close look at the various ways by which one can provide support for an alcoholic such that recovering is a bit easier. The text reviews the dos and don’ts of how to help an alcoholic, the coping strategies for friends and family, the risks involved, the types of professional alcohol addiction help that should be sought, among other important information.

Dangers of Living With an Alcoholic

Various dangers associated with living with an alcoholic depend on the dynamics of the relationship between an alcoholic person and the people living with them. For instance, an alcoholic that lives with young children is likely to cause them to suffer some sort of emotional troubles growing up. It can also cause the children to suffer an alcohol dependence too due to the irresponsible upbringing of the alcoholic.

Other risks such as violence, marital troubles, and financial troubles are dangers associated with living with an alcoholic.

Living With An Alcoholic: Dos and Don’ts

Every person and every situation is unique, so there is no universal method of how to deal with an alcoholic. It is a long process, and one will need to learn to adapt to changes. One will need to change the perspective and attitude.

Here are some things one should and some that should NOT do. Read them several times or print them out.

 

DOS DON’TS
Look after yourself: Don’t let someone else’s problem dominate one’s life, even if it’s a spouse. Watch out for physical and mental wellness. One might even inspire the alcoholic to do likewise. And if it gets dangerous, if a husband or wife emotionally or physically abuses family members – it is time to leave. Don’t blame yourself: Alcoholics often try to put the fault of their drinking on other people or circumstances. Remember: unless one is forcing someone to drink, THIS PERSON IS NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR THEIR DRINKING.
Consider support groups for spouses of alcoholics. There are existing support groups for families of alcoholics. These are called Al-Anon Groups. If one joins these groups, they will meet people who are also having struggles with their alcoholic relatives and receive the support needed to cope with the problems. Do not cover for it. Hiding to lie about one’s partner’s alcohol problem is not making it any better. It is contributing to denial. By doing so, one creates a safe bubble for the alcoholic to continue drinking.
Start living in the present: do not focus on the good times of the past alone; it only distracts from real life. Don’t deny the beautiful memories, but don’t let them distract from reality. Focus on what can be done NOW to improve the current situation. Do not try to control or to cure it: a family member or other close ones might surely be tempted to throw out or hide the alcohol or punish the person for drinking. However, one needs to know that alcohol withdrawal effects can be hazardous, so never try to put an alcoholic person through detoxification alone. That needs to be done in a medical setting. Get professional alcohol addiction help instead.
Get help immediately: one can offer the alcoholic spouse help, for example, in finding treatment programs. But if a partner does not want anyone else’s help – try to find professional alcohol addiction help. Do not accept inadmissible behavior: people say or do random things under the influence of alcohol. However, that is not an excuse. One needs to make it clear if a particular behavior was inadmissible and be firm about it.
Don’t bail them out from jail: there are countless examples of an addict deciding to seek alcohol addiction help in quitting alcohol after hitting rock bottom and realizing what a mess his or her life is in. So if he or she lands up in jail on DUI charges or for indulging in alcohol-related crimes, don’t bail them out. Let them realize how alcohol has taken over their lives and the hazards of the slippery slope they are hurtling down.
Don’t take over their responsibilities: when you take over an alcoholic’s duties, you permit them to pursue their addiction, and they get the idea that you approve of their habits.
Don’t take part in drinking sessions with an alcoholic friend or family member: When you take part in these drinking sessions, you encourage the habit. It doesn’t matter if you drink just a tiny bit of alcohol or even a Coca-Cola. An alcoholic will interpret your very participation as an endorsement.
Don’t loan them money unless they have landed in a hospital: Alcoholism is an expensive habit to sustain. So the need for funds to maintain the addiction is always present. An alcoholic will stoop to lying to obtain funds from you. If you are sure that a loved one is an alcoholic, DON’T loan him or her money unless he or she has landed in a hospital or recovery facility and needs funds to undergo some treatment.
A woman supports her husband as he tries to stop drinking alcohol.

Should One Leave An Alcoholic Spouse?

One might wonder: “what if my spouse gets violent but regrets it in sober moments?” Well, moving away does not necessarily mean cutting all ties. If the person is dangerous to people around and has no will to cooperate, then it is a matter of safety to move.

