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Knowing how to help an alcoholic can be a challenging, frightening and bewildering task.
We’ve all heard the adage that you can only help someone who wants to help themselves, and, to a certain extent, that is true of someone misusing alcohol.
However, there are positive things you can do to help someone to move toward the stage where they are prepared to start helping themselves and to ensure you aren’t unintentionally enabling their problem to escalate.
The actions of someone who is caught up in alcoholism can seem incredibly selfish and may be having a very destructive effect not just on them but on you and others too.
They may well have let you down, been dishonest, acted irresponsibly or offensively and they may have done this on repeat.
It’s natural to feel angry with them or like they value drinking more than they value you, their children or anything else.
You should never feel that you have to continue putting up with poor behaviour or treatment and doing so may actually enable their drinking problem to grow. But, you will be more able to do what is required to help them if you are able to reach a point where you have compassion for their situation.
There are strong evidence based links between alcoholism and mental ill health. One report said 44% of community mental health patients reported problem drug use or harmful drinking. There is also a strong link between alcohol and suicide. There may be further increased risk of suicide when alcohol is mixed with cocaine.
Alcohol may be a crutch someone has come to rely on to deal with stress, anxiety, depression or trauma. Many, many alcoholics feel desperate to break the drinking cycle, even when they may outwardly deny a problem, yet despite all the chaos and sadness alcohol causes them and those they care about they seem unable to stop. Alcoholics need help.
This is one of those things that is incredibly easy to say and is very often extremely difficult to do. Speaking to someone about their alcohol consumption can cause upset, offence and may lead to hurt, anger, even aggression.
Choosing your moment and words carefully will help the conversation go more smoothly.
It’s important to pick a moment when you are both calm and sober and to try to use ‘I’ statements, focusing on the concerns you have in relation to their drinking and the emotions you feel about it. If you feel there is any chance you’ll be at risk of harm by raising the topic you should seek support and guidance first and should not attempt to do so alone. It may be safer to have the conversation on the phone or via an email or letter.
You’ll be more likely to get through to someone if you can avoid blaming language.
Comments such as: “I’m worried about your drinking. It’s making me concerned for your wellbeing,” are more conducive to enticing someone to be receptive to your words than: “You need to drink less. Your drinking is out of control.”
Even when you pick your words carefully, remain calm and avoid being accusatory, your message may still not get through.
If you can be persistent in expressing your love and concern you may just get there in the end. Some alcoholics hear the same thing from the same person many times and one day the message just suddenly hits home.
In certain circumstances a more formal intervention, possibly supported by a counsellor, may be appropriate and may help someone to face up to their problem.
When we care about someone and can see them self destructing it is not unusual to begin to feel we may have done things to contribute to the problem, but remember you are not to blame.
Whatever is said and done between you, you are nortresponsible for someone else’s behaviour, whether that be drinking or any other action.
Guilt isn’t an unusual emotion among the family, friends, loved ones or even colleagues of an alcoholic. Try to find a way to release yourself from this emotion and to look ahead to what you can do to support the person you care about accept help, rather than backward at what you or they may have already done.
As we’ve already said, caring about someone with an alcohol problem takes its toll. Whether they are ready to seek support or not – you can.
There are charities and support groups to help you too and they can be a lifeline to people who care about someone who is alcohol dependent.
Organisations such as Al-Anon has specific groups for family members, carers and anyone affected by someone else’s alcohol misuse. They provide a place to meet others facing similar emotions, challenges and troubles. Just sharing stories can be a help in itself, as can meeting others who have seen their loved one get well after alcoholism – there is hope.
Adfam is a charity that works with the families and loved ones of people facing substance and alcohol misuse, offering a variety of support.
You may also find local help groups specific to your area or you could call one of the many helplines available. It may be that you could benefit from counselling or more active support yourself.
Good holistic treatment services offer family support as part of the programme and certainly seek to keep family informed and involved.
People who are misusing alcohol often find themselves unable to really face and confront their problem until the consequences begin to catch up with them.
One of the most difficult things to do for someone you care about may be to let the realities of their drinking catch up with them. But by protecting them too much you may prevent things coming to a head.
Of course, it would never be right to not try to prevent them causing harm to themselves or others by drink driving or being left alone if they have passed out and may vomit, for example. But, in some cases, where it is not dangerous to them or others, not protecting them may be for the greater good.
For example, not covering up for a colleague who regularly drinks too much. It may mean they have to have a difficult conversation with management, but it could be the moment they admit to their problem and seek help. Compassionate employers can and do support staff to get well. Even for those without supportive employers, losing their job due to their drinking, can be the rock bottom moment that propels them to seek support.
If you feel your partner’s drinking is affecting your children, you may need to make the difficult decision to remove yourself and them from the family home. This sort of action may be heartbreaking, but it can trigger someone to know it is time to seek help. Remember you can let them know you still want to help them, you still have compassion for their situation and you hope this isn’t permanent.
According to Public Health England’s report ‘Health matters: harmful drinking and alcohol dependence’: “Children affected by parental alcohol misuse are more likely to have physical, psychological and behavioural problems.
“Parental alcohol misuse is strongly correlated with family conflict and with domestic violence and abuse.
“In a study of young offending cases where the young person was also misusing alcohol, 78% had a history of parental alcohol abuse or domestic abuse within the family.”
Knowing that help is out there for someone who is misusing alcohol and that they can get well is vital for you and them.
Recovery isn’t easy and often comes after failed attempts, but it is possible and it does happen.
Residential rehab is the best course for anyone whose drinking has taken a firm grip on their lives, especially in cases where they have tried other means of getting sober in the past. Even in situations where residential rehab has failed before, the right support in the right environment can and does still work.
The most important thing you can do for yourself and to help an alcoholic is not to give up on recovery.
Mandy manages our admin, HR and finance functions here at Delamere. Find out more about Mandy on our team page.
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