More than 16 million Americans have an alcohol abuse problem, according to the data from a national institute watchdog. But this guide is not about them, it’s about you. With so many people asking how to help an alcoholic boyfriend, husband, friend or family member we decided to dedicate this article to you, in hopes of answering the burning question: ”How to help an alcoholic?”
The media keeps reminding us how debilitating alcoholism can be. The definition of alcoholism presumes that alcoholics have the potential not to only ruin the life for themselves, they usually drain the people around them along the way. Are you looking for ways to help an alcoholic family member, friend, or colleague? Are you tired of seeing them burning bridges with their friends, spiraling down deeper into their addiction? Read on for 20 ways that will teach you how to help someone with a drinking problem.
Change Your Mindset
A person who faces an alcohol use disorder will most likely deny there is anything wrong with them. He or she may say the habit only helps them to take the edge off, even though you know they’ve been drinking in excess. You won’t be able to get them to start working on themselves or even acknowledge the problem that easily. Not least because an alcoholic hardly cares about the impact he or she has on their lives and those surrounding them. All they care about is where their next drink is coming from.
Therefore, you need to start with your own attitude. You are that one person your spouse, child, parent, or friend has. You care. How to help someone with a drinking problem? Let them know you care. Let them know you’re there to help them get rid of their self-destructive habit. Help them understand that help is only a call away. You can do this by:
6. Educating yourself on the ways in which addiction or substance abuse works People often say knowledge is power and they’re not wrong. The more you know about the biological and social underpinnings of an addiction, the more resources you can resort to in order to try and address the issue. What’s more, you can draw from other experiences to empathize with your loved one and understand where he or she is coming from. You can help them to cope with desire to drink if you know how to stop craving alcohol.
7. Be rationally compassionate and understanding Being compassionate within reasons can help you connect with the alcoholic better. This doesn’t mean you should cover up for them or help them fuel their addiction. How to help an alcoholic spouse? Ask them about the stressors that are forcing him or her to seek refuge in frequent drinking. Compassion will open up new doors for you but remember not to take a higher moral ground or make the person feel like a loser.
8. Do not blame yourself for their choices It is not your fault. An alcohol use disorder, whether sparked by genetic or environmental factors, is that person’s own choice. You are not responsible for its onset or the fact the person isn’t seeking help. Don’t convince yourself you’re the reason behind their behavior. This can nudge the alcoholic to use the feelings of guilt and manipulate you to give them money or cover up for their behavior.
9. Plan what you’ll say during the confrontation In cases where a person is abusing any substance, including alcohol, a confrontation is inevitable. Whether it’s an intervention or a one-to-one talk, your knowledge about the nature of the addiction will come into play. You may want to bring up the fact addiction isn’t any different to other disorders, like diabetes, or cancer, for example. Plan what you’re going to say in advance. Make sure you speak from a place of compassion. This way, you will not find yourself without anything to say and have more chances of persuading your loved one to undergo treatment.
10. Lower your expectations Your first meeting is likely to produce no results. Do not get discouraged by this. Alcoholics are highly unlikely to admit their problem and seek professional help right away. Instead of hoping for an immediate solution, start with opening up communication channels with your loved one. For example, if you’re wondering how to help an alcoholic family member, show them you care and have the best interests in mind. By doing this, you will provide suitable grounds for progress during your next meeting. There are several stages of recovery from alcoholism – and there might be several stages of persuading dependent individual to enroll in the treatment program.
Be Easy on Yourself
As shocking as it sounds, caring about yourself is as important as caring about your loved one facing an alcohol use disorder. Most people overlook this simple practice and end up ruining their lives. They’re pondering over how to help an alcoholic family member, or how to help an alcoholic friend so much that they put too much stress on themselves along the way. Here’s how to remain safe, sane, and healthy in the process of helping an alcoholic.
17. Remain at a close distance from your loved one In the case you’ve exhausted all your means of persuasion, you have to distance yourself from the addict. This sounds brutal but you’re doing the right thing by cutting all ties. What other way there is to help an alcoholic who doesn’t want help? Sometimes, this change in attitude prompts the addict to realize the damage their behavior is causing.
