How to Help an Alcoholic Family Member or Friend
Watching someone you love suffer from alcohol abuse can be really difficult. Not only does alcoholism make it hard for your loved one to function normally, but it can also put immense strain on your relationship with them.
Research has shown that strong relationships are a key to recovery for addicts. So how can you show up for your friend or family member when they most need it, especially at a time when they are likely to be difficult to be around?
Relationships can play a strong role in whether an alcoholic seeks the help they need, or spirals further into their addiction. Keep reading to learn how you can become a positive force in your alcoholic loved one’s life.
How to Know When Drinking Has Gone Too Far
Before you can help an alcoholic friend or family member, you need to be sure that they really do have a serious drinking problem. Alcoholism is a term that covers a huge spectrum of conditions, from people who are ‘high-functioning’ and might hide their drinking very well, to people who are visibly drunk all the time.
One thing to note is that alcoholism is a progressive disease. This means that if it is left untreated, alcohol abuse is only likely to get worse with time. Keep this in mind when you are trying to decide whether a loved one needs help. The earlier the intervention and treatment, the better.
In general, people who are alcoholics will fit some or all of the following descriptions:
- Spending a lot of time drinking, talking about drinking, and planning to drink.
- Binge drinking (more than 5 drinks over 2 hours for men, 4 in 2 hours for women).
- Missing social events, school, or work because they are drinking or sick from drinking.
- Continuing to drink even when they know it is harming them.
- Drinking more than intended or at times that weren’t planned.
- Joking about alcoholism or ‘having a problem’.
- Denying, lying about, or hiding drinking.
Seeing these behaviors in loved ones is cause for concern. You may need to do a bit of detective work to determine whether a loved one has a problem, because flat-out asking them about it could be triggering.
Once you know that your loved one has a drinking problem, you can try to help them. Follow the tips below to become a positive force in your friend or family member’s life during this difficult time.
Without a strong foundation of trust and understanding between you and your loved one, there really isn’t anything you can do to help them. Establishing trust with an addict can be tricky. Of course, trust goes both ways. Here are some tips that can help you build trust:
- Encourage openness: You want your loved one to feel safe sharing what is going on with you. For this to happen, they need to know that they can tell you the truth without you blaming them or getting angry. Sometimes, simply being heard can be very healing. The more you are able to listen without judging, the more your loved one will want to share.
- Be forgiving: This can be hard, but it is necessary if you want to help your loved one. Remind yourself that addiction is a disease, not a choice. Your loved one is sick and although their behavior might hurt you sometimes, try to be forgiving so you can help them.
Hold Them Accountable
Trust is important, but you can’t just stand idly by while your loved one struggles with addiction. On some level, they know they have a problem and they want to be helped. So, you face the following question: How can you hold your loved one accountable for their actions, without being too harsh and betraying their trust?
Every person is different in this regard. For some, holding them accountable simply means helping them take care of themselves in basic ways—taking showers, eating well, exercising, etc. For others, it may mean confronting them when they drink and forming clear guidelines about not drinking.
If your friend or family member is already getting some professional help or treatment, you can hold them accountable by making sure that they attend sessions. Do anything you can to help with this, e.g., drive them to and from appointments, go with them to meetings, etc. Alcohol addiction treatment is your loved one’s best resource for making a recovery.
We’ve all heard it: ‘You can’t help others before you help yourself’. Yet, few of us put these valuable words of wisdom into practice when our loved ones are struggling. Too often, we drop everything and stretch ourselves too thin to help those we love.
Supporting an alcoholic is hard work. It is likely that you’ll feel drained by your efforts to help your loved one fight this deadly disease. Make sure that you are taking proper care of yourself. This may be as simple as eating healthy, balanced meals, exercising and getting plenty of sleep.
If you are really feeling the emotional effects of supporting your loved one, you may want to think about some form of therapy. In fact, there are support groups and therapy methods that are specifically for people that have loved ones who are addicts.
Professional Treatment for Alcoholics
The fact that you are reading this article means you care deeply about your loved one who is struggling. It is honorable of you to go to such lengths to try to help and support them through this difficult challenge.
While the tips in this article can certainly help your loved one feel supported, and may even help them drink less, there is really no substitute for professional alcohol treatment. Alcoholism is a disease that can end in disability or death. Just as you wouldn’t take another deadly disease lightly, you should not underestimate alcohol abuse.
To find the best possible care facility for your loved one, you can search through our extensive database of treatment centers to find the right treatment center near you. Now is the time to encourage your friend or family member to get the help they need.
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