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The only real way you can help an alcoholic

Help the alcoholic you love

For anyone that has seen a loved one battle alcoholism, they will tell you – without hesitation – it was the worst time of that person’s life. It doesn’t matter what else they have been through. There are so many layers of pain, none of which anyone else can quite comprehend as each experience is unique. So, how can you help an alcoholic?

When you want to help an alcoholic but feel helpless

For you, watching the person who is in pain, you might feel like banging your head against the wall in frustration. It’s the hurt of seeing the shell of a person you love, knowing that it isn’t them inside. It’s the pain of not knowing who will greet you when you wake up tomorrow. And the devastating realization that it feels like there’s nothing you can do; you have exhausted every option, spend every ounce of energy, and come up short. That is a horrendous feeling.

Unfortunately, you can’t grab them by the shoulders and shake their demons out. You can’t force them to stare their monsters in the eyes or make them admit that they need help. That has to be a personal decision. They have to reach a point where they want to change.

But that doesn’t mean you have to just sit by and watch as life pulls them apart from the inside out. There are ways you can help the alcoholic you love, and the suggestions below might be helpful.

Understand alcoholism

Understanding what this disease is, and what it is doing to your loved one, is vital. It is also gut-wrenching to learn about the truths and severity of this illness.

But it is so important that you arm yourself with as much sympathy and knowledge as you can. Learning why alcoholics can’t stop drinking is the only way you’ll be able to stop hitting your head against that concrete wall and start to really be in a place to support your loved one.

Knowing how to communicate

Walking on eggshells isn’t fun for anyone. It’s exhausting.

Learning how to communicate with someone who is battling alcohol addiction is a delicate learning curve. You need to stay calm while being honest, showing that you are doing this out of love.

Show that you want to support the friend or family member, without them thinking you are forcing them into recovery. That’s the balance to try to reach and maintain.

To help an alcoholic, know the options

They have a serious drinking problem and you want to help them. It is ultimately up to them to embark on a recovery plan. But by doing research, you show that you care and understand, and that could help break down their walls. It could help them get to the point where they want help.

So, help them understand their options. For information on rehab, click here.

There are also detox options, outpatient treatments, counseling, and support groups. Perhaps also look into holistic methods for any comorbid conditions, such as depression. The more clearly you can explain the options, the more your loved ones will get to know the types of help that are out there.

Know when it’s not the time to talk

One of the most damaging things you can do is try and speak with your loved one while they are under the influence. When they are drinking, they are at their most vulnerable and most troubled state. It’s not going to be useful to try to discuss anything seriously when they’re drunk.

Instead, try and talk when they are sober. As for encouraging them to open up to you, and to have them listen to what you have to say, try to approach them in a private tranquil location. Life is all about timing, and this circumstance is no different.

28 thoughts on “The only real way you can help an alcoholic”

  1. Originally “Fire Water” was sold to the Native Americans, since they
    could not be bought as slaves, it has completely decimated entire
    generations of natives, & it painfully still continues today. Alcohol
    abuse has a very long dark history in the United States of America.

    Sending love & well wishes to anyone affected by the disease.

    1. Thank you for your insights and note to anyone affected.. and that extends to the family and friends of the alcoholic.. I hope you have a nice weekend ahead

  2. I highly recommend that people who love alcoholics read “Codependent No More,” regardless of how unpleasant (or inaccurate) the title sounds.
    As for my mom, I didn’t know she was drinking again until the day the hospital called to tell me she’d been admitted and that I needed to come get her things because she wouldn’t be going home. I guess that’s for the best in my case.