18. Avoid Becoming codependent Don’t get so involved in the process that you find yourself being dragged along the same road the addict is taking. You don’t have to deal with the inner demons or come face-to-face with the hidden flow of emotions the addict throws your way. Connect with the substance abuser on a level where you can retain your sanity and objectivity.
19. Don’t succumb to pressure and start drinking yourself Again, it seems like a no-brainer, but don’t seek unhealthy stress-escape routes. Remember that an alcoholic is choosing the drink before his family and friends, and you’ll quickly find yourself repulsed by drinking yourself.
20. Instead, seek emotional support from those around you You’ve taken up the challenge to help a loved one become sober. How to help an alcoholic? Never by yourself. There are others who have been through what you’re experiencing. If you know of no one to reach out to, try 12-step programs, like the Al-Anon, which are designed for family members and friends of alcoholics.
And give yourself a big pat on the back. You’re doing the right thing by choosing to care, even if no one else, including the alcoholic, does.
Once you’ve presented your concerns in the most loving way possible, there is a strong chance your loved one may make false promises about cutting back or quitting. This is the part where boundaries must be set such as:
- Not interacting with them when they have been drinking.
- Not loaning them money.
- Not buying them alcohol.
- Not paying their bills for them.
- Setting limits to protect your home, finances and relationships.
- Call the police if violence becomes involved.
“Setting and enforcing boundaries not only allows loved ones to resume control of their lives, practice healthy detachment, and safeguard their own health and well-being but also helps the addict face the natural consequences of their actions.” –Psych Central
There are three major steps to preparing yourself to help an alcoholic family member. The first step is to clearly identify the symptoms and consequences that the alcoholic is suffering or causing others to suffer. It is best to write out a documented list, including dates and times.
- The second step is to detach yourself emotionally from the actions of the alcoholic. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still care about the person, but you need be prepared to discuss and possibly witness destructive behavior without getting emotional.
The final step in the process is to practice talking to the alcoholic before actually engaging. You want to be at your best during this conversation, and just like with oral book reports in middle school, you are best when you practice a few times first.
Talking With The Alcoholic
This is the most difficult step and the one likely to face the most resistance, which is why many people choose to stage an intervention. An intervention provides support for you and others who are concerned, even more than it actually helps the alcoholic. However, because an intervention also tends to create a fight or flight reflex in the alcoholic, you almost certainly want to have initial discussions one on one, if at all possible.
However you choose to talk to the alcoholic, you should try to be minimally confrontational and provide concrete details of the problem you have witnessed. This is the value of that list you created earlier. A discussion about vague concerns of drinking too much doesn’t have the same impact as being able to offer multiple examples of times and places when the alcoholic drank too much and caused harm to self or others.
Also, as much as you may be tempted to talk to the alcoholic during a drunken outburst, don’t bother. This discussion only has value when they are completely sober.
8 Things To Keep In Mind
- You should start going to Al-anon meetings and work their program diligently
- The affected person must agree to get a professional help
- If diagnosed with alcoholism, suggest they complete an alcohol treatment program
- After rehab, they need to go to 90 Alcoholics Anonymous meetings in 90 days
- Make it clear that you are very supportive
- Let them know that you will do whatever you can to help
- Spiritual growth is the main taproot of long term recovery
- Let them work their own program
Do The Right Next Thing
The best thing to do to help a friend or a family member with a drug and or alcohol problem is to call us. We know exactly what to do and how to do it. We will talk with you about the best options so you can decide what to do.
Sometimes planning an intervention is appropriate. If they are done right, interventions are always successful.
- If you decide to just talk with the affected person, make sure you consider doing it with another person there too. It is a good idea to have someone else present to support you.
Getting someone to agree to get help for their drug or alcohol problem can be challenging. Usually the person is in denial about how serious nature of their problem. Always plan what to say and know something about the rehab, treatment and recovery process.
Discourage Drinking Behavior
This first set of tips should a “no-brainer,” but often isn’t. One of the biggest challenges of how to get someone to stop drinking is curtailing your OWN activities that subtly encourage that person to keep drinking.