The fact is, many alcoholics are more capable of handling their life than they think. Staying In a household where their sober spouse takes overall responsibility keeps the person in a position of passivity. Most of the time, it becomes a vicious circle when the alcoholic’s husband/wife begins to maintain control and accountability for them. That might seem like taking care, but in fact, it puts the person in a position of powerlessness. He or she might easily blame the alcohol for their lack of willpower.

If dealing with an alcoholic presents a threat to family members’ safety, it is strongly advised that they move to a safe environment. Through this, one is also helping them take responsibility for their actions and make them aware that they need to change.

Sometimes the best solution to break that vicious cycle is to leave the household. Don’t be alarmed: it does not mean to abandon the spouse. But it means that the alcoholic now has the best possibility to relearn living on his/her own. Of course, one can standby, check in on him/her, and assist in various ways.

As with any addiction recovery, it will take some time, maybe months or even years. It now depends on the person’s personality, character, and choices.

How Your Mindset Affects The Situation?

Someone who has an alcohol use disorder is most likely to be in a denial mode. One may not quickly get him or her to accept that there is a problem, let alone work on solving it. On the other hand, someone who is an alcoholic doesn’t care about how he or she “should be” living and functioning.

In these cases, it can be hard to be consistent about trying to help the person, especially if one has the wrong mindset about the addiction in the first place or if one simply does not know where to find alcohol addiction help.

With that in mind, one of the most critical steps to help an alcoholic recover from the addiction is to understand it to a reasonable degree first of all, and this begins with changing one’s mindset about alcoholism.

Here are a few things to note:

Be Compassionate

Addiction is not a moral flaw. It is the result of a complex interplay between genes, hormones, and the environment. When you get the facts straight, you can be compassionate when you confront a loved one who is an alcoholic. Don’t take the moral high ground and make him or her feel like a loser. On the contrary, displaying compassion and understanding can make dealing with an alcoholic easier and cause them to confide in you about the stresses that may have made them seek refuge in drinking. At the same time, one must not blame oneself for somebody else’s drinking habits.

Decide Beforehand What to Say During a Confrontation

Knowledge again comes into play here. You may want to tell a loved one how alcohol is harming his or her physical and mental health. Or you may want to make them realize that addiction is just another disorder like diabetes or cancer that needs medical treatment.

Whatever you want to say during the confrontation, it helps if you plan. This ensures you can come up with the most persuasive statement. Preparation lets you go over what you want to say during the confrontation and ensure that you speak only from a place of compassion.

Adjust Your Expectations

Do not stress by expecting results right after the first meeting. Do not expect an alcoholic to call in on an addiction counselor or visit a rehab clinic right after talking with you.

Instead, believe that by confronting your alcoholic loved one, you are opening the channels of communication. You are giving him or her the chance to mull over the problem and feel motivated to quit alcohol. By showing that you care, you are assuring the person that you have only his or her best interests in mind. So in a later meeting, he or she will be more receptive to your suggestions.

Women are trying to stop drinking alcohol.

Becoming Informed About Alcoholism

Finding accurate and reliable information about alcoholism is an essential step in learning how to help an alcoholic to overcome the disease. There are several authority resources for dealing with an alcoholic that offers evidence-based information on alcohol abuse and its associated mental health issues.

Websites to Help an Alcoholic

Several websites offer information to people who are trying to cut down or quit alcohol. These websites include organization sites, governmental resources, university libraries, etc.

Governmental Resources:

