How To Help An Alcoholic
Alcoholism is a disease. In 2015 alone, 15.1 million adults within the US were reported to have AUD (Alcohol Use Disorder). Of those 15.1 million, only 1.3 million of them received treatment. When you pair those numbers with the fact that there are an estimated 88,000 people killed in alcohol-related deaths annually, and that alcohol substance abuse costs the US over $250 billion nationally, it’s quite obvious we have a problem. If you’re reading this, it could very well be because you’ve recognized someone struggling with the disease and you want to help.
There are often many dynamics involved. The alcoholic could be in denial of their disorder and excruciatingly hard to reach. Or the severity of their condition could lead them to be harmful not only to themselves but those around them. And perhaps most often (as this is one of the most common traits threaded throughout alcoholics), they’re incredibly manipulative and have you tripping over your own tongue whenever you try and help. The essence of drinking to excess is often to pass blame. The mind of an alcoholic is often not so different.
Perhaps you’re reading this because you want to know what the experienced have to say about being an aid for alcoholics. Most likely, if you’re considering an intervention, then you care for this person dearly. Maybe they’re a dear friend or family member. If that’s the case, know that you’re not alone in dealing with this problem.
If you’re going to try and help an alcoholic, you need to be prepared from the get-go. Depending on their personality, self-awareness, and the degree of their affliction, without the proper tools the process be wildly inefficient. First and foremost, know that you can’t save an alcoholic. You’re not going to cure the disease which first pulled them under in the first place. Where we often tell people to start in this journey is to dissociate their exclusive emotions from said alcoholic. You need to look at this situation objectively without any sort of bias, or else you could be easily manipulated or dismayed.
We’re not saying don’t love them, or to treat them like someone random and transient in your life, but that more often than not an alcoholic will use your own benevolence against you. Your first response to conflict brought about by alcoholics close to you is often blinded by love. A perfect example of this is rushing to an alcoholic’s aid once their disease has placed them in a predicament. By dealing with their immediate conflicts, in a way you’re acting like the very substance they’re addicted to. You must always first ask yourself, what am I telling them by doing this?
Secondly, you need to educate yourself. Study alcoholism; understand its nature and the common psyche of the alcoholic, and reach out to professionals who have dealt with this issue before. Try and identify the type of drinker you’re dealing with beforehand, as there will be specific ways in handling them.
Go to AA meetings and sit in on group sessions with other alcoholics, as asking those who have been helped will always give you the perspective of the opposing party. Learn the full range of symptoms. By arming yourself with the proper knowledge and tools, when these first interactions begin to occur, you’ll be able to react appropriately.
In no circumstance can you give an alcoholic leverage. We add this here at the beginning of this list because it often ties in with love and care. Know that statistically, if times have called for an intervention, it’s most likely going to be a long road to recovery.
You do not want to prolong this by giving an alcoholic money, drinking with them, or allowing anything that could contribute to their alcoholism. Don’t forget that most alcoholics only sober up once they’ve hit a low that defeats all others, and often that pitfall has been prolonged due to the help of their loved ones.
Do It Personally, Away From Others.
This is a tricky one, as sometimes it takes a group intervention to really expose a problem. But generally professionals recommend that when addressing an alcoholic, it first comes from you and you alone and in a private setting. Practice what you’re going to say and then try and formulate their responses, as this will help your point come off naturally and with more flexibility.
You’re armed with the knowledge to address the situation intelligently, then you should know that denial is often the first part of the process. The alcoholic will try and fire back excuses for their drinking, or blame other external factors, and will sometimes turn aggressive in the wake of the truth. This is where you become an ear and listen with both compassion and honesty, but never falter to deliver what you’re telling them: that they have a drinking problem, you’re concerned, and you know it’s time they received help.
Again, depending on the severity of their alcoholism and personality type, there’s a large chance they’ll draw back. Because you’ve addressed an integral and important issue, something they often drink not to address, then you can be cast as the enemy. Since you’re now an antagonist in their life, they’ll push back and recede from your presence.
This is where the first step comes in handy, because as much as this withdrawal might burrow you in sorrow, you need to remain without bias. Do not buckle to their negligence or response because it hurts your feelings, but instead remain steadfast in your stance and continue to support them in the appropriate ways.
