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Living with an alcoholic can be draining and can impact on everyone in the household. You may not know where to turn or what to do for the best.

In this blog, we outline the steps you can take when you’re living with an alcoholic and provide information on the expert alcohol addiction rehabilitation that’s available at Life Works.

Look after yourself

Living with an alcoholic can be difficult. That’s why it’s so important that you take steps to look after your own health and wellbeing.

Ensure that you make time to do things you enjoy and that you find relaxing. Try getting out every day for a walk, reading your favourite book, or taking a hot bath. Even the basic things like eating healthily, exercising and getting enough sleep can help ensure that your own resources aren’t depleted and you’re not neglecting your own needs.

You may also wish to open up to a trusted friend or relative about what you’re going through and how you feel. It’s often said that a problem shared is a problem halved, and they may be able to support you while you’re supporting your loved one. There are also lots of groups you can reach out to for help, including Al Anon and Families Anonymous. These groups are made up of people who may be going through something similar to you and can provide you with the opportunity to share your feelings and receive mutual support and guidance.

Avoid normalising and helping their drinking behaviours

If someone you love is an alcoholic, you may want to try and make things as easy as possible for them in order to help them get through the day. However, by doing this, you may be falling into the trap of ‘enabling’ their drinking.

Enabling refers to things you do that help the alcoholic to continue with their destructive behaviours. For example, you might find yourself making excuses for their drunken behaviour or offering to call in sick to work on their behalf when they’re hungover. By doing things like this, you’re taking away all their responsibility, meaning that it’s easier for them to carry on abusing alcohol.

Practising ‘tough love’ can be hard when you’re living with an alcoholic. However, it’s important to remember that you can’t recover for them – this is something they have to do on their own. By avoiding enabling their habit, it makes it clear to the person that it’s their responsibility and they need to take steps towards recovery.

Keep the house alcohol-free

A practical thing you can do when you’re living with an alcoholic, is to make sure your home is an alcohol-free zone. You should try to remove all alcohol from the house, including all items that contain ‘hidden’ alcohol such as certain sauces and food. Also, make sure you don’t drink in front of the person. By removing all temptations from the house, you’re making it a ‘safe space’ for your loved one, and can help them to take the first steps towards abstinence and wellbeing.

Talk to the person about their alcoholism

If you’re living with someone who’s an alcoholic, it’s really important to have an open and honest conversation with them about their alcohol addiction.

Here are some things to think about before having this conversation:

  • Choose the right time to offer support – it’s a good idea to try and broach the subject when you’re in private and where your loved one feels safe and comfortable. You could suggest going for a walk together or simply having a cup of tea when you’re at home and won’t be disturbed
  • Focus on you – try and use language that has more of a focus on you than on them. For example, say things like “I’m worried about you”, or “I’m concerned about the amount you’re drinking at the moment”. By using the word “I” as opposed to “you”, you’re placing the onus more on yourself and how you’re feeling as opposed to putting it all on them. This way, they’re less likely to feel criticised or ‘attacked’ and are more likely to open up to you
  • Don’t be judgemental or accusatory – if you’ve never experienced alcohol addiction yourself, it can be difficult to understand what your loved one is going through and how they feel. That’s why it’s so important you don’t come across as being judgemental or as though you’re accusing them. Approach the situation gently and calmly – this will make them feel supported and as though they can be honest about how they’re feeling, as opposed to becoming defensive

Set boundaries

You could also use this conversation to set some boundaries when it comes to their drinking, in order to protect everyone’s wellbeing. It’s a good chance for you to explain the types of behaviour that make you worried or upset, such as if they’re drunk around your children or if they lie to you about where they are.

It’s important to make it clear that you won’t accept these behaviours anymore and then outline what will happen if they cross these boundaries. For example, if they come home drunk while your children are in the house, you will make sure the children are in a different room to them or take them to stay at their grandparents’ house if possible.

If you raise these points in a calm and factual way and really emphasise how their behaviour makes you feel and the impact it has on other people, this will help your loved one recognise it’s not just them who’s affected by their habits, but that their behaviour has far-reaching consequences. This may make them more receptive to hearing what you’ve got to say and taking steps to address their drinking.

Help your loved one seek professional support for their drinking problem

While there are lots of things you can do when you’re living with an alcoholic, it’s important to understand that alcohol addiction is a serious problem and will likely need professional help within a specialist addiction rehab centre.

Therefore, an important step is to help your loved one get the support they need. You could offer to make an appointment for them to see their GP and then go along with them for moral support. Their GP will be able to advise on next steps and may be able to refer them to a specialist centre such as Life Works, to receive expert treatment and counselling for their alcohol addiction.

In addition, while we prefer people to have a GP referral, this isn’t essential and you can also call Life Works directly to discuss your loved one’s rehab needs and options for treatment.

Our high quality Addiction Treatment Programme at Life Works consists of:

  • A free, no obligation addiction assessment
  • 10-day medically assisted withdrawal detoxification to remove all traces of alcohol from your loved one’s system
  • Group therapy, family therapy and individual 1:1 therapy programmes
  • A wide range of therapeutic techniques including cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) informed groups, dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) informed groups and mindfulness
  • A high quality family programme
  • Access to 12-Step support groups
  • Access to 12 months of free aftercare and family support following treatment

With your help and support, as well as expert treatment within a dedicated rehab centre, your loved one can overcome their problems with alcohol and take steps towards a lasting recovery.

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.

Coronavirus information

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.

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