  • The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism: This is a group of centers and institutes that are a goldmine of information about the impact of alcoholic beverages on human health. The NIAAA conducts research, coordinates with federal agencies, and collaborates with many organizations and agencies. This institute is one of the most trustworthy resources for alcoholism. People with interest in information about recovery from substance use disorder can rely on the information provided by the NIAAA to understand the effects of addiction to alcoholic drinks.
  • The National Institute on Drug Abuse: This is a reliable source of facts about battling addiction and overcoming a dependence on alcoholic beverages. The institute offers knowledge to people who want to learn more about alcoholism. NIDA is one of the leading resources on the science of addiction.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: The CDC provides fact sheets on alcohol and human health, including useful information about what constitutes one drink, what is the strength of different beverages, what qualifies as excessive drinking, who is considered a moderate drinker, and what are the short- and long-term health risks of alcoholic beverage consumption.
  • The National Institute of Mental Health: In many people, alcoholism is not an isolated problem. It coexists with or contributes to several mental health issues and psychiatric syndromes. Recovering alcoholics with challenging medical issues can obtain information from the NIMH. This is an excellent resource for people battling addiction complicated by mental health issues and the friends and family of these people.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration: This is a useful resource for anyone trying to overcome a dependence on alcoholic drinks or the loved one seeking alcohol addiction help for them. It provides brochures, e-books, and pamphlets for wide-ranging information on the prevention and treatment of alcohol use disorders. The service is available in English and Spanish, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Libraries:

  • The U.S. National Library of Medicine has a database of clinical studies on alcohol that outline ongoing trials in which recovering alcoholics can participate after discussing the potential risks and benefits with their healthcare provider.
  • The University of Washington has an online library of scientific literature on alcohol abuse. Besides, free posters, brochures, and other materials about the prevention of alcoholism are available here. This resource for dealing with alcoholics includes a spectrum of information about the social, psychological, criminal justice, and medical issues faced by people with an addiction.

Organizations’ Sites:

Organization websites such as this one for Alcoholics Anonymous programs abound all over the internet, and they serve as valuable resources for anyone living with an alcoholic to learn from.

A child is asking for help, because her dad is drinking alcohol.

Reading Resources for Overcoming Alcoholism

Resources for alcohol abuse include motivational books and workbooks that help people in recovery gain a better understanding of the disease they are battling. There is a massive library of such materials, both for addicts seeking recovery and friends or family seeking recovery for a loved one.

For the Person Struggling with Addiction, the Books Listed Below Can Be Very Helpful:

  • Controlling Your Drinking by Miller and Munoz
  • A tool to Beat Addiction by Stanton Peele
  • Seven Weeks to Sobriety by Joan Matthews Larson
  • How to Live Longer and Feel Better by Linus Pauling
  • The Easy Way to Control Alcohol by Allen Carr
  • Control Alcohol by Annie Grace
  • Living Sober by Anonymous
  • Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget by Sarah Hepola
  • A Drinking Life: A Memoir by Pete Hamill
  • This Naked Mind by Annie Grace
  • Refuge Recovery by Noah Levine
  • 12 Steps And 12 Traditions – Alcoholics Anonymous
  • Drop The Rock – Removing Character Defects by Bill P.
  • Why Can’t I Stop? By John Grant
  • A Happier Hour by Rebecca Weller
  • Living Sober – Alcoholics Anonymous
  • “The Big Fix,” by Tracy Helton Mitchell (for women)
  • Girl Walks Out of a Bar, by Lisa F. Smith (for women)

For the family or friends of the person that needs help with addiction recovery, the following books can be helpful in providing information about alcohol addiction and how to help an alcoholic:

  • Get Your Loved One Sober by Meyers and Wolfe
  • Addiction Proof Your Child by Stanton Peele
  • Alcohol and the Addictive Brain by Kenneth Blum
  • Alcoholics Anonymous – The Big Book
  • Beautiful Boy by David Sheff
  • Courage to Change – One Day At A Time by Al-Anon

Financial Resources for Recovering Alcoholics

People with an addiction to alcoholic beverages are at high risk of facing financial difficulties. Not only does alcoholism cost money in terms of the price of the drinks, but heavy drinking can also cause a person to lose their job or develop medical problems that require treatment. Some people struggling with addiction to alcohol do not seek help because of the perceived cost of treatment.

