Watching a friend or family member descend into the hopeless void of alcoholism is a truly terrible experience. The feelings of sadness, depression, exhaustion, frustration, anger, confusion and helplessness can be overwhelming.
You may have tried countless times to help your loved one with their addiction to alcohol, only to be disappointed and heartbroken when you fail. However, you can’t take these defeats personally; no matter how much you wish it, you can’t make someone with a substance use disorder get sober. That decision needs to be made by the person struggling with alcohol abuse alone.
What you can do, though, is provide the necessary love, support, and resources to increase the chances that they will finally say “enough is enough” and take hold of the help being offered. Until that happens, here are 10 ways you can help an alcoholic find the lasting recovery they deserve.
1. Learn About the Disease
Before you plunge headfirst into your endeavor, take the time and effort to learn more about alcohol use disorder (AUD). There are dozens of great resources online to help understand the nature of the disease.
We’ve come a long way since alcoholism in the United States was viewed as a personal weakness rather than a valid disease. However, many Americans still do not understand why drinking is such a problem for some people and not others. Check out these excellent resources for learning more about alcoholism and how best to help an alcoholic:
2. Get Support
Alcohol use disorder is surprisingly common. According to a 2018 national survey on drug use and health, 14.4 million adults aged 18 and older have an alcohol use disorder. Additionally, a similar study in 2012 found that more than 10% of all children in the United States were in the care of a parent with alcohol problems.
Unhealthy alcohol consumption affects the families and friends of recovering alcoholics in profound ways. Therefore, support groups like Al-Anon are excellent resources for finding advice on dealing with challenges that affect family and friends. Lean on those with experience, hear their stories, and heed their advice.
3. Stop Enabling
One of the biggest mistakes you may be making is enabling your loved one with their addiction. After all, you can’t stop bad behavior by rewarding it. Enabling is one of the most difficult challenges faced by the friends and families of alcoholics. You care deeply about the person affected, and you want to help.
But by providing money, a place to stay, food, transportation, and other necessities, you are enabling your loved one to continue their harmful behavior without consequence. Pain motivates change; if they never feel the pain, will they ever feel the need to change?
4. Listen, Love and Support
Approaching an alcoholic about their behavior can be a difficult, awkward situation. Most alcoholics and people, in general, do not respond well when they feel they are being confronted or cornered.
Here are some helpful tips for keeping the conversation on track when you confront your loved one.
- Keep it simple: Instead of rattling off a laundry list of bad behavior, try focusing on a single alcohol-related incident that occurred recently and how it made you feel.
- Be open and honest: Explain how the incident made you feel and why you want this behavior to stop.
- Don’t argue: If your loved one is argumentative, resist the urge to add fuel to the fire. Stay calm and say what you need to say without getting angry.
- Express love and concern: Make it clear that you are coming from a place of love and you are intervening because you care about the person and want the best for them.
- Offer support: Let your loved one know that you are willing to help by taking them to AA meetings, exploring treatment options and modifying your own drinking behavior. Your help should be contingent on their willingness to take responsibility for their behavior and commit to making changes.
5. Plan an Intervention
Alcoholics in the throes of their addiction are often in denial and unable to see their behavior objectively. Alcohol and drug abuse interventions provide family members, friends, and other concerned individuals the opportunity to share how the alcoholic’s behavior has negatively impacted their lives. Hearing subjective opinions and heartfelt emotions from loved ones can help transform your loved one from reluctant to willing to getting help.
If the alcoholic is willing to get help, you should be ready to provide options, including a list of potential treatment facilities. If the alcoholic is unwilling to get help, you should be clear about the consequences of such a decision.
6. Take Them to Detox
According to the CDC, an average of 6 people die of alcohol poisoning each day in the US. If your friend or loved one is showing symptoms of alcohol poisoning from overconsumption, get them to a hospital or detox center immediately.
For an alcoholic who is serious about getting sober, safe detox is the first step. Most people do not realize that for a chronic alcoholic, stopping drinking can be just as dangerous to their physical health as overconsumption. In fact, quitting alcohol cold turkey can result in life-threatening withdrawal symptoms. In turn, detoxification should only be done under proper medical supervision.
7. Give Them a Copy of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous
You might be thinking this is too simple to include here, but that’s not true. The simple, 12-step program laid out in the Big Book has literally saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of alcoholics worldwide.
The entire premise of AA is built around the idea of one alcoholic helping another. No one but another alcoholic truly knows what it’s like to be in the clutches of the disease and escape. The Big Book was written by alcoholics, for alcoholics, and it’s a step-by-step blueprint of how to recover from a devastating disease.
8. Go to a Meeting Together
Find an AA meeting nearby and offer to go to the meeting with your friend or family member. Going to a meeting for the first time can be scary, especially for an alcoholic who is struggling. Accompanying an alcoholic to a meeting so they don’t feel so alone is a great way to show how much you care. Plus, your loved one may hear or experience something in the meeting that sparks hope and provides motivation to get help.
9. Let Go With Love
Some alcoholics simply aren’t ready or are unwilling to receive help. It may sound harsh, but the best thing you can do for them, and you, is to“Let go with love”. Distance yourself and cut off contact. Letting go can be the hardest, most heartbreaking thing you can do, especially when the alcoholic is a family member.
However, until your loved one reaches rock bottom, they cannot be helped. Setting boundaries and sticking to them is an important part of “letting go with love.”
10. Don’t Give Up
Even if you’ve had to let go, and your loved one seems beyond help, don’t give up hope. Keep praying and reaching out if staying in contact is still feasible and healthy. Additionally, keep an open mind and heart. If and when your loved one sincerely wants to get sober, be ready and willing to help. Miracles happen every day in the recovery world!
How to Help an Alcoholic
Take the first step toward your miracle today by contacting Cambridge Behavioral Hospital for more information on their alcohol treatment and co-occurring substance abuse disorder program. Admissions specialists trained on how to help an alcoholic are ready to take your call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If you’re not ready to call at the moment, simply fill out the confidential contact form and an admission specialist will typically respond within one business day.
At Cambridge, a dedicated and knowledgeable team of physicians, licensed therapists, nurses, case managers, and mental health technicians are ready to help you escape the pain and loneliness of addiction and restore your life, health, and hope.