Helping an Alcoholic – What a doctor won’t tell you

The doctor can’t admit their confusion. How can someone who is reasonable in all areas of their life, act completely insane when it comes to a certain type of beverage.

It’s hard to watch. How can someone with two Driving Under the Influence arrests (DUI’s) drive drunk, the night they are released from jail? How can a successful mother of three choose drinking over her children and job? It doesn’t make sense. If you know a family member, friend, or coworker having a difficult time controlling the amount they drink, you might wonder what you can do. Does this person even want your help.

My friends at Healthline helped explain the process

First things first

Before, you do anything, it’s important to know whether your friend or loved one truly has an alcohol problem. Alcoholism is more than just drinking too much from time to time. It is a debilitating, physical dependence on alcohol. Alcoholics may deny that a problem even exists. They may continue to drink when all aspects of professional and social relationships are affected. Yet therapy and other treatments can be very effective at helping people develop coping skills and strategies to maintain sobriety.

If you’re ready and committed to helping your friend or family member, here are some steps you can take

Be Honest

If the person does have an alcohol problem, the best thing you can do is be open and honest with them about it. Alcoholism can lead to a lot of shame and embarrassment. It can be easier to deny or ignore the problem than to deal with it. The alcoholic prefers the feeling obtained from drinking to the negative consequences that follow it. Hoping the person will get better on their own won’t change anything.

Tell your loved one that you’re worried they’re drinking too much, and let them know you want to be supportive. Be prepared to face a negative reaction. Try to “roll” with any resistance to your suggestions. The person may be in denial, and they may even react angrily to your attempts. Do not take it personally.

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No matter what the outcome, be patient and stick to your plan.

Realize that you can’t force someone into treatment who doesn’t want to go. All you can do is offer your help, and it’s up to them to decide whether they’ll take it. Be non-judgmental, empathetic, and sincere. Imagine yourself in the same situation, and how your reaction might be.

Enlist Others

There is power in numbers. See if you can get other family members and friends involved in the intervention plan. Ask people whom you know the person trusts, such as a best friend, brother or sister, or a parent. Encourage all participants to avoid personal judgments, and to focus on situations where they were affected by the person’s intoxication.

Also call in help from a professional, like a doctor, therapist, or other specialist from an addiction treatment facility. Ask for advice on how to get the person into treatment. Learn about your options. Ask which programs in your area offer alcohol treatment and whether insurance will cover the cost. Often there are agencies and organizations that offer treatments at no cost to the alcoholic; a popular misconception is that “rehab” is only available to those who can afford it.

Rehearse

Practice what you’re going to say to the person. Try to formulate statements that are positive and supportive, not negative, hurtful, or judgmental. For example, rather than saying, “You’re an alcoholic and I can’t stand it anymore — you need to get help now,” you can say, “I love you and you’re very important to me. It upsets me very much when you drink. I worry that you may be harming your health. I’ll be happy to go with you to get help, and I will support you through the whole process.” Using “I” statements reduces the accusative phrasing and lets the person be an active participant in the discussion.

Prepare yourself for the response, which may not be positive. The person might get angry. Stay calm and assure them that they have your respect, and have the time and space to make an honest decision.

Pick a Time and Place to Talk

Choose the right time to have this important conversation. It should be a time when you know you have the person’s full attention. Make sure they’re not upset or preoccupied with other issues. Most importantly, the person should be sober at the time. Have the conversation in a place where you know you’ll have quiet and privacy. You’ll want to avoid any interruptions or embarrassment.

Commit to Change

Don’t be swayed by false promises. Your friend or loved one may vow to cut back on their own. Urge the person to get into a formal treatment program, which is the best way to overcome alcoholism. The key is not to let your emotions ruin the intent of the discussion. Ask for concrete commitments and follow-up on them. The alcoholic often will relapse; realize the process is long-term and that nothing “cures” alcoholism.

If the person is very resistant to getting help, plan an intervention. During this process, friends, family members, and co-workers — often with the help of a professional counselor — get together to confront the person and urge them into treatment.

Stay the Course

Don’t think you’re finished and walk away once you’ve gotten the person into therapy. Treatment for alcoholism is an ongoing process. If possible, attend meetings and treatment sessions with them. Offer to help out with work, childcare, and household tasks so they can stay focused on getting well.

Treating alcoholism isn’t easy, and it doesn’t always work the first time around. Often a person has been contemplating abstinence for some time, yet could not achieve sobriety on their own. Don’t blame yourself if the first intervention isn’t successful. Patience is necessary. You can’t change an alcoholic or force them to stop drinking; that’s a decision they need to make.

Stay on top of the person’s progress until treatment is through, and continue to be supportive afterward. For example, don’t order alcohol when you’re together if you know the person is struggling to stay sober. Ask about new strategies that they have acquired from treatment or meetings. Stay invested in their long-term recovery.