Yet, there are several resources for how to help an alcoholic that can help with the financial fallout of addiction:

  • The Social Security Administration is a valuable resource for drug abusers seeking financial help. Also, there is help available with prescription medications as well as public assistance options for alcohol treatment.
  • State-funded treatment centers provide both outpatient and inpatient services. However, the challenge is that there is often a waiting list to get accepted to these programs.
  • Niche groups of the American population have access to financial aid to overcome drinking problems.
  • There are SAMHSA grants available to help specific segments of the American people, such as pregnant women with drinking problems.
  • Eligible veterans can obtain coverage for individual or group therapy for addiction treatment from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
  •  People in recovery may be able to engage a financial counselor at a low cost or free of charge to help investigate federal, state, and local resources for alcohol-related financial aid.
Depressed man is trying to quit drinking alcohol.

Finding Professional Assistance For An Alcoholic

If an individual is showing high-risk behavior for abuse, studies have shown that early intervention can help prevent many of the adverse effects of alcoholism.

Some of the things to do when a drinking problem is suspected include seeking therapy from a trained counselor, talking to the family physician, and finding a support group for adults with alcohol problems, such as Alcoholics Anonymous.

However, one cannot apply force when applying how to help an alcoholic. The only way treatment can be useful is if the person accepts that there is a problem and is willing to work to find a solution. To see this clarity, friends and loved ones may have to confront the alcoholic person first, and this can be challenging.

Dealing with an alcoholic through confrontation can be very risky if not adequately planned and prepared. A thoughtless comment can make the situation more difficult to handle. Hence, one wants to make sure that the confrontation is steered in a direction where the person can be persuaded to seek professional help to give up alcohol.

Here’s what to keep in mind when confronting an alcoholic to ensure the interaction is healthy and the outcome is geared toward seeking professional assistance:

Choose a Time When They Are Sober

The presence of alcohol in the system clouds thoughts and makes a person unable to think straight. So confronting an alcoholic when he or she is drunk is not a good idea. He or she will not be able to appreciate your motivations. Nor will the person be able to figure out what is right for him or her.

Don’t Blame Them

Do not turn the meeting into a blame game. If you are figuring out how to help an alcoholic husband, don’t accuse him or her of being selfish. Same if you are trying to help an alcoholic wife, sibling, or adult child. Think for a moment. Would you blame someone for catching an infection or having cancer?

Let the Person Know Their Actions are Affecting the Relationships

Explain to the person how his or her habits have affected you – the mental and emotional stress you are going through and the additional physical and economic burden that you have had to take on. Often, alcoholics are swayed more by the effects of their addiction on their loved ones than those effects on their health or jobs.

Don’t Fall for Promises to Turn Over a New Leaf

A conversation about one’s drinking habits is uncomfortable, especially if the person is in denial mode. An addict might want to wiggle out of the discussion by (falsely) promising that he or she will give up alcohol. High-functioning alcoholics mostly are known to be master manipulators.

A good rule of thumb is “Listen to what they say, but watch what they D.O.” Make sure that you follow up and are prepared to confront them once more if they don’t stick to their promises.

A woman is depressed since her husband can't stop drinking and needs help.

Keep Calm

A confrontation with an alcoholic can turn into a stressful situation for you too. An alcoholic might blame you for his or her addiction or suggest that you are blowing the case out of proportion.

During a confrontation, you might be upset or hurt. They may push your buttons, but DON’T react. If an alcoholic is in a denial mode, he or she will have constructed rational-sounding reasons why they think you are overreacting.

Don’t make an alcoholic more aloof or hostile by spewing angry words yourself. You risk making him or her angry enough to walk away. If that happens, you may never be able to broach the subject with them again.

Follow up With Seeking the Help of a Professional Interventionist

As someone you love and care for, it can be difficult to be firm or objective with the person. As a result, you may not succeed in persuading your alcoholic friend or family member to seek professional help. Worse, you may even put him or her off from having another meaningful conversation on the subject forever. If things come to such a passé, don’t hesitate to call a professional interventionist.

According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, an intervention is an educational session moderated by a professional and attended by the alcoholic and his or her family members and friends.

The interventionist approach for how to deal with an alcoholic is typically to try to make the person see the consequences of drinking habits and make them agree to undergo treatment. An intervention session with a professional must be attended by the alcoholic and friends or family members.

Connecting with Professionals in Addiction Recovery

Recovering alcoholics can gain access to resources for alcoholism over the telephone. Alcohol abuse hotlines provide a range of services, including help for alcoholics with locating treatment facilities and information on ways to get sober.

