In this post, we outline 10 helpful steps to help you help a loved one suffering from alcoholism.
Unhealthy alcohol use can range from mild to severe and can affect anyone. If left untreated, any type of alcohol abuse can become dangerous.
The below advice will help you navigate the various obstacles that may be preventing your loved one from escaping his or her addiction.
Here’s our top 10 steps below:
1. Stage an Intervention
What are you left with, when all else fails? Tough love, in a healthy dosage. To enforce the meaning of your message, you may have to take reasonable action.
You will have to follow through on any ultimatum you communicate, though. Don’t threaten to limit their time with you, unless you mean it.
Remember that an intervention will be worth their short-term anger, and after all, the push you’re giving the individual only shows the strength of how much you care for them.
2. Give Praise Where It’s Due
When an individual starts showing their fighting skills in their battle with addiction, this is a huge step in their journey. This may as well be an aeroplane in the sky spelling out ‘HOPE’.
Without patronising them, or minimising their efforts, you can celebrate their small wins.
If they come to you and ask for your help, that’s even better. It may feel a huge responsibility, but if a person struggling with substance misuse finally reaches out, it means they’re closer to resisting their internal struggles.
3. Be a Good Role Model
People in the throes of addiction journeys need positive people around them, not just in their verbal encouragement or shows of support. They will likely need you to model a healthy lifestyle as well, and to talk about the positive effects.
If you wake up early for a morning run while your loved one is still in bed with a hangover, talk about how much fitter and healthy you feel. This isn’t so they can compare themselves to you unfavourably – this is so that they can see the effect of positive habits.
4. Free Yourself of “Should”
Expectations can be unhelpful because everyone will be at a different stage of their journey. Comparisons between your loved one and a neighbour’s loved one will not inspire confidence in the individual suffering from addiction. Asking “If so-and-so did this, why can’t you?” is not useful.
Instead of focusing on the “should”, focus on the “right now”. What is a productive use of your time that will allow the person you care for to recover?
Enforcing firm consequences regarding their specific behaviour will be necessary, but giving lectures unprompted will diminish their faith in themselves to get better.
5. Consider Joining a Support Group Too
You will likely meet so many family members and friends of people with addictions, from all walks of life. They are there for the same reason you are, because they have been impacted by this disease. Seeing people care for someone who seems beyond help will likely inspire hope in you too.
As well, it will be an educative experience that will teach you how the mental illness of addiction involves many complexities. For some people, their environment or socialisation led them down the path of substance misuse, but for others, their genes had a part to play in it.
You will learn about individual differences and the factors contributing to addictions. Because people with addictions sometimes act recklessly without realising, it’s important to validate the impact it has had on you too.
It is likely some of your needs have not been met by the individual suffering, as research has shown that entire families are impacted by substance use disorders .
6. Stop Enabling
If you fund or support an individual’s addiction, they may well favour you in the short-term. In the long-term, they will surely resent all who enabled their addiction.
Playing a part in someone’s self-destruction will cause you to feel ashamed, and it’s better to face their anger in the short run than their worsening health in the long run.
With this comes the setting of boundaries that are healthy, firm and consistent. Structure and routine help the individual, whose life may be a chaotic rollercoaster of ups and downs. If they know not to expect money from you, or that you’ll give them a late-night lift in the car to the bar, they will slowly get the message.
Nobody wants to be ostracised from their loved ones, and the fear of losing you may well spark a fear in the individual. However, if it does not, be sure not to intentionally guilt-trip them – shame rarely motivates people to make positive changes. If anything, it can make them worse.
7. Seek Community Help
Medical professionals will be even more aware than you are of the intricacies of masking addictions. There are all sorts of tactics an individual may use, to make excuses or deny there is a problem. By explaining the situation to a doctor ahead of an appointment, the GP is informed and prepared to use a firm approach with the patient.
The act of taking the individual to a health professional may well be the wake-up call they need, to kickstart their want to get better. Professionals will sometimes act as a figure of authority where required, or offer the credibility needed for an individual to realise they need help.
Group courses, therapy and treatment programmes may seem less easy to refuse when recommended by a doctor.
