How to help an alcoholic is one of the most challenging questions and one with no fixed answer. All cases of alcohol use disorder are different, but watching a loved one succumb to alcohol is always a painful experience.
From your point of view, they just need to stop drinking. If only helping an alcoholic were that simple. To understand how you can help your alcoholic loved one, you need to educate yourself about the nature of alcohol use disorder. Addiction is a ‘family disease.’ That means it affects every person close to the person with an alcohol use disorder. Living with an alcoholic can be remarkably wearing.
Having an alcoholic loved one entails dealing with lies, self-destruction, and denial. The pain of watching a loved one self-destruct challenges your sanity.
Another’s alcohol addiction has a huge impact on their health, finances, and relationships with their children, families, and friends.
It is common for family members to rally around their addicted loved ones in the hope of mitigating the disastrous consequences of their behavior. They may try to prevent them from going to jail, losing their job, or keep their relationships with their children.
The chaos that spills into your life, as a result, takes its toll over time. Eventually, you come to realize that despite feeling exhausted and exasperated, the alcohol-addicted loved one’s problem hasn’t changed.
That’s because you’ve been enabling their addiction.
For an addicted person to seek treatment, they have to want it.
How To Get an Alcoholic Help
Only until they suffer serious enough consequences will a person feel the desire to get help. Providing a safety net for the addicted person delays any consequences so they feel excused to continue drinking.
It could be that your addicted loved one doesn’t know they have a problem and feel they have it under control.
Enabling does not help the person with an alcohol use disorder, it makes it worse.
What Is Alcohol Use Disorder?
Alcohol use disorder is a progressive brain disease. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines alcohol use disorder as an inability to stop or control alcohol drinking, even when it has negative consequences.
According to NSDUH 2020, 28.5 million people in the United States have an alcohol use disorder, although 10% of these seek and obtain professional treatment.
As alcohol use disorder is progressive it gets worse over time if it isn’t properly addressed. A quality evidence-based treatment program that incorporates cognitive behavioral therapy can help a person to overcome their drinking problem and drastically improve their self-esteem.
It’s not completely understood although it is believed that mental health problems typically underpin addictions.
Mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, and bipolar disorder can cause a significant amount of emotional pain. A person may self-medicate with alcohol to alleviate mental health symptoms.
Drinking alcohol regularly over time causes chemical changes in the brain. Eventually, a person may become so dependent on alcohol that they need to drink to get through the day.
The good news is that alcohol use disorder is treatable on the condition that the person who is addicted is ready and willing to accept help.
It’s dangerous for a person to stop drinking suddenly. As the central nervous system is accustomed to being sedated with alcohol it goes into a state of shock and can cause a seizure. Seizures can be fatal. Medication-assisted treatment is considered to be the gold standard in treating alcohol use disorder. This type of treatment combines cognitive behavior therapy with medication. Medication such as benzodiazepines is necessary for detoxing from alcohol as it relaxes the central nervous system and prevents the body from going into shock and causing a heart attack or seizure.
Cognitive behavior therapy is a powerful talk therapy that encourages a person to identify the negative thought patterns that drive their alcohol use disorder. For instance, a person may realize that they drink because they have a social anxiety disorder. This anxiety disorder could be underpinned by a negative core belief that a person ‘isn’t good enough or ‘isn’t lovable.’
Cognitive behavior therapy teaches a person to reverse those thought patterns. Over time a person can improve their confidence and self-esteem so that they no longer need to use alcohol as a social crutch.
Don’t be ashamed of your loved one’s addiction. Addiction is a common problem affecting 40 million adults in the United States, according to the most recent National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Every person in the US is likely to know at least one person who is struggling with an addiction to drugs or drink.
Knowing how to deal with an alcoholic who doesn’t want help takes education, patience, and a different approach to what you may already be using.
How To Help An Alcoholic Friend or Relative
Rather than play the role of caregiver, play the role of landlord.