Often a family member or a close friend unknowingly becomes an enabler to an addict or someone who abuses alcohol. An enabler is a person who unwittingly creates opportunities so that a loved one can indulge in their addiction. Of course, their intention is not to fuel the addictive tendencies, but many people don’t realize that their seemingly harmless actions can backfire.
So to start, here’s a guide on what NOT to do to help an alcoholic:
DON’T cover up for them
When you cover up or make excuses for an alcoholic’s behavior, you unknowingly give them the idea that you approve of what they’re doing, or “have their back” when it comes to their unacceptable habits and actions. Besides, covering up is often an indication that you are probably in denial yourself about your loved one’s alcoholism.
DON’T bail them out from jail
There are countless examples of an addict deciding to seek help in quitting alcohol after hitting rock bottom and realizing what a mess his or her life is in. So if he or she lands up in jail on DUI charges or for indulging in alcohol-related crimes, don’t bail them out. Let them realize how alcohol has taken over their lives and the hazards of the slippery slope they are hurtling down. This can be one of the hardest parts of how to help alcoholic friends or family, but it’s an essential one.
DON’T take over their responsibilities
When you take over an alcoholic’s responsibilities, you give them permission to pursue their addiction. They get the idea that you approve of their habits and that it is okay to carry on as they currently are. Don’t shield an alcoholic from the consequences of not carrying out his or her work, school, or family duties. Let them face the music, so they realize how alcohol is damaging their lives and relationships.
DON’T loan them money unless they have landed in a hospital
Alcoholism is an expensive habit to sustain. So the need for funds to sustain the addiction is always present. As sad as it may sound, an alcoholic will stoop to lying to obtain funds from you. They will invent lies like having to pay the rent (while probably spending their nights in bars and their days sleeping on park benches) or to buy groceries (when in reality they couldn’t care less about preparing and eating nutritious meals) to obtain money from you. If you are certain that a loved one is an alcoholic, DON’T loan him or her money unless he or she has landed in a hospital or recovery facility and needs funds to undergo some treatment.
DON’T take part in drinking sessions with an alcoholic friend or family member
Probably the number one tip on how to get an alcoholic to stop drinking is DON’T GO OUT DRINKING WITH THEM. When you take part in these drinking sessions, you encourage his or her habit. It doesn’t matter if you drink just a tiny bit of alcohol or even a Coca-Cola. An alcoholic will interpret your very participation in the drinking session as an endorsement of his or her addiction, a message that it’s OK.
Start With Your Own Mindset
Someone who has an alcohol use disorder is most likely to be in a denial mode. You won’t easily get him or her to accept that there is a problem, let alone work on solving it. On the other hand, someone who is an alcoholic doesn’t really care about how he or she “should be” living and functioning. He or she just live from one drink to another.
This leaves just YOU to save a life.
How to make someone stop drinking? YOU are the only person who can make your child, partner, friend, parent, or sibling realize how they are destroying their lives.
How to support an alcoholic? YOU are the only person who can persuade your friend or a family member to accept the help that is just a call away.
These won’t be easy tasks to pull off. So make sure you approach the job with the right mindset.
Educate yourself on the nature of substance abuse or addiction
Knowledge is power. The more you learn about the nature of alcohol abuse and addiction, their neurological roots, and how alcohol works on the mind and psyche of a person who abuses alcohol, the more you can empathize with your loved one and understand what he or she is going through.
Addiction is not a moral flaw. It is the result of a complex interplay between genes, hormones, and the environment. When you get the facts straight, you can be compassionate when you confront a loved one who is an alcoholic. Don’t take the moral high ground and make him or her feel like a loser. On the contrary, displaying compassion and understanding can encourage an alcoholic to confide in you about the stresses that may have made him or her seek refuge in drinking. Don’t blame yourself for somebody else’s drinking habits.
You can’t work on his or her genes. You can’t alter the way he or she reacts to the addiction triggers present in the environment. You are not responsible for a person choosing to carry on drinking or not seeking help. In fact, the more you blame yourself, the more stressed you can become. What is more, your loved one can manipulate you and work on your feelings of guilt to extract money out of you.
