Seeing alcohol or other drugs consume the life of someone you love is an awful experience Whether you’re struggling with addiction yourself or watching from the sidelines, alcoholism is a complicated and difficult disease to bear. In many situations, you may lose hope and believe that the addiction will ever end.
As someone who cares for the addicted person, you may have some level of control and influence over their life. You cannot save them, but you can help assist and guide them on their path to recovery. Here’s how to help a person with an alcohol use disorder acknowledge their problem and find success in recovery.
When is it Time to Say Something?
Society has many preconceived notions about recovery and how to help those struggling with addiction. People may think:
- You have to wait for them to hit rock bottom
- They have to really want to recover
- You can’t force someone into recovery
The reality is that people can find great success in recovery programs even if they didn’t initially want it or they never “hit rock bottom.” When the negative effects of alcoholism become clear in the person’s life, treatment can work.
The health problems associated with heavy drinking are nothing to be trifled with and the sooner the habit can be stopped, the better off the person will be. Waiting too long to say something to your loved one only adds more pressure as the situation worsens. Rather than thinking about finding the “right time” to say something, think about having occasional conversations with the person.
Stating your feelings of worry or frustration more often will prevent the person from feeling ambushed by your concerns and can maintain an open dialogue on the topic. It is never too early or too late to say something.
How to Confront a Person in Denial
Talking to someone his or her addiction to alcohol is a delicate conversation. When planning the discussion, here are three key elements to consider.
Approach with Care
Before confronting your loved one, it’s important to do an attitude check. As frustrated as you may be, you have to remember where they’re coming from. An alcohol addiction is a complex issue and often accompanies other mental health problems such as depression. Negative talk about their failures may only drive them away further. Instead, focus on expressing your love and concern. Let them know you’re there to support them and that you care deeply about their well-being.
Discover Treatment Options
If they’re unmotivated to confront their addiction, it may be up to you to explore treatment options for them. Alcohol recovery frequently begins with a detox to allow the body to remove all alcohol from the system safely. If someone has been a heavy drinker for a long time, the withdrawal symptoms can be deadly. It’s best to work with a doctor or rehab center that will be able to monitor the individual’s health during detox. Being knowledgeable about treatment options and being prepared with suggestions for them to explore on their own may help the overall conversation be more productive.
Hold an Intervention
An intervention is often a last-ditch effort for the alcoholic who refuses to acknowledge or deal with their problem. The individual’s closest friends and family will gather together in an attempt to persuade them to get help.
The thought of holding an intervention can be scary. What if the person reacts in anger, and the relationship is broken down further? While this is a possibility, don’t let it be your focus. Instead, let that fear help you put extra care into the planning.
Interventions can be effective when approached correctly. It’s a good idea to work with a doctor, counselor, or therapist who specializes in or has experience with interventions to help you prepare for or even facilitate the conversation. You can learn more in our Intervention Handbook.
Understanding Your Role
It can be easy to get emotionally swept up in the chaos of your loved one’s addiction. Try to keep in mind where you fit into the process of recovery and remember to take care of yourself as well.
Take a Step Back
As you help your friend or family member through the stages of alcohol recovery, it’s important to remember one thing: You cannot save them. That is not your job. You can encourage and support them, but ultimately, they must take ownership of their actions and choices.
Don’t feel guilty
No matter what led them into addiction, it’s not your fault. They made their own choices. You are not responsible for their behavior.
If a life is affected by alcohol, it is essential for one to learn about alcoholism, physical dependence and substance use disorders. And since you’re reading this, you’re already headed in the right direction. Read all you can about alcoholism and share that knowledge with other friends and family members.
Our Friends & Family Portal is a great place to start for more articles and information about addiction, recovery and resources for you and your loved one.
Take Care of Yourself
Finally, recognize that you don’t always have to be in the trenches with them. It’s okay to distance yourself when necessary and offer support from a distance. About one in five Americans have experience with a relative addicted to alcohol, and it can be a confusing and intensely stressful time. Many view addiction as a family disease because of the direct damage it can have on the family structure.
Consider speaking to a counselor or therapist to help you process your own thoughts and feelings about the situation. Alcoholism can be painful for everyone involved and it’s okay to reach out for support. You can also consider attending support group meetings, like Al-Anon or Families Anonymous. These meetings serve as support networks for family and friends who are dealing with a loved one’s alcoholism.
When Helping Hurts
Alcoholism can cause high emotions not only in the person abusing the substance but in his or her friends and family as well. However, some interactions can be very damaging and even enable the individual to continue their addiction. Here are some behaviors to look out for.
Keep Emotions in Check
Watching a loved one hurt themselves is a powerless feeling. However, when talking to the individual, do not let your personal pain drive the conversation. Emotional appeals that center around how much they’ve hurt you can increase their own negative feelings, potentially increasing their desire to drink and escape the overwhelming emotions.
Don’t Cover for Them
They must take responsibility for their own actions. Taking actions like making excuses to their boss or teacher, doing their work for them or covering their bills only helps them continue their addiction. Unless it’s a life-threatening situation, never lend money to someone with alcoholism.
Choose Your Battles
Lecturing them every time they come home intoxicated can turn your words into background noise. Wait until they’re able to have a rational conversation before confronting them.
Never Drink with Them
Sometimes, it might feel right to drink with them. Maybe they “just need this right now” or you feel the need to meet them where they are. But no matter what, do not drink with them. This will only encourage and normalize their behavior.
You Don’t Have to Do It Alone
At The Recovery Village, we offer our patients support through a full spectrum of care. From the first day in detox through experiencing a new life in aftercare, we’re here to guide you through the difficult and rewarding process of recovery. Learn about our treatment programs and how we can help your loved one get a fresh start.
American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. “Alcohol Use in Families.” December 2011. Accessed June 10, 2019. Kimmel, Ryan J. “Helping a Loved One With a Drinking Problem.” MedlinePlus, July 8, 2018. Accessed June 10, 2019. National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Comorbidity: Substance Use Disorders and Other Mental Illnesses.” August 2018. Accessed June 10, 2019. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. “Detoxification and Substance Abuse Treatment.” October 2015. Accessed June 10, 2019.
American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. “Alcohol Use in Families.” December 2011. Accessed June 10, 2019.
Kimmel, Ryan J. “Helping a Loved One With a Drinking Problem.” MedlinePlus, July 8, 2018. Accessed June 10, 2019.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Comorbidity: Substance Use Disorders and Other Mental Illnesses.” August 2018. Accessed June 10, 2019.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. “Detoxification and Substance Abuse Treatment.” October 2015. Accessed June 10, 2019.