Alcoholism is more than just drinking too much on occasion. It’s drinking so much that the body becomes dependent, physically and psychologically, on alcohol until it becomes the most important thing in life. Watching a loved one battle with alcohol use disorder can be difficult. You’re probably feeling helpless and hopeless, unsure of what steps you can take to support them. What should you do? How can you help? Does your loved one even want your help? It’s a tricky situation to navigate, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible!
Set aside a private time to talk. Pick a moment to sit down and state your concerns in a calm, gentle manner. Make sure they’re not intoxicated for the conversation – they may not remember it or may even become hostile! Prepare what you want to say. Try not to come across as angry, as that may make your loved one defensive. Make sure you express affection for them (I care a lot about you), describe what behavior you’re witnessing (you’ve been drinking excessively), and state your desired outcome (I want you to get help). Use “I” statements that are positive and supportive; this will reduce any sense of accusation and help your loved one realize you are on their side. Make sure they know you’re committed to helping them and aren’t going to abandon them. Together, you can then develop a plan of action for how to address the illness that is alcoholism. Acknowledge your own limitations and encourage them to seek help from a professional.
Be careful not to come across as telling your loved one what to do. This may encourage them to do the opposite, a tendency known as psychological reactance. Remember that you can’t make them do what you want – you’re going to need their cooperation. Avoid using the terms “alcoholic” or an “addict,” in your discussions with them as these carry negative connotations and may cause them to feel shame. Alcoholism is a complex issue that often goes hand-in-hand with other mental problems, like depression, so be careful of negative talk that may alienate them. Focusing on how much you care for your loved one will get you farther than highlighting their failures. Communicate your concerns. State why you are worried and how their behavior is having a negative impact on your relationship. Don’t take it personally if your loved one reacts angrily to your efforts – they may be in denial about the severity of their alcohol use.
If your loved one decides to seek help, there are many options available. Take time to research what level of care they might need, be it detox, residential treatment, outpatient, or sober living, and discuss it with them. Include them in all decision-making as this empowers them in their own recovery. Remember, this is not an intervention. An intervention is a last-ditch effort for an alcoholic in denial. If your loved one is resistant, you may want to consider hiring an interventionist to help you. During this process, you, friends, and family will get together to confront your loved one and urge them into treatment.
Remember that their recovery is not on you. While you can encourage your loved one to get help, you cannot save them. Know what boundaries you have to set to protect yourself and your own mental health. Set clear consequences for their behavior and stick to them – this may even help their motivation to get better! It’s exhausting trying to pull someone out of an addiction and it’s not your responsibility. They have to desire change for it to actually happen. One of the best things you can do is to educate yourself on alcoholism. Consider attending Al-Anon meetings, which are designed to support family and friends who are dealing with a loved one’s alcoholism.
And don’t lose sight of your own self-care and well-being. Take care of yourself, first and foremost. Helping your loved one recover from alcoholism can be mentally stressful and physically exhausting. Consider seeking help from a therapist as you navigate trying to help your loved one. Self-care is of the utmost importance!
Talking to an addict about their substance abuse is tough. Be prepared for a hard conversation that will bring up a lot of emotion. If your loved one decides to seek treatment, they will need your support throughout the entire process. It will be a difficult road, but with love, motivation, and compassion, you can help them through this challenging time.