Alcoholism is notoriously hard to treat, often because the person suffering from alcoholism refuses to accept help. They may even be unwilling to admit that they have a problem, which makes it difficult to approach an alcoholic.
Families of alcoholics struggle with how to help in this situation. It may seem confusing, frustrating or even hopeless when faced with the alcoholic’s defiance, denial, and lies.
If you are wondering how to approach an alcoholic in order to get them the assistance they need, here are a few tips. These eight guidelines may help you to direct the person you care about towards treatment.
1. Avoid Lecturing
It may be frightening to know someone is out late drinking, spending money they do not have and endangering their job or family, Fear often makes family members of alcoholics as sick as the alcoholic himself.
That’s why it’s considered a family disease.
You may find yourself yelling at the person you care about to stop drinking. You may find yourself begging, lecturing, cajoling, bribing: anything to get them to stop.
One of the most frustrating symptoms of alcoholism is defiance: the alcoholic is likely to do exactly the opposite of what you ask. If you start yelling or lecturing, you usually end up driving the alcoholic farther away.
You may even drive them to get drunk.
2. It’s All in the Timing
Dealing with alcoholics is like dealing with any difficult personality: you need to pick your battles. You also need to know when to strike.
It is never advisable to approach an alcoholic who is under the influence. They may behave unpredictably or even violently. They may not remember the conversation later.
Try to approach them when you have time to speak in a safe, private environment. If they don’t feel ambushed, they may be more open to hearing what you have to say.
You might also choose to talk to them when you have definitive proof that alcohol is causing difficulties in their lives. If they have been pulled over for DUI, or reprimanded by a supervisor at work, this may be the time to remind them that their actions are having serious consequences.
3. Show Don’t Tell
Many alcoholics respond well to talking to people who understand the nature of the disease. One of the tenets of twelve step recovery is alcoholics sharing their own experience, strength, and hope with other alcoholics, showing them how they got sober.
If you have experience recovering from alcoholism, the alcoholic in your life may listen to your story of how you stopped drinking. If you do not have this experience, you might also share how you overcame adversity in another way.
By showing the alcoholic that all is not lost, you can help show them the way towards getting clean.
Really, nobody likes being told what to do. It’s often more effective to demonstrate how you changed your life for the better, as a way of giving hope that it can be done.
4. Be Firm but Loving
Sometimes dealing with an alcoholic is like dealing with a manipulative child. You may need to put your foot down.
Being sympathetic to someone in the thrall of addiction does not mean giving them everything they ask for. For example, you can’t give them the keys to the car if they are obviously drunk, no matter how hard they argue.
You may need to say no to other requests, like coming to bail them out of jail for the fourth time, or giving them money.
5. Don’t Do It Alone
Professionals advise against meeting with an alcoholic alone when you are trying to convince them to get help. As noted above, if they are drunk their behavior may become unpredictable and unruly.
The cunning nature of alcoholism often results in the alcoholic being able to talk his or her way out of confrontations. The alcoholic can be charming and seductive.
Family members of alcoholics often relay tales of feeling “gaslighted.”
There is strength in numbers. That’s why interventions are often staged with a group.
6. Enlist a Professional
If you are considering staging an intervention in your family, it is best to discuss the process with a professional first.
An intervention is when a group of concerned friends or family members confront an addict or alcoholic with examples of how their behavior has affected them. The goal is to get the person to agree to go into treatment.
These events can be highly emotional. It can be tempting to get into the “blame game.” When cornered, often the alcoholic will respond with cruelty and anger.
If you utilize someone experienced in this process, you are more likely to get the outcome you desire. An educated professional with an objective, outsider’s viewpoint can help keep the conversation on track and guide the participants towards the preferred result: getting help for the alcoholic.
7. Keep Your Boundaries
When you approach an alcoholic, you should be prepared for some unpleasant behavior. They may lash out. They may push all of your buttons.
It’s tempting to get in there and start fighting, but at this point, the alcoholic should be treated like someone who is very sick. You wouldn’t get mad at a diabetic for her illness and its consequences.
It doesn’t help to engage with the alcoholic’s emotional outbursts. Keep your eye on the ball: you want them to get the help they need. That’s the only way to win this argument.
8. If At First You Don’t Succeed, Try Again
You may not succeed in convincing the alcoholic to get treatment the first time you speak to them. Even interventions are not always successful the first time around.
Even if an alcoholic agrees to get treatment, it is not unusual if they relapse.
It’s important to keep trying to help the alcoholic in your life if they truly want to get better. Don’t give up if the first conversation or intervention does not go as planned.
How To Approach An Alcoholic Without Driving Them Away: You May Need Some Help
Alcoholism is a powerful disease which can have a devastating impact not just on the drinker but on everyone who cares about him.
The good news is, there have been demonstrable success rates with clinical rehabilitation programs, abstinence, and therapy.
An alcoholic may not be able to recover on their own. Neither may their family be able to help them solely through the power of their love and their will. Often it takes professional and/or medical guidance to get everyone involved on the right path.
If you need more information on alcoholism, check out our website. We’re here to help.