Many of these hotlines are free, confidential, and available 24×7 to individuals and their family members facing addiction and mental health issues:

  • SAMHSA Treatment Facility Locator 1-800-662-HELP
  • National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information 1-800-729-6686
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 1-800-CDC-INFO
  • American Psychological Association 1-800-374-2721
  • National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence 1-800-622-2255
  • National Institute on Drug Abuse 301-443-1124
  • National Institute of Mental Health 866-615-6464
  • Covenant House Teen Hotline 1-800-999-9999

Take Care Of Yourself

How can you help someone else if you are yourself broken and your life is in shambles?

The following tips are even more critical if you are trying to find how to help an alcoholic family member. Having an alcoholic in your life is stressful. It is imperative that YOU remain sane, safe, and healthy yourself to help your loved one tide through his or her problems. Here’s how you must take care of yourself:

Put Boundaries on Your Relationship, or Escape, If Necessary

If all means of persuasion fail, you have to put limitations on your relationship. It may sound harsh. You may wonder if you are doing the right thing by cutting ties. Sometimes people need a shake-up to change the status quo. Putting boundaries on your relationship might be the “reality check” that your alcoholic loved one needs to come to his or her senses and realize how alcohol has taken a toll on multiple lives.

Now here’s a reality check as well. No matter how much one has committed to helping a loved one overcome an alcohol addiction, you HAVE TO QUIT if the situation turns violent. Alcohol depresses inhibitions and clouds the senses, so alcoholics can become aggressive and turn violent if they sense a threat from you.

ESCAPE if you feel you are in danger of being physically harmed (or have been damaged) by your alcoholic family member. You must be safe before you attempt to help a loved one.

Don’t Become Co-Dependent

Don’t get so immersed in the process of learning how to deal with an alcoholic loved one that you find yourself being dragged along the dark path that he or she is traveling on. This is NOT one of the ways to find help for alcoholics.

Counseling an alcoholic is an emotional rollercoaster ride where you, too, have to confront the loved one’s inner demons and come face-to-face with hidden waves of emotions – rage, jealousy, or hatred – that you never knew existed. It is difficult to stay sane if you are not objective.

Avoid being dragged into a co-dependent relationship in which you can no longer remain logical and can’t see the half-truths and distorted versions of reality coming from your loved one for what they are.

If you sense this happening, back off and let a professional counsel your loved one. You should also seek professional help for alcoholics to resolve any co-dependency issue that you might have developed.

A woman is calming her daughter because her can't stop drinking alcohol.

Don’t Drink Yourself as a Means to Escape the Stress

Living with an alcoholic can be immensely stressful for you. Again, it may seem like a “no-brainer,” but one of the ways NOT to stop someone from drinking is to succumb to pressure and start drinking yourself.

An alcoholic spends money and upsets the domestic budget, and you have to worry about making ends meet. They neglect duties, and you feel compelled to forego your leisure to step in and take over. They choose alcohol over you and the relationship you share, and you wonder if it is the end of the road for both of you.

The stress can get to anyone, but DON’T drink to escape your woes. Find a healthy way to cope. Remember, you have to be healthy yourself to help the person you love to heal.

Seek Emotional Support To Get Through the Stress

You have taken on the challenge of helping a loved one become sober. It was always going to be a stiff task. Don’t get bogged down by the stress and strain; seek emotional support from people who have been in the same place as you are now.

Often one of the best answers to the question of “How do you find help for alcoholics? Is to get some help yourself. If there is no one you know personally to help, join a 12-step program such as Al-Anon, one that is designed specifically to help the friends and family members of such persons.

Having someone to confide in about what you are going through, a shoulder to cry on, and a sounding board to run your decisions by will take a load off your mind and lift some of the heaviness from your heart.

Caring enough to go through the anguish, anxiety, doubts, and turmoil of dealing with an alcoholic is the greatest help you can offer someone who is broken. The journey always starts with you. You have to be enlightened, empathetic, compassionate, and strong. You have to be a master strategist, astute planner, and thorough executioner.