Decide beforehand what you want to say during the confrontation
Here’s when knowledge again comes into play. You may want to tell a loved one how alcohol is harming his or her physical and mental health. Or you may want to make him or she realizes that addiction is just another disorder like diabetes or cancer that needs medical treatment.
Whatever you want to say during the confrontation, it helps if you plan in advance. This ensures you can come up with the most persuasive statement. Preparation lets you go over what you want to say during the confrontation and ensure that you speak only from a place of compassion.
Adjust your expectations
Do not stress by expecting results right after the first meeting. Do not expect an alcoholic to call in on an addiction counselor or visit a rehab clinic right after talking with you.
Instead believe that by confronting your alcoholic loved one, you are opening the channels of communication. You are giving him or her the chance to mull over the problem and feel motivated to quit alcohol. By showing that you care, you are assuring the person that you have only his or her best interests in mind. So in a later meeting, he or she will be more receptive to your suggestions.
Meetings like alcoholics anonymous or smart recovery can help.
Some people doubt the efficacy of 12 step meetings. But there’s a reason they’ve been around so long. To the doubters, I encourage them to walk into an open 12 step meeting and see all the sober alcoholics stay clean through the 12 steps.
They also provide the opportunity for a newcomer to replace an undoubtedly unhealthy network of drinking buddies with a group of authentic, recovering friends.
If your loved one prefers a scientific approach to sobriety, see if SMART Recovery offers meetings in the area. You are free to assist by proposing to go with him/her. Sometimes this can help ease the fears associated with taking the first step towards sobriety.
Signs of Addiction
It is important for family members and friends to recognise the signs and symptoms of addiction. These can differ depending on the type of addictions they are coping with, whether it be drugs, alcohol or gambling addiction. Many people are able to hide their addiction even from those closest to them, and it can be tempting to ignore the problem when that seems easier. Some of the most common signs that someone is suffering from addiction include:
- Developing problems at work or school
- Lying about the substance or how much they use
- Becoming angry when asked about their use
- Changing friends groups
- Secretive behaviour, lying, stealing
- Changes to normal habits or mood swings
- Quitting social activities
- Criminal behaviour
- Appearing intoxicated more often
- Problems with memory or cognition
- Unusual tiredness
- Bloodshot eyes
- Rapid weight fluctuations
- Poor hygiene and grooming
Barriers to Helping an Addicted Person
As much as you want to help your loved one, it is common for those who suffer from addiction to exhibit negative behaviours and attitudes when confronted about their using. Many people will react in the following ways:
Part of the reason that addiction is so difficult to manage and treat is because the person affected refuses to accept that they have a problem. It can be frustrating and confusing for those around the person affected to continue watching them behave in destructive ways and remain in denial when confronted.
When confronted, the person affected will deny they have a problem, and will commonly react in anger, initially or if pushed on the issue. People with addiction will generally be feeling defensive, and can turn aggressive, if the issue of their using is raised. Even the “nicest” approach may be met with anger.
The person affected may start to avoid you, or avoid speaking about their problems, if they begin to feel “attacked”. A person with addiction will often use as a coping method to avoid problems and may continue this avoidance behaviour, starting to shut themselves away from you and other loved ones that confront them.
Is My Spouse an Alcoholic? Signs and Symptoms of Alcoholism
It’s often difficult to remain objective about a loved one’s drinking problem, especially when the person in question is your husband or wife. No one wants to believe that their spouse could be an alcoholic, but it’s important to recognize the signs and symptoms of alcoholism if your spouse is exhibiting them. After all, you won’t be able to get help if neither of you recognizes there is a problem.
If your spouse is an alcoholic, he or she may exhibit some of these common signs and symptoms of alcohol abuse:
- They drink more than they intend to.
- They have tried to stop drinking or cut back but are unable to.
- They spend a great deal of time drinking, being drunk, or recovering from hangovers.
- They have problems with work, school, or family because of their drinking habits.
