What are some ways to help an alcoholic/addict?
As you can imagine, everything has been tried before. Some stuff actually helps. Most things that we try, however, do not. Therefore, sometimes it can be useful to know what not to do. So, let’s take a look at what generally does not work:
1) Giving them money
Never give an alcoholic money if they are still actively drinking. Even if they need it for a “good purpose,” such as to buy food for their family, you should not do it. It’s always more manipulation on their part; money that they did spend on booze should have been spent on food, and if you give them money then you are telling them that it is OK to drink.
In short, never bail them out. Doing so only perpetuates their drinking.
2) Bargaining with them or threatening them
When it comes to dealing with the alcoholic, talk is cheap. Anything you say is completely worthless unless it is firmly backed up by action. So idle threats or trying to persuade them to back off in some way is completely ineffective. The only thing that matters is action.
One bargaining chip that people often play is to get them to drink less. Most people eventually figure out that this is a hopeless idea, even if the alcoholic genuinely agrees to try. Their condition prevents it. It is either abstinence or all-out drunk.
3) Helping them avoid the consequences of their drinking
Don’t do it. You’re actually hurting them. If they get a drunk driving and end up in jail, leave them there. Do not bail them out. If you deny them the consequences of their drinking, then they will definitely keep drinking. The only way that they might stop eventually is if they feel enough pain as a result of their drinking. Don’t ever deny them their pain.
This doesn’t mean you need to intentionally hurt them. They will do that on their own. Just don’t bail them out of situations that they have created by their excessive drinking. An alcoholic will not make this huge change if everything is going good in their life. People quit drinking when things get bad enough. If you prevent them from getting bad then the alcoholic will never change.
Now let’s take a look at what actually helps
Here are some ways to help an alcoholic that are actually beneficial:
1) Stop enabling them
This is probably the number one thing that you can do to help an alcoholic. When you enable them, you allow them to continue to keep drinking comfortably. You make it so that the easier path is to just continue to drink.
When we stop enabling someone, we make it so that the easier path is to take a look at their drinking. We do this by not bailing them out of jams and letting them experience the natural consequences of their drinking. Other things we can do to stop enabling them would include:
- No longer drinking or using drugs with them, ever.
- No more covering for them in order to help them out if their drinking is going to get them into trouble.
- No more making excuses for them
- Practice detachment by separating yourself from emotional turmoil that they create. Choose to not be a part of the chaos.
2) Set healthy limits and boundaries
Setting healthy limits is about deciding what is acceptable behavior to you. This is not about pointing the finger at the alcoholic and telling them what they should or should not be doing. Instead, you are going to decide for yourself what you will no longer put up with.
For example, if the alcoholic in your life typically comes home in a drunken rage, this might be something that you decide is unacceptable to you. So you set a limit. Then you communicate that limit and the consequences of that limit. You might say something like: “If you come home drunk again, I’m taking the kids and we’re going to go stay somewhere else for the night.”
Notice the following things about setting this boundary:
- It is communicated clearly
- There is a consequence that is also clearly explained
- The consequence is enforceable and is not a hollow threat
Never set a boundary that you do not intend to keep. Never threaten a consequence that you don’t intend to follow through with. If you do this will create problems and only perpetuate further drinking.
3) Practice detachment
Detachment is the goal of anyone in your position. The idea of detachment is to separate the person themselves from their disease of drinking. Making this clear separation in your mind will help you to change your behavior in such a way as to help the alcoholic.
Detachment is the idea that you can love the person and hate their disease of alcoholism. What you are detaching from is the emotional chaos and turmoil that their drinking creates. The idea is to remove yourself from that part of their life on an emotional level. Thus detachment is about freedom, for you. You are liberating yourself from their chaotic life.
Of course this is much easier said than done. Detachment takes practice. We have to analyze situations and ask ourselves if we are getting angry at the person or if we are getting angry at their alcoholism. If we are angry at the disease, then we need to stop ourselves and attempt to remove ourselves emotionally from that situation. This is detachment.
4) Encourage treatment
Finally, it can be worthwhile to encourage treatment for the alcoholic. It’s not worth making this into your life mission, but it can still be a useful effort on your part.
Encourage treatment without insisting, as we are almost never in a position to really insist anyway.
Encourage treatment without badgering, even though we probably think that we deserve to badger the alcoholic who has caused us so much grief.
Let them know that the option is there, when they are ready to get help. Do not let this idea of treatment turn into your only hope. Many alcoholics get sober without treatment. Others will find their own path. Remember that you can not do it for them.
When they are ready to change they will either change or ask for help. That is the time to act. That is the time to put forth a full effort in helping them. Not before then. Your efforts before this point of surrender are largely wasted.
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