Seeing a loved one struggle with an addiction to alcohol is extremely challenging, emotional, and painful. Many are left feeling isolated, helpless, hopeless, and confused; full of questions about what they can do to help their loved one overcome their alcohol problem and get sober, or questions about if they should leave or stay in the relationship.
When the individual struggling with alcohol is high functioning, it can make the issue even more difficult to navigate. Whether it is your husband, wife, son, daughter, parent, colleague, or other loved one, there are some key actions you can take to support them and help them navigate their lives from active alcohol addiction to and through sustainable recovery. Additionally, there are important steps you can take to protect your own wellbeing, and others in your family.
What Can I Do To Help My Loved One Get Sober?
There are a host of emotions and thoughts you may be experiencing if your loved one is struggling with an alcohol addiction, or if they are in early recovery from an alcohol addiction. While there are a number of actions you can take to help support them that are noted below, it is key to take care of your own mental and physical health first. If you are not your best self for you, you will not be able to help others. It’s akin to putting your own oxygen on mask first before helping childing during an airplane emergency.
Many loved ones may benefit from working with an addiction specialist that specializes in working with family members of loved ones struggling with an alcohol addiction. They can help support and guide you through navigating the challenges you are facing and help you improve your own mental health through the emotional pain and distress you may be feeling.
Mutual help groups for family and friends can also be very beneficial such as Al-Anon Family Groups or SMART Recovery Friends & Family. Such groups can be found in-person in your area or virtually via their respective websites. Also, be sure to engage in your own self-care through practices such as regular exercise, nutritional planning, meditation, engaging with nature and sunlight, reading or writing, and other such methods. Engaging in therapy, mutual help groups, and self-care will also set a good example of recovery related behaviors for your loved one.
To learn more about what you can do for yourself you may benefit from reading, “The Impact of Alcoholism and Addiction on Family, and How to Protect Yourself.”
Awareness Is Key
If your loved one is struggling with alcohol, an important question is if they are aware that they have a problem. One of the first steps to sobriety is awareness of the problem, as without awareness they will be resistant to needing to change their relationship with alcohol or any other addictive substance and/or behavior. If they are not aware of their problem they may be in denial, or may just be oblivious to the fact that their drinking is hurting them and hurting those around them.
Those who are not aware that they have a problem are not hopeless. They may still be willing to work with a professional who can help them evaluate their relationship with alcohol and uncover their problematic behaviors that result from alcohol. In other cases, an intervention may be needed during which close family and friends express their love and concern to the individual about their drinking and encourage them to seek help.
Regardless of their level of awareness, it is healthy to have a dialogue with your loved one about their drinking. You can express your worry about their drinking and provide specific examples of why you are concerned and how their drinking is impacting you. Be sure to listen to them and understand where they are coming from. Most importantly, do not be confrontational and do not scold or shame them. Doing so will only increase their resistance and put up walls between you and them.
For more on awareness you may benefit from reading, “How Do I know If I Or A Loved One Has A Problem With Alcohol?”
What Good Is Awareness If There Is No Willingness
Oftentimes individuals are indeed aware that they have a problem with alcohol but may not be willing to stop drinking or get help for their drinking. While this may leave family confused or feeling as if their loved one is choosing alcohol over them, this is not the case.
Individuals with a severe alcohol problem may be extremely fearful of experiencing alcohol withdrawal symptoms, and rightly so as they can be extremely unpleasant and even lethal. They may also be fearful of what their life will look like and feel like without alcohol. They may have been using alcohol as a coping skill for some underlying issue such as trauma, anxiety, depression, or other such mental health issue. If you’re interested in learning more about alcohol withdrawal, you may benefit from reading “Everything You Need To Know About Alcohol Withdrawal.”
There are a host of reasons why individuals with awareness of their alcohol problem may be unwilling to get help. In such cases, try to have a dialogue with them and gain better insight into why they are not willing to get help. Let them know that you love them and will help and support them through the recovery process. If they remain unwilling, an intervention may be necessary.
If They Lack Awareness and/or Willingness
If an individual lacks awareness of their alcohol addiction, or if they are unwilling to get help for their alcohol abuse, an intervention may be needed. An intervention is usually a professional, formal and planned event during which loved ones get together with the individual experiencing addiction to explain to them how they have seen their loved ones addiction negatively impact them and yourself, and request for them to get help immediately.
If they remain unwilling to get help after an intervention, loved ones should plan and commit to setting certain boundaries with the individual. These boundaries, sometimes referred to as bottom lines, are intended to protect your own wellbeing, and also used in hopes that they may help your loved one choose to seek out recovery at some point in the near future. A professional intervention is generally used as a last resort after there have been other less formal attempts at asking your loved one to seek help.
If They Are Aware and Willing
If an individual is aware of their alcohol problem and willing to get help it is a huge step in the right direction. However, finding the right addiction treatment provider and level of care, and having them actually begin treatment can still be an overwhelming task. There are many treatment options for alcohol addiction, and for those who know little about treatment for alcohol navigating this process can be extremely challenging. There are many resources available, including addiction specialists who can help place your loved one with an appropriate provider.
For more information on navigating alcohol treatment options please read, “My Loved One Has an Addiction, What Do I Do? – A Guide to Help You Navigate Recovery,” and “A Guide to the Different Pathways of Addiction Recovery.”
Top Tips If They Are Abstinent and Trying To Maintain Sobriety
If your loved one newly abstinent, it is still recommended that they seek out professional help, or mutual help groups at a minimum such as Alcoholics Anonymous, SMART Recovery or Refuge Recovery. Unfortunately, relapse rates are incredibly high, especially during the first year of abstinence. Studies show that those who engage in professional treatment in conjunction with mutual help groups tend to have the best long-term outcomes.
In addition to professional help and mutual help groups, there are many practical things you can do. Talk to your loved one and ask them how you can best support them. Check-in on them on a daily basis to see how they are feeling, and be sure to actively listen. Try to learn their triggers and do your part to help minimize exposure to them. For example, if you are living with a loved one in early recovery keep alcohol out of the house and do not drink in front of them. For more tips please read, “10 Tips For How To Support Someone In Recovery From Addiction.”
If you found this article helpful, you may benefit from reading, “My Loved One Has an Addiction, What Do I Do? – A Guide to Help You Navigate Recovery,” as well as, “Alcohol Addiction 101 – What You Should Know.”
For more on what you should do to protect your own wellbeing if your loved one is sturggling with alcoholism or drug addiction, please read, "The Impact of Alcoholism and Addiction on Family, and How to Protect Yourself."
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