Life’s journey sometimes takes us to places we never envisaged where we feel lost or out of our depths. One such place is when you find yourself supporting a loved one struggling with alcohol addiction.
Unfamiliar, distressing and fraught with uncertainty, this territory can be daunting for anyone to navigate. But don’t lose heart. This comprehensive guide aims to provide guidance on this complex journey, exploring practical advice, supportive conversation techniques, and the support and services available in the UK.
Understanding the realities of alcohol addiction
Before exploring how to help an alcoholic, it’s first important to understand the complexities of addiction. This can help you put yourself in their shoes and provide support and advice from a place of knowledge.
Alcohol addiction isn’t simply a lack of willpower or some moral failing on the part of your loved one. It is a chronic, progressive illness that causes physical cravings and a compulsion to drink that can be incredibly hard to resist.
Initiating a Conversation about Getting Help
Before you embark on a conversation with your loved one about their alcohol problem, remember that you’re tackling an issue rooted in pain and struggle. A non-confrontational approach coupled with empathy can pave the way to effective communication.
Here are some steps to consider:
1. Educate yourself…
Understanding the nature of alcoholism is a vital first step. Knowledge will not only provide you with insight but will also empower you to approach the situation more effectively.
2. Choose the right time and place…
Find a quiet, private setting where you won’t be interrupted. Ensure that your loved one is sober and receptive as a conversation attempted during or after drinking may not be productive.
3. Use “I” statements…
“I” statements are a powerful tool in your communication arsenal. They express how you feel rather than accusing or criticising the other person.
Here are some examples:
- “I feel worried about your health because of how much you’re drinking.”
- “I feel scared when you drink and drive.”
- “I feel overwhelmed when I think about how your drinking may be affecting our children.”
This technique helps to prevent the person from becoming defensive and promotes a more open, empathetic dialogue.
4. Express love and concern…
Remind your loved one that your worries stem from a place of love and concern. Let them know that their wellbeing is important to you and that you’re there to support them through this journey.
5. Be prepared for resistance…
Expect that your loved one may respond defensively or with denial. However, don’t let this discourage you. It’s crucial to maintain your stance of caring concern and patience.
Practical advice for how to help an alcoholic
Knowing how to help an alcoholic requires an understanding that you can’t control or cure the condition. You can, however, provide support and encouragement and help them to see how their drinking is harming themselves and those around them.
Here are some practical steps:
1. Encourage professional treatment…
Encouraging the person to seek professional treatment should always be top of the list of how to help an alcoholic stop drinking. Options available to them include alcohol detox, local support groups, medication, or alcohol rehab such as that offered at Primrose Lodge.
2. Provide practical help while they are in rehab…
This could include managing their work commitments, looking after their children or pets, or handling their bills. Doing so will allow them to focus solely on their rehab treatment without worrying about these external issues.
3. Maintain open lines of communication…
Make sure to be available for them to talk when they need it during their time in alcohol rehab. Send encouraging messages or letters and let them know they’re not alone in this journey. Some rehab centres may have guidelines about communication so find out what is allowed and make plans with your loved one.
4. Involve yourself in their treatment process (as much as allowed)…
Attend family sessions if the rehab centre provides them. Such sessions can offer useful insights into how you can better support your loved one during and after their rehab stay.
5. Foster a sober home environment…
Create a home environment that supports sobriety for when they come home. This could mean removing alcohol from the house or avoiding activities where alcohol is a central feature such as weekend pub lunches, pub quizzes or parties.
6. Support healthy habits…
When the person has completed their detox and rehab, encourage them to keep up with healthy behaviours such as exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet and getting enough sleep. These positive habits can support overall wellbeing and resilience during recovery.
7. Practise self-care…
Helping someone with an alcohol addiction can be stressful and emotionally taxing. Be sure to take care of your own mental and physical health to give yourself the energy and strength you need. Seek support for yourself, whether that’s professional counselling, self-help groups or confiding in trusted friends.
