Watching someone you love destroy their life with alcohol can be devastating. Its painful, frustrating, and oftentimes it can feel hopeless. Even though you can’t make the decision to quit for them,what can you do as a family member to help them realize they have a problem and seek help?
1. Educate yourself about addiction
In order to help your loved one, you first have to understand the nature of addiction yourself. If you’re reading this, you’re probably already taking this step.
While there are many different theoretical models used to describe addiction, such as the popular disease model, none of them are 100% accurate and applicable to every case. There are just so many different factors that can drive someone towards alcoholism, and these factors often interact and affect each other in unpredictable ways.
Learn as much as you can about alcoholism. Even if you don’t agree with theories such as the disease model, the more you know, the more tools you’ll have for dealing with a struggling alcoholic. Here are some useful resources you can use to get started:
- Wikipedia’s Entry On Alcoholism – A good place to start, gives a good general overview of alcoholism
- Alcoholics Anonymous and the Disease Concept of Alcoholism – An interesting look at the history of the “disease” theory of alcoholism and its link to AA.
- Alcoholics Anonymous’ Famous Big Book – Whether or not you agree with all the ideas put forth, this is a must read for anyone interested in understanding alcoholism and the recovery community
2. Help Yourself First
It’s not always enough just to learn how to help an alcoholic family member, in some cases, you have to figure out how to help yourself. Having someone close to you who abuses alcohol can be devastating to your own emotional and mental health.
If you live with an alcoholic, you need to learn to separate your own personal growth and happiness from your loved one’s sobriety. Attend Al-Anon meetings and learn more about dealing with alcoholic family members.
3. Bring Up Your Concerns With The Alcoholic
It’s important that you share your concerns with the alcoholic. Let them know that you’re concerned about them and that you want them to seek help. There’s a good chance they’ll dismiss your concerns, but its still an important step.
When you confront an alcoholic, the goal isn’t always to get them to quit or get treatment – that would be unrealistic. However, every confrontation plants a seed. It might not seem to have an effect now, but months or years down the road, they’ll remember those conversations when they’re finally in a place where they’re ready to seek help. In some cases, your conversation might come at just the right time.
This is also an opportunity to set boundaries with your loved one. If they’re constantly drunk, you may have to draw the line and tell them that you don’t want them to be around you if they continue to abuse alcohol. Another example of a boundary is telling them that if they continue to drink and drive, you’ll call the police next time before they harm themselves or someone else.
If you define a boundary, you also need to define a clear consequence and be ready to follow through. The consequence may be that you won’t bail them out anymore the next time they get in trouble, or it may even be necessary to kick them out of the house.
In order to take back control of your own life and maintain your sanity, you need to define clear, specific boundaries and consequences for violating those boundaries. Ideally, drawing these boundaries may force the alcoholic to acknowledge their problem and seek help, but in many cases it doesn’t. Either way, you need to protect yourself.
If you set a boundary and establish consequences should the alcoholic continue to violate those boundaries, make sure you follow through with those consequences. It can be difficult – it might feel like you’re abandoning your loved one at their greatest need, but the alcoholic needs to learn to take responsibility for their own destructive actions. You also have to learn to protect yourself from someone whose spiraling out of control. After all, you won’t be able to help them if they drag you down with them.
4. Organize An Intervention
If all else fails, you may need to organize a formal intervention. Despite their popular portrayal on TV and in movies, formal interventions should be a last resort. Its something that should be reserved for the alcoholic who’s spiraling out of control and hasn’t responded to anything else.
If you choose to organize an intervention, you need to plan it with the alcoholic’s closest friends and family members (who aren’t alcoholics or addicts themselves). You also need to carefully plan the timing of the intervention. Interventions have the greatest chances of success when the alcoholic is already hitting rock bottom, or has just experienced a major consequence as a result of their drinking.
If you’re considering organizing a formal intervention, here are some things you need to consider.
5. Detaching Yourself
As difficult as it may be to watch someone you love struggle with addiction, you need to take steps to detach yourself emotionally from their problems. Its something that gets taught at Al-Anon, and for good reason – if you want to maintain your sanity, you can’t be wrapped up emotionally in their self-destructive behaviors.
This doesn’t mean that you should stop caring for them just because they’re an alcoholic – far from it. You should still do everything you can to help your loved one, but being wrapped up too emotionally will not only cause you a great deal of pain, it can cloud your judgment as well. The goal is to establish emotional stability while still taking steps necessary to help your loved one through their struggle with addiction.