- They quit or cut back on other activities they used to enjoy to drink.
- They continue to drink alcohol even though it makes them depressed, anxious, and sick.
- They experience alcohol-induced blackouts often.
- They must drink more than they used to in order to achieve the desired effect.
- They experience withdrawal symptoms when the effects of alcohol wear off.2
The presence of several of the signs and symptoms listed above may indicate a severe drinking problem that needs to be addressed immediately.
Consequences of Living with an Alcoholic Wife or Husband
Unfortunately, many husbands or wives choose to do nothing, even after they realize their spouse has a drinking problem. Although it may seem like a strange thing to do, many people do nothing because they are in denial, they are afraid of approaching the alcoholic, or they don’t know where to turn for help.
If you have a spouse with a drinking problem and you choose to do nothing about it, you and your family will likely suffer the consequences. It should be no surprise that continuing to live with an alcoholic wife or husband will have many negative effects on both you and your children.
If your spouse is an alcoholic, you may suffer some of the following negative effects as a result:
- Verbal abuse
- Physical abuse
- Financial problems
- Medical problems
- Frequent lies
- Poor self-esteem
- Neglect 3
Your children are also not immune to the negative effects of alcoholism in the family. One in four children lives in a family with a parent addicted to drugs or alcohol.4 Although it is common, children in these situations also suffer immensely when one or both of their parents are alcoholics, and the effects are often long-lasting, following them throughout the remainder of their lives.
According to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, children of alcoholics face many challenges due to the lack of stability at home.5 Generally speaking, children of alcoholics frequently face many of the following unique challenges:
- They are exposed to chronic high levels of stress.
- They are at higher risk for developing depression, anxiety disorders, and PTSD.
- They are often emotionally and/or physically neglected.
- They are often exposed to violence.
- They may be physically or emotionally abused.
- They may internalize feelings of fear and shame.
- They may feel responsible for their parent’s drinking problem.
- They are more at risk for alcoholism and drug abuse later in life.
- They are more likely to have behavioral problems.5,6
Families affected by addiction also tend to adopt unhealthy coping behaviors as a result of the alcohol abuse, such as self-medicating, isolating, or continually “rescuing” the alcoholic.
Planning an Intervention for an Alcoholic Spouse
If you’re trying to figure out how to approach an alcoholic spouse, it is wise to consider each situation individually. Some people may respond well to a one-on-one conversation about their drinking habits. In this case, choose a time and place with minimal distractions to talk to your spouse about their drinking problem. Try to remain calm when you address the issue, using “I feel” statements, such as “When you come home drunk at 2 a.m., I feel disrespected and sad.”
While a one-on-one conversation may be enough to get some people to go to treatment, this approach may not work well for everyone. If your alcoholic spouse is in denial and refuses to get help after you talk to them about it, you may need to consider an intervention.
What is an Intervention? An intervention is an organized and planned conversation that typically involves friends and family of the alcoholic and the alcoholic. The primary goal of an intervention is to help the alcoholic understand that their behavior is a problem and that they need to get professional treatment. Ideally, an intervention ends with the alcoholic admitting they have a drinking problem and agreeing to enroll in a treatment program.
A carefully planned intervention may be an effective way to address your spouse’s drinking problem and convince them to go to treatment. If you’ve never planned or hosted an intervention before, you may want to consult with an interventionist first.
An interventionist is a type of professional that has been trained to work with families dealing with addiction and can help you plan and host the intervention. He or she may also be able to mediate during the intervention to ensure the conversation remains productive and calm.
During the intervention, you will address the following topics with your spouse:
- How their alcohol abuse has negatively affected you, your children, and your household
- Why you believe addiction treatment would be the best solution
- Any boundaries you will implement if they choose not to get professional help
If your spouse still refuses to get help after the intervention, you will need to follow through with those boundaries you laid out during the intervention until your spouse agrees to get help for their drinking problem. Some examples of boundaries may include:
- Finding another temporary living situation
- Refusing to support them financially until they get help
- Getting rid of all the alcohol in the house
- Restricting parenting privileges or access to children
When an alcoholic spouse refuses to get help, it can make things difficult. Although there are laws in many states allow involuntary commitment of minors into addiction treatment, once the person turns 18, there are few things a loved one can do to force someone into treatment—with the exception of court-ordered rehab.7 Your spouse will either need to agree to go to treatment, be forced to go to treatment by the court, or choose to do so themselves.
