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How to Help an Alcoholic Friend or Family Member

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Family and friends enjoy a picnic outside.
If your loved one said no to rehab, that’s common and no reason to lose hope in a much better tomorrow.

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Your loved one is struggling with addiction to alcohol but refuses to admit it or discuss it.

So, day after day, you must sit by and watch things get worse. You feel powerless and scared. But, mostly, you feel desperate to help.

It’s true that you can’t force someone to go to rehab (except under very rare circumstances when a court order is issued). But there are steps you can take to lay the groundwork for rehab and recovery, as well as a healthy future relationship with your loved one.

Keep in mind, that just because your loved one has refused to get help now, doesn’t mean he or she will always do so. Alcoholism is a disease that keeps taking from its victim. It’s very likely that your friend or family member will reach a point when they’re ready to change. And, when they do, you’ll be ready to help.

How to Support an Alcoholic: What to Avoid

Your adult son calls. His rent is due and he’s out of cash and needs a “loan.” Your sister texts you. She needs a ride to work because she’s lost her license. Your best friend knocks at your door. He needs a place to stay.

It’s tempting to help in all of these situations. But when deciding what help to offer an alcoholic, there’s one simple question to ask yourself: Would your loved one need this help if he or she were not drinking? If the answer is no, then you should not help, because it would be enabling him or her to continue drinking without consequences.

Avoid Guilt Trips

We all know that life isn’t fair and that’s particularly true when dealing with an alcoholic. Your loved one is causing you extreme pain and, yet, the worst thing you can do is to react emotionally. Try to remember that it isn’t your loved one doing this to you. It’s the disease.

Here’s an example. Your adult son never showed up on Christmas which, of course, ruined the day. Your first instinct is to, perhaps tearfully, let him know that he ruined the day and ask how he could have done this to you.

That’s a perfectly natural reaction. But it won’t help.

Here’s what your son might be hearing: My parents are mad at me again. They don’t understand the pain I’m going through and what my life is like. They only care about their perfect Christmas. They don’t care about me.

You just gave your son an emotional out. Now, he’s reacting to your reaction and can forget all about the fact that he missed Christmas. In his mind, you just gave him a really good reason to have a drink.

What??? (Remember, life isn’t fair, especially when addiction is involved.)

Your loved made the initial decision to drink and to drink too much. You may never know exactly how that spiraled out of control and what part genetics and environment played. But that’s water under the bridge. You want your loved one to see a new future, not to keep reliving the past.

So it’s not: “Boy, you’ve really messed your life up. You could have been done with college by now. When I was your age I had a job and two kids.”

Instead try: “Imagine how much better your life can be. You have so much to offer the world and other people. You may not believe it now, but your life can be fun and good without alcohol.”

Get Ready

You’re not going to enable your loved one anymore, but you’re not going to give up on him or her either. Pick your moments to ask about getting help—in a non-aggressive, non-emotional way.

In the meantime, spend time researching rehab programs. When your friend or family member is ready to go, you’ll need to be ready to act.

None of this is easy. How can you look at your loved one and not break down? How can you avoid getting angry? How can you resist handing over $20 when it’s clearly needed so badly? How will you find the right rehab?

Many family members of alcoholics find great strength and encouragement from attending Al-Anon meetings, which are for family and friends of addicts. They’ve struggled with all of these same questions—and found solutions and strategies that they can share with you. (You can find a meeting here.)

Hope at The Raleigh House

The Raleigh House is a residential treatment center located in Denver that believes addiction isn’t just a physical problem. Our master’s level trained therapists get to the root cause of addiction and, with your loved one, will develop a strategy to manage and enjoy life without alcohol. Fill out our form or contact us today to learn more about the alcohol addiction treatment program at The Raleigh House.

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