Don’t Become Co-dependent

When the alcoholic is a spouse or partner, it’s possible to become overly wrapped up in your concern for their well-being. This is called codependency. Make sure that you are being supportive, but not trying to be their counselor or addiction coach. These professionals are trained to be objective from the start of treatment, and often family members and friends have deep emotional ties that prevent them from having the needed objective viewpoint that is necessary for treatment. You may get to the point where you feel compelled to help them get well. If you don’t control codependency, it can lead you into your own destructive behaviors, including drinking and drug use.

Be understanding, but avoid getting too caught up in your loved one’s problem. Be aware that exaggerations, half-truths, and deeper emotional problems will distort the information you receive from those suffering from addiction. Seek help from a therapist or support group to prevent or resolve your codependency issues.

Get Help for Yourself

Remember that dealing with the emotional strain of trying to get a loved one sober can be hard on you, too. If you’re feeling stressed or depressed, seek help from a therapist or counselor. You can also participate in a 12-step program that’s designed for the friends and family members of alcoholics, such as Al-Anon.

 Stay Informed

Learning everything you can about alcoholism will ensure that you take the right actions to help your friend or loved one.

You can use these government and program websites for further resources and information on helping someone with an alcohol addiction:

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism 

SAMHSA

800RecoveryHub help

19 thoughts on “Helping an Alcoholic – What a doctor won’t tell you

  1. This is so helpful. I have a question: What if there never is a time when the person is sober? Even though my husband is now sober (thankfully), this is one of the things I struggled with when he was actively in his addiction. I could never have a conversation about it with him because he was always drunk, and when drunk could be out of control and completely irrational. He’s been sober for over two years now, and I’m grateful that he was able to get help, but worry that if he ever relapses I may be back in this situation again.

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    1. Angela, you asked a very thoughtful (and valid) question. If we were having this conversation 30 years ago, the unfortunate answer would be …. there is nothing you can do for the secretive or angry drunk. Back then, there were no interventions, treatment centers or alcohol withdrawal programs. So, if your loved one was hiding or denying their behavior, your only action would be disruption of family. Now, there are lots of options to treat people. I am blown away at the success people have by nearly forcing their spouses into a treatment center. Based on my own personal drinking and destruction of family, I wouldn’t think this would work, but it does.

      The shorter answer …. if your husband is a belligerent drinker (this is how I drank) engaging in an intervention, followed by firm tough love will work. The secret key is to have the alcohol rehab or treatment center lined up, so you can quickly enter him into a program. This is what I do for my day job. From experience, I know that if you give the person too much time to think, they get scared and change their mind.

      I really appreciate this question.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Thank you, this helps! My problem last time was– among other things– that I reached out to his mother for help, and all she said was, “Well, he knows he can’t come here. Tell him to get to a meeting.” I was really upset. Now, I have my family as a support network for him, and he has more friends that are not addicts, so that helps. Thank you. This blog is such a blessing.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Supporting my Alcoholic is a tough job it absorbs so much of my own free time that I never feel as though I can relax, I’m constantly on edge about the sneaking out for drink the hiding money for drink, the turning up at places (the children’s school and after school clubs) drunk, the irrational bouts of insanity and the huge lenghts that are gone to, to cover up the alcoholism. I wish my alcoholic could use just 10% of the effort into bring an alcoholic just for something else.

    Thank you for the article it was a good read

    Liked by 2 people

  3. The codependency point is a key one too, for a supporter of an alcoholic it’s so hard to understand their rationalisation of alcohol use. Often I find I end up going down the rabbit-hole of resentment, which doubles down on the angst you end up feeling from being a codependent.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I resisted this for so long. I never had a problem, you all don’t know what you are talking about. I had to wake up and see it for myself. Even though I was not physically addicted to alcohol, I would use it to self medicate when I was anxious and depressed, I realized it was causing me problems. When I took the first drink I didn’t stop until it was gone or the bar was closed. The cost was exorbitant in money, jobs, and relationships.

    Thank you for this post.
    Vinny

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    1. Hello Vinny, Thanks for your comments. I can very much relate, as alcohol served as “medication” for me on many occasions. At the very end, my drinking was happening around the clock. Even though it seemed obvious that I had a problem, I was convinced that I was only drinking because of “life’s challenges”. I kept telling myself, as soon as I can get my problems under control, the drinking will become more controllable. As things started closing in, I could not ignore some facts. It was my drinking causing me the problems, not me drinking because of my problems. I appreciate that you stopped by.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. We often say that alcoholism is a family disease. Since this is the case, I personally believe that the very first step that needs to be taken by the nonalcoholic is to join Alanon. If this doesn’t take place, all of those same enabling tapes will continued to be played. Through Alanon, a person will begin to learn how to rewrite their family script. When they begin to change their own behavior, they are in a much stronger position to affect the behavior of an addict or alcoholic family member.
    I’m not speaking theoretically. I have seen this to be the case over my past 16 years in the program
    Moshe

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    1. Every once in awhile I have a dream that I drink alcohol. I am not drunk in the dream but I am panicked. I start to plan how I am going to lie to everyone and pretend it never happened. Then I wake up.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. This is such a helpful post. It is an extraordinarily difficult and brave thing to talk to someone you love when you are worried about them in this way. This is such a supportive approach and so valuable to share so that we can all help each other. x

    Like

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