8 to 9% of adults in the United States have some form of alcohol use disorder, according to the National Institute for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
If someone you love is one of the millions struggling, you’re probably concerned and looking for answers. Helping an alcoholic to stop drinking is never easy… but we’ve put together some “dos” and “don’ts” to help guide you through the situation.
DO: Seek Professional Treatment As Needed.
Remind your loved one that there is absolutely no shame in getting help for alcohol use disorder. If they are open to receiving treatment, you can help them look into treatment facility types and locations. Discuss the options of outpatient, intensive outpatient, and inpatient with them. Discuss whether or not detoxification services are necessary. Be willing to speak to staff members at different facilities to help with the admission process, or stand by your loved ones side to offer support while they speak with admissions directors.
DON’T: Encourage Them to Quit Cold Turkey.
Advise them to consult with a doctor before making any sudden changes in their drinking patterns. Long-term, heavy drinkers are especially at risk for a condition called “delirium tremens,” a serious form of alcohol withdrawal characterized by tremors, cognitive decline, hallucinations, stupor, seizures, etc. Sudden alcohol withdrawal can even lead to coma or death, so it is imperative to move slowly towards sobriety.
DO: Discuss their Alcohol Abuse Calmly and Openly.
More than likely, if alcoholism has taken a toll on your loved one’s life it has taken a toll on the lives of others as well. Talk to other people close to the situation who also care about the addicted individual. Ask potentially helpful and willing parties to speak to him/her about their alcoholism in a calm, direct manner. Confront them about the damage they are doing to themselves and others by drinking to excess. Include specific examples, but present them in a non-judgmental fashion.
DON’T: Discuss their Alcohol Abuse Inappropriately.
For example, you should never attempt to intervene when your loved one has already been drinking or when they are obviously emotional or stressed; this will likely only exacerbate the problem and make them resent you. Don’t give up while discussing their alcohol use; they will likely use all sorts of tactics to invoke sympathy or anger, but stay the course and keep the discussion focused on resolution.
DO: Keep an Open Mind, Especially During First-Time Confrontations.
For short-term or less severe cases of alcoholism, you and your family may consider whether or not inpatient rehabilitation is necessary. If you find yourself continuously begging them to seek treatment and they still refuse to go to a facility, you may have to “let them fail” to help them; this may involve refusing to house them anymore, cutting them off financially, breaking up with them…whatever the circumstances require. Remember you are not being cruel by doing these things as a last resort; you are ultimately helping them to help themselves. Consider hiring an interventionist or enlisting the help of another authority figure to convince your loved one that enrolling in a treatment center is for the best.
DO: Celebrate Small Milestones.
Every day can be a battle for alcoholics, especially towards the beginning of their recovery. Celebrate little victories to encourage their hard work and show them you care. Tell them that you’re proud of them for choosing to drink water instead of beer after work. Take them out to dinner to celebrate a week of sobriety. Let them know that you respect how hard they are working; little actions and acknowledgments will probably motivate them more than you’d expect.
DON’T: Trivialize Their Struggle.
Combatting addiction is difficult; even seemingly small accomplishments, like going out with friends for a night without drinking, are huge for individuals with alcohol use disorder. So if your loved one tells you they’ve gone a week without drinking, congratulate them instead of saying “that’s not so long…” If they tell you they passed by a bar on the way to work and resisted the temptation to go inside, compliment their strength of will instead of asking, “what’s hard about that?” Try your best to be empathetic.
DO: Offer Love and Assistance.
A strong support system is a key aspect of a successful recovery. It is important that you offer genuine care and support to your loved one while they are struggling to change their life for the better. Listen to them if they’re going through a particularly hard day, comfort them if they are feeling down…the little gestures really can be the biggest help to a recovering alcoholic. You cannot undergo recovery for them, but you can certainly make the journey easier!
DON’T: Become Codependent.
To be codependent means to be addicted to a relationship. The codependent individual tries so hard to “save” a loved one that his/her own life is left in ruins. You cannot force your loved one to change; you can only support them, and you cannot even do that effectively if your own life is out of control. You can, and should, attempt to be supportive without being self-detrimental. You don’t need to drop everything in your life to help them with theirs; no one wins in that situation.
DO: Continue to Spend Time With Them.
Recovery can be time-consuming, especially for those new to the addiction treatment process. It is important that you continue to make time for your loved one, though. Show them that you still care about them, even when they are going through tough times—perhaps schedule a regular time each week to go to dinner or watch a movie together. The alcoholic is going to feel lost without their substance, so it will make them feel better to know they haven’t lost you as well.
DON’T: Avoid Them.
Your loved one needs all the support they can get during this trying time in their life. It may be difficult to be around your loved one in recovery, especially if they are irritable and experiencing withdrawal symptoms, but resist the urge to avoid them. At the very least, send a text to say you’re thinking of them, or make a quick phone call to check in every once in a while—a little gesture can go a long way!