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Living with an alcoholic – Tips on how to cope

Posted by Alex Molyneux
on 15 Jan 2021


Living with an alcoholic is exceptionally challenging, especially if the person concerned denies they have a problem.

Alcoholism, alcohol dependence and alcohol addiction are recognised alcohol use disorders that are considered chronic. They are at the most severe end of the substance misuse spectrum. 

Many people who live with an alcoholic do not fully understand the nature of this insidious disease. Naturally, they think they can help the person to recover and that if the alcoholic loved them, they would stop drinking.

The truth of addiction is that a sufferer is unlikely to want to stop and accept help until they reach a crisis point; commonly referred to as a ‘rock bottom’.

In this article we aim to help those living with an alcoholic understand the nature of alcoholism. We also provide tips on how to cope whilst living with someone suffering from an alcohol problem.

Living with an alcoholic – What to do and what not to do

For the sake of your own well-being and sanity there are certain things that you should and should not do if you live with an alcoholic

What not to do if you live with an alcoholic

  • Do not enable their alcoholism
  • Do not save them from consequences
  • Do not suffer in silence
  • Do not be alone
  • Do not sacrifice your own wellbeing for theirs
  • Do not take responsibility for getting them well
  • Do not ignore the problem
  • Do not fund their alcohol addiction
  • Do not be their nursemaid
  • Do not be afraid to issue ultimatums if it becomes to much for you
  • Do not waste your breath pleading with them to stop
  • Do not pour alcohol away, they will only buy more
  • Do not tolerate bad behaviour
  • Do not tolerate aggression or violence
  • Do not stop them accessing alcohol if they are alcohol dependent (this can result in life threatening alcohol withdrawal)

What to do if you live with an alcoholic

  • Do seek help and support for yourself
  • Do take responsibility for your own wellbeing
  • Do implement boundaries
  • Do ensure your own safety
  • Do encourage them to seek professional help
  • Do educate yourself and them on what alcoholism is 
  • Do take responsibility for minors within your care
  • Do speak to family and friends
  • Do try to detach emotionally as much as you can
  • Do challenge their drinking
  • Do things for yourself that increase your own self esteem
  • Do walk away if they become aggressive or you feel overwhelmed
  • Do call them out on their lies, broken promises and behaviour
  • Do tell them how their alcoholism affects you and others

What is an alcoholic? 

An alcoholic is a person who suffers from a chronic alcohol use disorder (AUD, essentially causing them to lose control around their alcohol consumption.

Alcoholism is a progressive disease of the brain, characterised by relapse, worsening of symptoms and continuation despite negative consequences (1,2)

An alcoholics brain prioritises alcohol above all else, including love, health, food and shelter. 

Alcoholics may appear to choose drink over their partners, jobs and children. The truth is that they suffer from an obsession and compulsion that is beyond their mental control. 

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Many partners, spouses and children that live with an alcoholic will often plead with them to stop. An alcoholic may even sincerely agree. However, without professional treatment and rehabilitation they are usually doomed to fail. 

If you live with an alcoholic or know someone who does, it is important to understand two things:

  1. You cannot stop them drinking
  2. Their condition is not your fault 

What is enabling an alcoholic? 

Living with an alcoholic, it is vital that you ensure you are not enabling their alcoholism. 

When you love someone it is natural to want to keep them safe from harm. However there is a very fine line between protecting someone and enabling them.

In order for an alcoholic to want to stop drinking, their drinking life must become unbearably painful. This means that they need to feel the full impact of consequences resulting from their alcohol abuse

Forms of enabling an alcoholic include:

  • Giving them money to buy alcohol
  • Lying or covering up for them 
  • Taking on their consequences as your own 
  • Ignoring the problem as it is easier than facing the truth 
  • Not reporting when you know an alcoholic is breaking the law or taking risks with minors, ie drink driving or leaving minors in their care whilst they are obviously intoxicated
  • Not reporting to the police or taking appropriate action if an alcoholic shows violence or commits domestic abuse towards you
  • Taking it on yourself to try and stop them drinking and refusing professional help
  • Continuing to forgive consequences that affect you and your family resulting from their alcoholism 
  • Knowingly allowing them to manipulate you
  • Intervening so that they don’t suffer consequences as a result of their alcohol abuse
  • Putting boundaries in place that have no consequence if the alcoholic ignores them
  • Making threats or issuing ultimatums you do not follow through with

Whilst you are enabling an alcoholic you are preventing them from reaching a point where they may become open to professional help. The alcoholic will continue to see you as their safety net and take advantage of this.

Often in alcoholic relationships there is a strong element of codependency on both parts. Each person in the relationship needs to be needed by the other.

Codependency in an alcoholic relationship can tragically end in an avoidable death of a person. It often starts with one person enabling another’s illness.

Once you are sure you are not enabling an alcoholic that you live with, there are effective ways you can learn that will help you to cope.