Of course, you cannot be a professional counselor or therapist yourself, but you have to pull off something equally challenging – getting him or her to seek professional help for alcoholics in the first place. Kudos to you for choosing to care!

Curbing Alcoholism in Social Groups

Young People

Statistics show that underage drinking is a serious health problem all over the world. Teenagers and young adults are more likely to succumb to peer pressure and adopt inappropriate drinking behaviors. Research has shown that young people tend to consume 90 percent of their total intake of alcohol through binge drinking.

Some of the Approaches to Encourage the Youth Around Oneself to Avoid Drinking Include:

At Home:

  • Teach teenagers how to avoid alcohol and say no
  • Discuss important facts about alcohol with youngsters
  • Communicate the consequences of drinking and enforce them consistently
  • Monitor alcohol use in the home and keep track of stock
  • Don’t permit unchaperoned parties
  • Set a good example by drinking in moderation and showing teenagers there are healthy ways to deal with stress
  • Clear the misconception that drinking is cool and everyone drinks
  • Encourage healthy friendships with teenagers who do not drink
  • Talk about ways to deal with peer pressure

At School and in the Community:

  • Use interactive teaching to educate youth about the dangers of drinking
  • Appoint leaders from the peer group to reinforce prevention messages
  • Involve parents and the community in alcoholism prevention initiatives for the youth
  • Train and support teachers in alcohol prevention programs

Curbing Alcoholism in Older Adults

The aging human body does not handle alcohol in the same manner as its younger version. The drink stays in the body longer. It affects an older person differently than it does a young adult, and women are more sensitive than men. An adult above the age of 65 can become tipsy without increasing the amount consumed habitually. Excessive consumption in older individuals may be associated with loss of balance, falls and fractures, vehicle accidents, and a host of health problems.

Some of the Ways to Avoid Addiction and Drinking Problems in Seniors Include:

  • Educate older adults about the facts on aging and drinking and how to avoid alcohol poisoning
  • Make older individuals aware that drinking can worsen or cause health problems such as stroke, high blood pressure, balance and coordination issues, and memory loss
  • Talk about how prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, and herbal remedies can interact with alcoholic drinks and cause deadly complications
  • Be aware of triggers for addiction such as the death of friends and loved ones or boredom and loneliness after retirement
A medical worker tells a group of people how to quit drinking and start to lead a better and sober life.

Prevent Alcoholism in the Workplace

One of the leading causes of alcohol abuse in adults is work-related stress. Alcohol prevention programs at the workplace are an effective way to prevent misuse in employed individuals. Programs that raise awareness about how to avoid alcohol abuse, especially for people in high-stress jobs, have proven beneficial.

Some of the Workplace Strategies and Initiatives for Prevention of Addiction Include:

  • Lifestyle campaigns to ease stress and reduce risky behaviors
  • Talks and seminars on how to avoid drinking
  • Peer referral programs to provide support to employees experiencing work-related stress
  • Periodic assessment of high-risk behaviors and drinking rates
  • Encouragement of group activities, such as sports, rather than socializing with colleagues over drinks

Living with alcoholism is a difficult situation, but living with an alcoholic can also be draining. If one has a loved one that is suffering from the addiction, it is best to educate oneself extensively on the subject in a bid to find the right way to approach and find treatment for the person. This way, the quality of life of the alcoholic can improve, and one can also be at rest.

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Page Sources

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Published on: March 9th, 2018

Updated on: April 2nd, 2021

About Author

Juliette Siegfried, MPH

Juliette has been working in the health communications field since 1991, when she began working at the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. Her initial campaigns focused on smoking cessation and cancer prevention. Juliette later moved to the corporate side of health communications, including working at Kaiser Permanente, where she designed interactive computer-based training for health education.

Medically Reviewed by

Michael Espelin APRN

8 years of nursing experience in wide variety of behavioral and addition settings that include adult inpatient and outpatient mental health services with substance use disorders, and geriatric long-term care and hospice care.  He has a particular interest in psychopharmacology, nutritional psychiatry, and alternative treatment options involving particular vitamins, dietary supplements, and administering auricular acupuncture.