The caregiver will ring in sick for the loved one, give them money, or testify in court to prevent them from going to jail. The landlord on the other hand will not enable it. The landlord places sanctions on a person if they don’t pay their rent. A family member that plays the landlord will not tolerate the alcoholic’s drinking. Instead, they practice tough love. By not giving in to the alcoholic person’s demands or requests for money or covering for them when they go to work they must deal with the consequences of their actions.
They will go through some considerable pain, shame, and embarrassment. This may be difficult for you, but when a person suffers the consequences of their drinking it makes life sufficiently uncomfortable to make them want to make a change.
They must become tired of feeling sick and shameful. They must get to a point of exhaustion where they feel that stopping drinking is the only way they can start to enjoy life.
- Educate yourself about alcoholism
- Pick a time and place to voice your concerns to your loved one
- Think about what you want to say and how to say it most effectively
- Listen to your loved one
- Offer your support and encourage your loved one to seek professional treatment
Educate yourself about alcoholism
The more you learn about addiction in general and alcoholism in particular, the more effectively you can help an alcoholic. Someone with alcohol use disorder – the clinical descriptor for alcoholism – will find it almost impossible to drink in moderation, even if that’s what they intend to do. As you further your understanding of addiction as a chronic and relapsing disease, it will give you a better frame of reference for your loved one’s behaviors.
Discover about the different types of treatment available and try to establish which would be best for your loved one: do they need inpatient or outpatient treatment?
Pick a time and place to voice your concerns to your loved one
Think about where you can speak with your loved one privately and without any distractions. Choose a time when you feel they are most likely to sober.
Think about what you want to say and how to say it most effectively
You should plan what you want to say to your loved one. Be prepared to meet with denial, a common by-product of addiction.
Let your loved one know you’re there to help and that you are broaching this subject from a place of love and concern. Leave blame aside, and use positive and supportive language. Try making your point indirectly but without diluting it. Imagine telling someone “I’m here today because I love you and I am worried about how much you’re drinking. I want to help you.” This is unlikely to cause offense. Contrast this with saying “You’re an alcoholic and you need help now!” Few people would respond favorably to that more direct approach.
Use specific examples to illustrate how your loved one’s behavior is impacting you.
Listen to your loved one
You should take the opportunity to tell your loved one everything you feel will help them get the treatment they need, but be sure to listen to what they are saying, too.
Equally importantly, give them some time and space to arrive at a decision. Do not apply pressure needlessly.
How to support an alcoholic
Your goal when helping an alcoholic should be to encourage them to seek appropriate professional treatment. Let them know you’ll be there for them every step of the way, and try to convey your message without rancor or judgment.
All that’s required then is to follow through on your promises and ensure your loved one engages with a suitable inpatient or outpatient treatment program for alcohol use disorder.
You can’t force a person to go to treatment, they must desire to get better.
Staying free of alcohol after detox is a huge challenge for a person who habitually drinks. It takes determination and inner work to develop healthier new habits and stay on track. To help a person who wants to get treatment, you can try the following steps. Contact an addiction counselor. Addiction counselors are highly trained therapists who can help the family work together to perform an intervention. An intervention is an action or a series of actions where the family confronts the addicted person. The intervention aims to enlighten the person with an alcohol use disorder about the severity of their problem to get them to treatment.
Practice tough love. As we mentioned before, a person must feel sufficiently tired of the negative consequences of their drinking.
Show your support whenever you can. Remind them that you are there for them if they wish to get well. In some cases, you may need to remove yourself from their vicinity, but always remind them that you are there for them. People with alcohol use disorder experience feelings of shame, guilt, and embarrassment. Always try to be kind yet firm. If you nag, threaten, or argue with a person with an alcohol use disorder, you can make them worse leading them to drink more. Lastly, take care of your emotional health. Keep healthy boundaries and stick to them. Stay away from enabling behaviors and ensure that you utilize the right support.
Alcohol Rehab at The District Recovery Community
Now, if you feel like someone in your life needs residential rehab for alcohol use disorder, we can help here at District Recovery.
Contact us online or call us at 844.287.8506. We’re here and ready to discuss the best options for how to help an alcoholic and to help your loved one get back on track.