When alcoholism has taken hold of a loved one, their addiction can be overwhelming. Knowing how to help an alcoholic requires a bit of homework and research. At first, families struggle to cope with the lies and self-destructive behaviors, not to mention the denial. Their actions or inaction may challenge your sanity and the consequences of their actions might have a profound impact on your life, your finances and your relationship with children, friends and other family members. Alcoholism affects families in a big way and if you’re not prepared with information on how to help an alcoholic, there will be many challenges. Many families of alcoholics tell us that they feel as if their lives started to revolve completely around the alcoholic as they struggle to mitigate the consequences of their actions. In some cases, families have intervened to help save them from jail, job loss or strained relationships with children. In more extreme cases, alcoholics put themselves in extreme danger. It can be overwhelming and despite your best efforts, they’ve sunk further into their addiction. At some point, you feel as if you’ve done everything you can but they’re not getting better. In reality, all you’ve been doing is enabling their addiction. Alcoholics and addicts must want treatment. Many won’t admit that they need help until they’ve suffered serious consequences for their addiction. By delaying or reducing the consequences, your safety net provides them the excuse they need to continue abusing. In some cases, they simply don’t know how to tell their loved one that they’re an addict because they may believe they have it under control. At some point, you feel that you’ve done all you can and are unsure of you should do (or shouldn’t do) next. Before giving up, there are some things you should know: Don’t feel ashamed or disgraced by their behavior: Addiction is much more common than you might think, affecting approximately 24 million Americans over the age of 12. Virtually everyone knows and loves someone who has a problem with drugs or alcohol.Do learn everything you can about the disease. Read books, attend support meetings, and talk to professional addiction specialists who can help you understand exactly what you are up against and how to deal with it. Avoid nagging: All those things that you may be tempted to yell in frustration will accomplish nothing. Comments like “Why won‘t you stop“, or“You would stop if I mean anything to you” – they have already heard all of that from others and yet, they didn’t stop. After awhile, they’ll just tune you out while they sink deeper into addiction. Take a look at yourself: This may be unpleasant, but you might be playing a bigger part in their addiction that you may think. It’s not uncommon for people with co-dependency issues to allow addiction to continue in a loved one simply because they’re afraid to be alone. Loaning them money, fixing their legal troubles, allowing them to stay with you or making excuses isn’t necessary a sign of love, it could be a sign of your co-dependency. You may need counseling yourself and in fact, family counseling when addicts are in recovery is very helpful. Don’t be ashamed to admit you might have your own flaws –your’re human, too and you deserve to be loved. Avoid lectures and sermons: It’s important to remember that you’re not perfect either, and so lecturing a person about how they’re bad is not the right approach. You must recognize that the person has a disease and they need help. They need to re-train their brain and deal with their inner demons. In some cases, they may have co-occurring mental disorders such as chronic depression or bi-polar syndrome. The disease must be treated and a lecture is not going to do anything toward that end. Be supportive: You want to support your loved one throughout the recovery journey. There are ways to do this, but the first step is getting them to accept treatment. Your assurances that you will work this through together might be enough to finally convince your loved one to seek treatment.
It’s important to remember that people with addiction disorders usually already have issues with low self-esteem, and if your words make them feel inadequate, they will often become determined to show you just how bad they can be.
- Do try to work on yourself FIRST. It may be that you are codependent and that your actions enable the person to stay addicted. It is also likely that your months and years of covering for and cleaning up after your addicted loved one has negatively affected your own personal serenity. Remember, you cannot be there for someone else if you are not there for yourself. “Caring for yourself” is not the same as “selfish”.
- Don’t fall for empty promises or manipulation. When the disease is active and in charge, the addicts will do anything and everything to keep on using. They will promise to cut back or quit, they will threaten to leave, and they will bemoan their terrible fate if you stop helping them. It’s all lies fueled by the disease.
- Do insist that they go to treatment to get help. Addiction does not go away on its own, and most people lack the ability, resources, and support to overcome the disease by themselves. Both inpatient residential treatment facilities and outpatient programs offer higher success rates when the individual attends/participates for 90 days or more, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
- You can’t “fix”a person. No matter how hard you try, you cannot control another person. The sooner you accept this reality, the better your life will be – immediately.
- Don’t put yourself in (or stay in) a situation where you can be abused physically or mentally. Up to 70% of batterers abuse alcohol, and up to 20% abuse drugs. 92% of assailants use alcohol or drugs on the day they commit an act of domestic violence. Use every resource available to ensure your safety – other family members, clergy, law enforcement, and emergency shelters.
- Show your support wherever possible. In some cases, you may have to remove yourself from the situation – for your physical safety or your mental well-being – but let the addicted person know that you will still provide moral and emotional support. An addict/alcoholic might feel worthless, but letting them know you’ll be there for them increases their chance of success.
- Do remember that addiction is a disease – it’s an actual brain disorder, according to medical professionals. An addicted person does not choose to become addicted any more than a person chooses to be diagnosed with cancer, diabetes, or any other malicious and chronic disease.
Most importantly, you’re not alone. There are many resources available to you and there are many forms of treatment available. You should do some research and make some calls. The rehab and outpatient treatment industry is driven by success. All of the reputable treatment centers strive for success because it helps attract new patients. Calling and talking to an Admissions Director is a good first step. They can help assess your loved one’s situation and examine your insurance options to meet almost any situation.
The District Recovery Community is an Orange County sober living community with several facilities and numerous partner facilities throughout the country. If we can’t take a patient, we’ll find someone that can.