    1. Thanks for sharing about that book… It’s a fine line with how to effectively communicate with someone misusing alcohol.. appreciate your story – and that you are safer now xx

  3. A very difficult topic to conquer Christy. Bravo for writing about it. I lived with an alcoholic for too many years. Naive as I was, it took me a few to realize he was one, considering I’m barely even a social drinker. In the end, I was lucky to get out alive. I too thought I could help him, but the reality is, they have to want to help themselves. :) xo

    1. Only when they are ready to help themselves – usually after reaching the bottom – will this happen.. I hope he got help, Debby… I’m glad you’re safe and healthy xx

  4. Christy,
    I want to say this is a fantastic article but in reality it simplifies a very complex problem. I agree with ‘Rollyacabotbooks’. The addict has to make the decision for themselves. No amount of talking, encouragements, guidance, research or love will make them stop. It has to be their decision. The more you press the issue the further they withdraw. My daughter started drinking during her high school years. When she left for college it increased tremendously. She came home for a weekend visit, I could smell the alcohol. I saw her imbalance and her words were slurred. She became angry at everything I said. I thought I was being genlte and loving. She bolted out and I never saw or heard from her for 10 years. I didn’t know if she was alive or dead. I searched in vain. One day, I received a letter. A letter those in AA have to write, as one of their steps, to those they have hurt. It was a glorious day.
    She has been sober 12 years now. This past May she graduated from college with a masters degree at age 39. She began a new job in July, in the field she studied, as a hospice psychologist. I only mention these things to show alcoholics can stop drinking. But, at a price for those who love them and only, only when they want to stop.
    I apologize for the long comment but I still carry a great deal of pain because of the disease of alcohol. Thank you for the platform.
    Isadora 😎

    1. I understand and sense your pain in each word, Isadora. All comments are appreciated, including those that vary from what is written in the posts. Always. I’m thankful your daughter is 12 years sober xx

  5. John Fioravanti

    As I read your article, Christy, all I could think was, “Thank goodness I’m not in that predicament.”

  6. My grandma spent much of her life trying to deal with my grandpa’s alcoholism. Going to Al-Anon seemed to help a bit, but in the end, it’s hard to see why they stayed married, but I guess it makes sense as co-dependents often end up with addicts.

    1. It’s tough… Thank you for sharing about your family, Jeri. We may not know why your grandma stayed but I do know that she has one heck of a strong granddaughter – you. xx

  7. This is such a painful yet important topic.
    Alcohol is so dangerous because it is
    considered “socially acceptable” & holds
    far less stigma than other substances.

    We rarely travel at night since the instances
    of drunk drivers & hit & runs keeps escalating.
    In Europe people are more likely to use public
    transport or take a cab home, but here in the US
    people regularly get behind the wheel while impaired.
    So alcoholism affects many more people than those
    with the addiction. It is very troublesome the amount
    of advertising used to promote “light beers” or wine
    coolers. When we moved the US we were shocked that
    there were drive-thru liquor stores, you can actually buy
    alcohol without getting out of the vehicle. Really shocking.

    1. And now we have grocery stores here that include a place to sell alcoholic beverages.. it is separate from the rest of the aisle but still within the store. So it’s extra convenient; a one-stop shop. I’m worried this might encourage most drinking, and it’s not always responsible, as we know. You’re right abut the danger and less social stigma of liquor. Thanks as always for your insights, 924C.

  8. It’s a tough position indeed. My father was an alcoholic. He never did want help. The head banging against the wall is something I resonate with .. I felt I had to learn acceptance and it really helped me when I did as I was a calmer person for my dad when he did surface. Thank you for bringing this important subject forward. xx

  9. Hi Christy…
    As you know I went through several years of addictions. There were many who tried to hold me accountable, some were friends and others were family. It caused me to withdraw further each time.
    Rock bottom came 41 years ago with admitting I was addicted to alcohol and drugs, legal and or otherwise. Many people were supportive but I found my peace in nature and creation. It was a long hard fought battle but I stand today with 41 years of sobriety behind me. Each new day is a gift after experiencing the freedoms.
    Each day that passes I so very thankful for the love that has been shown to me. The addict no matter the addiction has to be the one who makes the decision… it can be done.

    Hugs and all

    1. Rolly, I think you hit the nail on the head when you wrote about admitting to being addicted. That is a necessary step before being able to get help. It’s easier said than done too! You’re a success story xx

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