How to help an alcoholic who doesn’t want help
When you’re trying to help an alcoholic who doesn’t want help, it’s crucial not to force help upon them but rather create an environment where they feel safe to acknowledge their problem.
This can be done by having open, non-confrontational conversations where you express your concerns and the impact their drinking is having on you using your “I” statements. This is particularly important if you are living with a functioning alcoholic whose own life does not seem (on the surface at least) to be affected by their drinking.
Another approach is to involve professionals who can conduct an intervention. An intervention can help the person recognise the impact of their alcoholism on their life and the lives of those around them.
Finally, while you can’t force someone to seek help, you can make sure you are prepared when they are ready. Research different treatment options and facilities, so you can provide them with this information when they decide to seek help. Primrose Lodge is an excellent place to do so – get in touch with us to find out more details.
How to help an alcoholic in denial
One of the biggest challenges when trying to help an alcoholic is denial. Denial is a psychological defence mechanism, often unconscious, that seeks to protect the individual from the pain of confronting their problem.
Helping an alcoholic in denial can be particularly challenging as the denial acts as a protective shield, blocking the recognition of the adverse effects of their behaviour.
To address denial, first, educate yourself about alcoholism. Having a solid understanding of the condition can prepare you for the conversations to come and enable you to debunk any misconceptions your loved one may have about their drinking.
Secondly, communicate your concerns without judgement. Accusations or blaming language may push them further into denial. Instead, use empathetic language and express your worries about their health and wellbeing.
Finally, seek professional help. Therapists and counsellors trained in alcohol addiction can provide valuable strategies and guidance on how to handle this situation. They can also facilitate interventions, which can be powerful tools to help break through denial.
Things to avoid when helping an alcoholic
As well as the positive steps laid out in this guide, there are also some important things to avoid which could make the issue worse or push the person away from you.
These include the following:
- Shaming or blaming the person for their drinking problem
- While it’s understandable that you may be frustrated and hurt by your loved one’s drinking, it’s crucial to avoid shaming or blaming them for their alcohol addiction. Blaming them can push them further into their addiction and discourage them from seeking help.
Instead, approach them with empathy, understanding and non-judgemental support. Express your concerns about their wellbeing and show them you are there to support their recovery, not to judge their choices.
Trying to control their drinking…
It can be tempting to try and control your loved one’s drinking in an attempt to help them. However, attempts to regulate their alcohol intake or to impose rules about when and how much they can drink often backfire. This can lead to conflict and resentment and can push the person further into isolation (which is when alcohol addiction really thrives!)
Covering up or making excuses for their drinking or problematic behaviour…
Doing so can prevent them from experiencing the full consequences of their alcohol addiction which may be a necessary catalyst for them to seek help.
Putting yourself in dangerous situations…
Your safety and wellbeing should be at the top of your list of priorities. If you are threatened, attacked or hurt in any way, take steps to protect your safety and contact the relevant authorities if necessary.
How to help an alcoholic in the UK – Support and services available
There are numerous services available across the UK which can provide your loved one with effective treatment and support. These include:
1. NHS Alcohol Support…
The NHS offers free advice and support for those struggling with alcohol addiction and their loved ones. They provide information on the dangers of heavy drinking and guidance on where to get help.
2. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)…
AA is a free self-help group with meetings in almost every town and city in the UK. Its “12-step” programme involves getting sober with the help of regular face-to-face or online meetings.
3. Alcohol rehab centres…
Helping a loved one struggling with alcoholism is a challenging journey filled with peaks and troughs. It requires understanding, patience and a persistent hope for change. The journey may be long and fraught with challenges, but remember, you are not alone. There are numerous resources, professionals, and support networks available to aid you and your loved one along the way.
If you are searching for a professional service, Primrose Lodge offers comprehensive alcohol addiction treatment programmes to everybody who is ready to make the change. Don’t hesitate to contact us for more information or guidance or to get started with alcohol rehab.