Tips on how to cope living with an alcoholic

Tips on coping living with an alcoholic will not only help you but may also inadvertently help the alcoholic to ask for and accept professional help.

Alcoholism is a disease of the brain and body. It is progressive in nature and cannot be cured. It can however be successfully arrested, treated and recovery can be maintained

If you live with an alcoholic, understand that you are not qualified to treat them. Treatment comes in the form of professional rehabilitation.

Your primary responsibility is to yourself and to other members of your household who are in your care

10 Tips on coping living with an alcoholic: 

  1. Ensure you are looking after yourself – This means not neglecting your own needs for the wants of the alcoholic.
  2. Forming a life independent from the alcoholic – Doing things for yourself that make you feel good about yourself, keeping in touch with family and friends, finding an activity or hobby that you enjoy. Regularly taking time out and away as respite from the alcoholic.
  3. Seek help and support for yourself – Help for a person living with an alcoholic can come in many different forms. You may find speaking candidly to family and friends helps you not to feel so alone in your predicament. You can also seek help in the form of professional counselling through your GP or attend a mutual aid group such as Al-Anon (3)
  4. If you feel overwhelmed by an alcoholic’s actions and behaviours it is time to issue an ultimatum, for their sake as much as yours. For this to be effective it must be an ultimatum you are prepared to wholeheartedly follow through with. Tell the alcoholic you live with that they must engage with alcohol treatment and change or you will leave the relationship. Whether they choose to continue in their demise or accept treatment is not your responsibility. Looking after your own well-being is. 
  5. If you are very worried about the alcoholic and cannot get them to see sense, understand that denial is a strong and deadly characteristic of alcoholism. This is due to damage being caused to the prefrontal cortex ( the rational part of the brain) through excessive exposure to alcohol (4) Breaking through this denial often requires drastic measures. You may want to consider a family or professional alcohol intervention. This is often a very successful way of getting an alcoholic into treatment.
  6. Be kind to yourself – Self care is very important when living with an alcoholic. Do not blame yourself for their actions, even if they try to place the blame on you. You can be compassionate to an alcoholics plight without enabling them as long as you are trying to steer them towards accessing professional alcohol help.
  7. See the alcoholic as a sick person. This does not mean letting them get away with anything and everything but will help you to detach from taking their actions personally, which can naturally drive a person insane! 
  8. Accept that you are not equipped to get an alcoholic better. Just as if a person suffered with diabetes or asthma, you would not hesitate in encouraging them to seek professional and medical help. Even if you are a qualified therapist you are too emotionally invested to treat the person. Outside professional alcohol help is a must in helping them to recover. 
  9. Don’t ever feel alone! Living with an alcoholic can make you feel very, very alone. Whilst the alcoholic has alcohol for company you will likely feel you have nothing and no one. This does not have to be the case. Delamere are here to support those that live with an alcoholic as well as deliver highly effective professional treatment to those that suffer. You can always call us if you need someone to talk to and get confidential advice on what steps to take to make your life better for yourself.
  10. Set clear boundaries with the alcoholic of what is and what is not acceptable, i.e not drinking in front of the children or getting wasted in the house, having access to your own money that the alcoholic does not. Setting healthy boundaries will help to keep you safe and sane.

Treatment for alcoholism 

If you are living with an alcoholic who needs professional treatment, we at Delamere can help. 

We are the UKs only purpose built addiction treatment and behavioural wellness facility, specialising in the latest in evidence based treatments for alcohol addiction. 

Unlike many UK rehabs ( who take a more regimented approach) here at Delamere we offer an extremely compassionate and healing environment. We have found this approach very effective in retaining our guests’ engagement in their treatment and in helping them to make a full and lasting recovery from alcohol addiction. 

At Delamere we support the family and significant others of our guests who stay within our first class treatment facilities. We also can provide professional alcohol interventions.

In order to help as many people as possible, Delamere offers a range of suitable accommodation. Our beautiful and newly decorated rooms range from very affordable twin room accommodation to luxury penthouse suites. We treat those suffering from addiction from all walks of life, affording them exceptional levels of care delivered by our highly qualified and distinguished colleagues.  

If you or someone you live with needs help for an alcohol problem, call us today for immediate and confidential help and advice.


References

  1. Addiction science – https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/understanding-drug-use-addiction
  2. Hoffman PL, Tabakoff B (July 1996). “Alcohol dependence: a commentary on mechanisms”. Alcohol and Alcoholism. 31 (4): 333–40. doi:10.1093/oxfordjournals.alcalc.a008159. PMID 8879279.
  3. Al-Anon UK for families and friends of alcoholics https://www.al-anonuk.org.uk
  4. Dysfunction of the prefrontal cortex in addiction:neuroimaging findings and clinical implications https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3462342/



About the author: Alex Molyneux

Alex is the Admissions Manager at Delamere. Alex has organised more admissions into treatment than most. Find out more about Alex on our team page.



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