Become Fully Supportive
Offer your support whenever you can, in any way you can. While positive reinforcement is not always the key to helping an alcoholic, simply diagnosing the issue and sending them on their merry way in hopes that they change won’t help at all. At the end of the day, it has to be their choice to receive treatment, and that choice is often easier to make when they sympathize with their supporters.
A great way to gain this sympathy is to remain emotionally shielded, but empathetically armed. Reach out whenever you can and try and make the recovery process easier for them. Remove any judgment from the situation at hand and approach the problem like you would a work-related task. You know they need professional help, now you need to identify how to guide them there.
No matter how they respond initially, continue proving through actions that you feel it’s in their best interest that they receive aid. People are naturally more inclined to listen to those they value, and if you can remain a constant pillar, there’s a higher likelihood that you sway their motives.
If the Situation Calls for it, Plan an Intervention
This can be incredibly difficult. You’ve tried to reach your loved one through kind words, a non-bias approach, and with motives fueled with love, but they’re simply not responding. Or if they are, they’re doing it poorly. Now you’ve decided it’s time to truly expose the situation and you need a collective of people to do so.
This takes planning, preparation, and strategizing beforehand. The point is often not to make an alcoholic feel cornered, but to engage them at an emotional level, show sympathy for their affliction, and stand firm on your belief that the situation requires treatment. When it comes to outlining their consequences and the ways in which to rid of them, you should already have put a fair amount of thought into it. As they’ll take it as an accusation, nothing will invalidate your intervention more than saying ‘we’re not sure what you should do, but we know you should do it.’
If you followed step one, this won’t be a problem, but know that everything should be covered before staging an intervention. You often won’t have another chance to make the same impact. Lastly, try and envision yourself in their shoes. How would you react if a group of people you cared about all sat down and accused you of having a problem? How about a problem you don’t have the slightest clue as how to control? By seeing through both sides of the mirror you’ll be better equipped in empathizing with them, then reaching through to where it counts.
Offer to Join Them in their Journey
There is nothing more isolating than dealing with serious problems in solitude. By being their shoulder of support in times of need, you prove to them they’re not alone. Go to Alcoholic Anonymous meetings with them. Seek out sober activities that the two of you can enjoy together. Sit in on lectures or classes related to alcohol abuse.
Don’t make them codependent, but make yourself even more available when they’re first seeking help. It is important to support your loved one through rehab and validate their decision to get help. By doing this you’re taking away some of the forlornness an alcoholic feels on their initial road to recovery.
If all else fails, there are other options. If the severity of the alcoholism calls for serious help, sometimes loved ones do not have the proper tools in dealing with it. There is such a thing as an interventionist, and there are stories out there that prove they’ve been successful. There are also 12th step calls you can make to AA, and a vast amount of other resources to use when the alcoholic you love is in a serious condition but refusing treatment. Sometimes, you have to entrust the professionals.
Make Sure You Take Care of Yourself
In all sincerity, dealing with alcoholism is never easy. No matter if you’re the alcoholic or the alcoholic’s loved ones, this disease is tragic and painful. If you’re not healthy then chances are you’re not going to be the positive force they require.
Don’t ever blame yourself for their actions. We’re at a place and time where there’s tons of evidence to support the claim that alcohol is a genetic disorder. You wouldn’t blame yourself if someone close to you had a peanut allergy, would you? This again returns to our first point: remove the emotions which create bias from the situation at hand to best deal with the problem as a whole.
Make sure that you remain consistent in your support, but that as (and if) the alcohol problem worsens, you continue to love the alcoholic at a distance. Reaffirm what you believe in and what you think is best for them, always reassuring that it’s coming from a place of love, and never fall into their manipulative ploys to turn the situation against you, or to somehow benefit from your benevolence.
And know that you’re not alone. In fact, just as they should never be alone in dealing with alcoholism, you should never be alone in dealing with theirs. There are thousands of programs, professionals, and resources available which were created to help people in your situation. The road to recovery is a long one, but there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel. If you or a loved one is dealing with an alcohol addiction, Luminance Recovery is here to help. Our holistic approach to recovery is unique and has helped many people beat their addiction. Call us today to learn about our drug and alcohol rehab center.
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