You can also try to get your loved one to attend a 12-step programme offered by Alcoholics Anonymous, or Narcotics Anonymous if drugs are also involved. Alternative support groups include SMART Recovery.
If you’re loved one will not accept the need for help, you can enlist the support of an addiction interventionist. This person will typically help your loved one begin an alcohol rehab and/or alcohol detox programme for their alcohol use disorder/alcoholism.
Co-occurring mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety will be addressed if your loved one attends an alcohol rehab clinic. Here, evidenced based treatments such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBD) and Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT) will be utilised.
8. Analyse the Recovery Journey
Now that you’ve read up on processes, you will be better informed on whereabouts the individual is on their journey. If it is quite early on, then you have detected subtle changes in their behaviour and they may be more receptive to the idea that they need support.
The longer they have been addicted, the harder it may be for all involved. This is because the individual’s brain actually changes dramatically during addiction; for example, in terms of executive functioning. There is often an overwhelming need for the substance that worsens over time .
That said, just because executive functioning is compromised, it doesn’t mean your loved one will be resistant to treatment. It may be unhelpful to buy into the myth that somebody is “too far gone”.
Instead, you can analyse where they are in the process, and use that information to be critically aware of the specific struggles involved.
9. Read Up on Reasons for Addiction
All addictions are different, and it’s important to note that once you have discovered the reasons why one person became addicted, that’s just one person’s story. People with addictions come from varying backgrounds, and could have private reasons for their battles, unbeknownst to you.
That said, there may be patterns you spot between your loved one, and another who is suffering. Withdrawal symptoms have very similar facets to them, which is why the individual can benefit from group therapy, when they’re ready. They’ll connect with people whose origins and backgrounds may vary, but the physical manifestations of withdrawals will feel excruciating to all.
Part of educating yourself involves spotting patterns and learning to anticipate reactions. Certain dates, such as anniversaries, trigger people each year into drinking heavily or misusing substances. If you have a feeling that a stressful deadline at work will increase the chance of relapse, you can prepare to offer more support for your loved one at that time.
The key thing to remember is that addiction is a disease, which people learn to live with. Your loved one’s recovery journey will likely share characteristics with people who have been through similar.
It’s advisory to balance what you know about this individual situation, with new knowledge on how addictions have upturned other people’s lives too. The more knowledge you have on the possibilities, the better equipped you will be to deal with situations as they come up.
As well, the act of you searching for reasons may humanise the person behind the addiction. The last thing you want is to withhold empathy at this vital time.
10. Deal With Your Denial, and Theirs
With addiction, it might not only be the person suffering who is in denial. You might not have admitted it to yourself aloud before, because you don’t want to impair your relationship with the person suffering.
Perhaps you have been ignoring your gut instinct, which is triggered every time they waste money you gave them, or socialise with friends who are also suffering from addictions.
For you to type your question into a search bar just highlights that you have a suspicion about your loved one, which you may fear saying aloud. Of course, you will have to gather enough evidence and ask lots of questions to get a sense of the whole picture, but for you to do that, you must admit there may be a problem.
It’s always better to have an open and honest conversation with the person involved, but that’s easier said than done. Their journey to recovery could be a lengthy process that involves you relying upon a vast reserve of patience, understanding and hope.
It is quite likely that you aren’t the only person in denial. Maybe the individual you care about is in a foggy, confused state of blaming others and projecting their faults onto them.
They may change the topic of conversation to a flaw of your own, even going as far to suggest that the cause of the addiction is your neglect of them. They say things like, “If you had only answered the phone at midnight, I wouldn’t have had to go to the pub.”
In reality, they are deep in denial, which is a psychological mechanism that satisfies their need to see themselves in a positive light.
By pretending that you are to blame, they manipulate the laws of cause-and-effect to diminish their own responsibility. This may well irk you, especially when you can see through it.
Be patient with them if you can. You don’t want to use the later stages, of ultimatums and tough love, until absolutely necessary. It’s too early in the process to consider setting goals that come across as harsh, unforgiving or frightening for them.