Identifying and Changing Enabling Behaviors
Implementing some of the boundaries outlined above may seem harsh, but in some instances, it may be the only way to motivate your spouse to enroll in treatment. There are, however, other ways you can help motivate your spouse to get help for their alcohol addiction, such as identifying any enabling behaviors in your own life and changing them.
If you are enabling your alcoholic spouse, you may behave in certain ways that intentionally or unintentionally support their drinking habits. Common examples of enabling behaviors include:
- Maintaining denial about your spouse’s addiction.
- Drinking with your alcoholic spouse.
- Justifying your spouse’s alcohol abuse.
- Avoiding problems to keep the peace.
- Blaming or lecturing your alcoholic spouse.
- Taking over your spouse’s responsibilities at home.
- Treating the alcoholic spouse like a child.
- Doing nothing and just “sticking it out” until things get better.8
It’s extremely important to identify and change these enabling behaviors because, ultimately, they do more harm than good. When you enable, you shield your alcoholic spouse from ever fully experiencing the consequences of their behavior. Since you’ll always be there to catch them when they fall, your spouse may never be motivated to seek treatment on their own.
Enabling behaviors may also quickly develop into codependency, which is a form of enabling and a learned behavior that can be passed down from one generation to the next. The main danger of codependency is that it will fuel your spouse’s addiction and affect your ability to have a healthy, mutually satisfying relationship, both now and in the future.9
What Does it Mean to be a Codependent Spouse of an Alcoholic? A codependent spouse of an alcoholic often feels an obligation to support the alcoholic and be a good spouse by “helping” the alcoholic. This often results in codependent behaviors, like making excuses for the alcoholic’s behavior, covering up for the alcoholic when they make a mistake or assuming the alcoholic’s responsibilities at home. Codependency and addiction often go hand-in-hand, but these behaviors can make the addiction worse.
How to Support an Alcoholic Spouse in Recovery
Individual treatment for addiction recovery is very helpful, but research shows treatment and therapy that involves the whole family may produce better outcomes.10
In the event that your spouse chooses to seek treatment and enroll in alcohol detox and a rehab program, you may be wondering what you can do to support them and get involved in the recovery process. There are several things you can do to support an alcoholic spouse in recovery, but here are just a few ideas:
- Remove all alcoholic beverages from the home, in preparation for their return.
- Participate in the treatment center’s family program.
- Make time for phone calls and/or meetings with your spouse’s treatment team.
- Write letters to your spouse while they are in treatment to remind them that you’re proud of the progress they’ve made.
- Consider enrolling in individual therapy.
- Be a good example with your own drinking habits and behaviors.
If you want personalized recommendations on how to support a spouse in rehab, it’s best to contact their treatment team at the rehab center.
Getting Addiction Recovery Support for Yourself
Addiction is a family disease and recovery will involve everyone affected. While your loved one is in treatment, it’s important for you and your loved ones to find outlets for personal support as well.
Community support groups can provide a safe environment for you to express your emotions and feelings regarding your spouse’s alcohol abuse. They also offer opportunities to engage and connect with other individuals and families in similar situations.
If you’re not sure where to start, the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence recommends the following community organizations:
- Al-Anon Family Groups
- Nar-anon Family Groups
- CoDA (Co-Dependents Anonymous)
- ACA (Adult Children of Alcoholics)11
The addiction recovery process requires hard work, dedication, and life-long continued effort, but it is well worth the work. You and your loved ones all play an essential role in your spouse’s ongoing recovery, but together, your family can find freedom in sustained sobriety.
If your spouse is an alcoholic and you need help planning an intervention or you’d like more information about Briarwood Detox Center, please call our admissions team today. We have helped countless individuals and their families achieve lasting sobriety and we are ready to help you too.