Watching someone you love struggle with a drinking problem, or alcoholism can be extremely painful and frustrating. You may often feel helpless or that your attempts to help them go unseen or unappreciated. You may also be wondering what you can do to help or if the person even wants your help.
How You Can Help
The truth is you cannot force someone to face their demons, get help or admit they have a problem. This all has to come from a place of self-discovery and a personal desire to change. At the end of the day, you can’t force people to change, and the decision to do so has to be done on their own.
While you may not be able to make the decision for them or change the situation, you can be supportive as this person struggles to stay sober or get sober. There are several ways to help and influence an alcoholic to get help and feel supported.
1. Understand what alcoholism is and what it means to be an alcoholic.
Perhaps the best first step towards helping someone who has a drinking problem is to understand it as best as you possibly can. Understanding that an alcoholic is a different animal than just someone who likes to drink often is an important distinction to understand.
Someone who is displaying signs of alcoholism will no longer be able to control their drinking. If there is a bottle or drink in front of them, they have to finish it. Usually, someone with an alcohol abuse problem will have some of the following symptoms including but not limited to:
- Compulsive behaviors
- Physical dependence on the substance shown by alcohol withdrawal symptoms
- Loss of coordination
- Behavior that appears self-destructive
- Extremely high tolerance for alcohol
It can be hard to understand why alcoholics can’t stop drinking without properly educating yourself on what alcohol addiction looks like.
2. Realize you cannot save someone from being an alcoholic or drinking too much.
Active alcoholism creates a very irrational mentality for the person engaging with this disease. Unfortunately, no matter how hard you try, you cannot change it or, in most cases, even reason with it.
While you cannot save them from themselves, you can stop supporting their drinking. As harsh as it may feel or seem, cutting them off from help or assistance when their drinking has gotten out of control is a necessity. You must stop enabling their behavior by making excuses for them. This also means discontinuing any financial assistance to them such as not bailing them out, giving them money, giving them rides or allowing them to manipulate you into paying their bills for them.
3. Learning how to talk to someone with an alcohol problem is imperative.
Dealing with alcoholism is a very touchy subject. Furthermore, the most delicate piece of the equation can be the dialogue and conversation you have to have with the person you are concerned about. It’s important to stay calm while honestly expressing your love, care and worry for their life. Being real and open to the person in the most authentic way will show them the seriousness of your approach to them.
Let them know you want to be supportive and that you’ve looked into how you can help them without making them feel you are forcing their hand. Next, be prepared to face a negative response and denial. Usually, a person who is drinking heavily will feel a lot of shame and guilt around their habits, but will not be ready to admit it or give it up. You want to avoid sounding like you are preaching, threatening or demoralizing someone, as this will not be received well during an active alcohol addiction.
4. Offer to attend sober meetings or gatherings with your loved one.
When you show your support by providing to attending meetings with them as a first try effort to help them get sober, it will help someone struggling with alcoholism feel that you are on their team. By offering to go with them, they feel less alone, afraid and shameful.
One of the biggest hangups of alcoholism and why it perpetuates is the drinker feels they are going to live by themselves or that the world is against them, and they cannot catch a break. Offering to attend meetings such as Alcoholics Anonymous, SMART Recovery or Celebrate Recovery will help your loved one feel much more supported.
5. Don’t try to talk to the person while they are drinking or under the influence.
You want to find a time to approach your loved one when they are the least troubled. You don’t want to come at them while they are buzzed, drunk or stressed. Often the best time of day to catch someone without a drink in his or her hands already is in the morning. You want to approach them in a peaceful and private setting, so you have the most probable opportunity for them to open up to you and receive the important message you are carrying for them.
6. Learn how to get help for alcohol addiction and what options are available.
It’s important to approach a person with a drinking problem from a solutions-based standpoint. When you sit them down alone or with family, you want to be able to show them you took the time to research and understand their options for getting help or treatment for substance abuse. Detox, inpatient treatment, an outpatient program, counseling or support group meetings are all available and should be identified in your area, recommended and explained clearly, so your loved one knows exactly how and where to get help for themselves.
7. Attend an Al-Anon Family Group to get your support.
It can be emotionally and mentally draining to try to support and help someone you care about and see struggling with an alcohol problem. There are support groups and 12-step programs designed for affected family members and friends of alcoholics that are designed to offer you encouragement too. It’s imperative if you are feeling stressed that you also seek help.
If your attempts to help an alcoholic don’t seem to be working, the next step is to understand how to help someone who doesn’t want help. This can be a terrible position to find yourself in. At which point, you may need to contact an interventionist or substance abuse professional to learn more about additional options.
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The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.