Helping someone with an alcohol addiction is a sensitive process. It takes understanding and compassion, and typically involves educating yourself on the illness, researching into the professional support that is available and having a conversation with the person.
Read more about how to help someone with an alcohol addiction get access to the support they need below.
Do some initial research about alcohol addiction
Before you take any action or raise the subject with the person in question, try to research into the common signs, symptoms and long-term risks of alcoholism. This will help you to be suitably informed. Taking the time to understand more about what the person is going through will also help to show them how much you care, even if they don’t react positively at first.
There are a lot of resources out there, so try not to feel overwhelmed. Just read up on what you need to know at this stage, including the typical side effects, short-term and long-term health risks.
Also, look into the different treatment options to prepare you for helping the person recognise how they can get better. This information might be something they’ve been wanting to know but have been too afraid to research. They may find it slightly less daunting if you’ve already gathered the necessary information for them.
If the person understands what’s going to be required for them to move into a happier future, it gives them time to process everything and mentally prepare for quitting alcohol for good.
Starting a discussion around someone’s alcohol use
Once you feel suitably informed on alcoholism and how you can help, it’s important to consider the practical elements of the conversation you’re going to have. Whatever you do, don’t rush into it without having prepared.
Firstly, consider a location and time that will be most suited to this sensitive topic. Choose a setting where the person won’t feel interrogated, but that is private enough that there won’t be anyone else around to overhear. You don’t want them to feel too self-conscious to open up.
Make sure that you practise what you’ll say in advance, and prepare for a potential negative reaction. This is about helping the person to recognise that they need professional support, no matter how they respond at first. So try to (temporarily) put your own feelings aside and don’t be too upset if they don’t react favourably at first. Certainly don’t retaliate if they get angry, as it’ll be difficult to get them back on side after that and return to a reasonable conversation.
Emphasise that whatever happens, they can turn things around with professional help. If you can give any examples of people who’ve overcome alcohol addiction, this can help them to feel less alone and give them confidence that things can get better. Making it clear that you’ll be there to support them through this time is absolutely crucial.
Say that you’ll be waiting to help them take their first steps on the recovery journey, as soon as they’re ready. This could involve accompanying them to a first appointment, sitting with them as they make an initial call or sitting down with them to discuss their options further.
How firm should you be with someone addicted to alcohol?
Though it may be hard for someone to hear about the negative effects of their alcoholism, ultimately, being brought to account in as diplomatic a way as possible will be for their own good. What this means is, don’t treat them with kid gloves, but do them the favour of painting an honest picture of the situation’s severity in a way that comes from a place of love. If you skirt around the issue, they may not realise it’s time to take action.
When you do bring up the subject of their drinking, it can be helpful to demonstrate the impact it’s having on their life, or others’ lives, in some way. Let them know how their excessive drinking makes you feel – for example, scared (for yourself, them or others), angry or disappointed – and what damage it may have already caused. Make it clear that they can start to make amends with people and improve their health if they act soon.
Listen to whatever the other person has to say, but if they try to play down how serious their situation has become, outline or reiterate exactly what the long-term risks to their health are. Alcoholism can lead to severe mental health issues, physical health risks such as liver damage, brain damage, cancer or even death if left untreated.
You may also need to take this opportunity to assess the risk to your own wellbeing. If you need to outline some boundaries in the event that the other person is uncooperative, remember that this is an act of self-care and another way to help the person who is misusing alcohol. Some rules you may wish to set include:
- They can’t be around the children when they’ve been drinking
- You won’t pick them up or give them a lift home when they’re intoxicated
- You won’t continue your relationship with them while they are refusing to seek help for alcoholism
Try not to feel that you’re letting the other person down by setting these boundaries. Guilt can be a natural emotion to experience when you’re the person taking control of the situation, so it’s understandable to feel this way.
To help manage these feelings of guilt, therapists often tell the families of those in addiction treatment ‘the three Cs’:
- You didn’t cause it
- You can’t control it
- And You can’t cure it
The way that you communicate these new boundaries doesn’t have to come across as a threat – setting them can be the kindest thing to do. Showing clear consequences and avoiding enabling their behaviour can help someone with alcoholism to realise the effect they are having.
Next steps for helping someone get alcohol addiction treatment
Once you’ve had the initial conversation, give the person time to reflect on what has been said and consider what they’re going to do next, which could be consulting their GP or seeking an assessment for treatment. They’re only one phone call away from making a change that will drastically enhance their future, with a life free from the pain of active alcohol addiction.
While the current coronavirus restrictions and social distancing measures are in place, we are offering online support to both new and current patients. We continue to offer access to inpatient services where this is required. For more information on our online therapy service, please visit our Priory Connect page or read our latest online therapy blog. For the latest information on how Priory are responding to coronavirus, and keeping our patients and staff safe, please visit our COVID-19 preparedness blog. You can also find out about our approach to addiction treatment during COVID-19 by accessing our dedicated page.
This blog was reviewed by Siobhan Ward (BA(Hons) Graphic Design, MSc in Addiction Psychology and Counselling, PgDip in Addiction Psychology and Counselling), Addiction Programme Lead at Life Works.
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