10 Things to Stop if you Live with an Addict / Alcoholic

enabling an addict/alcoholic

Are you wondering how you can cope with a drunk relative during the holidays, or how you can help them? Have friends told you that you are an enabler for your spouse? Do you find yourself suffering the consequences of a loved one’s alcohol problem?

It can be hard to hear that you need to change yourself when a loved one is living with alcoholism. After all, it’s their problem, isn’t it? Unfortunately, you can only change yourself, and the only way you can interrupt and change the current course of your interactions with people with substance use disorders is to change your reactions.

By adjusting your approach and your attitude toward the problem, you can place it in a different perspective so that it no longer dominates your thoughts and your life. In many ways, knowing that you can change your approach and attitude is empowering.

You no longer need to continue doing the things you have been doing to merely survive the effects of another’s addiction. Here are 10 things that you can stop doing that may help relieve the pressure.

living with an alcoholic

  1. Blaming Yourself

It’s typical for alcoholics to try to blame their drinking on circumstances or others around them, including those who are closest to them. It’s common to hear an alcoholic say, “The only reason I drink is because you…XYZ “

Don’t buy into it. If your loved one is truly an alcoholic, they are going to drink no matter what you do or say. It’s not your fault.

They have become dependent on alcohol, and nothing is going to get between them and their drug of choice.

  1. Taking It Personally

When alcoholics promise they will never drink again, but a short time later are back to drinking as much as always, it is easy for family members to take the broken promises and lies personally. You may tend to think, “If he really loves me, he wouldn’t lie to me.”

But if they have become truly addicted to alcohol, their brain chemistry may have changed to the point that they are also completely surprised by some of the choices they make. They may not be in control of their own decision making.

alcoholic at home

  1. Trying to Control It

Many family members of alcoholics naturally try everything they can think of to get their loved one to stop drinking. Unfortunately, this usually results in leaving the alcoholic’s family members feeling lonely and frustrated.

You may tell yourself that surely there is something that you can do. But the reality is that not even alcoholics can control their drinking, let alone you. Even knowing that, you may still want to help your loved one when they are in the middle of a crisis.

In reality, that is usually the time when the family should do nothing. If friends or family members rush in and “rescue” the person from the crisis situation, it can delay the decision to get help. Let a Crisis Happen.

For those who love someone living with an addiction, it is very difficult to sit back a let the crisis play out to its fullest extent. When someone you love reaches the point in their substance use when they get a DUI, lose their job, or get thrown in jail, it can be a difficult concept to accept that the best thing you can do in the situation is to do nothing.

It may seem like it goes against everything you believe. Unfortunately, this causes the cycle to repeat…indefinitely. You don’t have to create a crisis, but learning detachment will help you allow a crisis—one that may be the only way to create change—to happen.

enabling behavior

  1. Trying to Cure It

Alcoholism and alcohol dependence are primary, chronic, and progressive diseases that sometimes can be fatal. You are not a healthcare professional, and even if you are, you should not carry the responsibility for treating friends or family members.

You are not a trained substance-abuse counsellor, and again, even if you are, your role should not be a counsellor. You just happen to love someone who is probably going to need professional treatment to get healthy again. That’s their responsibility, not yours.

You can’t cure a disease. No matter what your background happens to be, you need outside help. Alcoholics usually go through a few stages before they are ready to make a change. Until an alcoholic begins to contemplate quitting, any actions you take to “help” them quit will often be met with resistance.

You may wish to consider a family intervention. If you are interested in learning more about interventions and outcomes, contact us… (links)

  1. Covering It Up

Alcoholics typically do not want anyone to know the level of their alcohol consumption because if someone found out the full extent of the problem, they might try to help.

If family members try to “help” (enable the alcoholic) by covering up for their drinking and making excuses for them, they are playing right into the alcoholic’s denial game. Dealing with the problem openly and honestly is the best approach.

children and alcoholism

  1. Accepting Unacceptable Behaviour

Accepting unacceptable behaviour usually begins with some small incident that family members brush off with, “They just had too much to drink.” But the next time, the behaviour may get a little worse and then even worse.

You slowly begin to accept more and more unacceptable behaviour. Before you realize it, you can find yourself in a full-blown abusive relationship.

Abuse is never acceptable. You do not have to accept verbal, mental or physical abuse. You do have choices.

It is important to protect any children from unacceptable behavior as well. Do not tolerate any hurtful or negative comments addressed towards your children. These comments can result in lasting damage to a child’s psyche. Growing up in an alcoholic home can leave lasting scars.

  1. Having Unreasonable Expectations

One problem of dealing with an alcoholic is what might seem like a reasonable expectation in some circumstances, might be totally unreasonable when it comes to someone with an addiction. When alcoholics swear to you and to themselves that they will never touch another drop, you might naturally expect that they are sincere and they won’t drink again.

But with alcoholics, that expectation turns out to be unreasonable. Ask yourself if it is reasonable to expect someone to be honest with you when that person is incapable of being honest with themselves?

  1. Living in the Past

The key to dealing with alcoholism in the family is staying focused on the situation as it exists today. Alcoholism is a progressive disease. It doesn’t reach a certain level and remain there for very long; it continues to get worse until the alcoholic seeks help.

You can’t allow memories of a better time to affect your choices today because circumstances have undoubtedly changed.

enabling addiction

  1. Enabling Their Behaviour

Often, in trying to “help,” well-meaning loved ones will actually do something that enables alcoholics to continue along their destructive paths. Make sure you are not doing anything that bolsters the alcoholic’s denial or prevents them from facing the natural consequences of their actions.

What happens when you enable an alcoholic? Typically two things happen:

  • The alcoholic never feels the pain.
  • It takes the focus off of the alcoholic’s behaviour.

For example, if your loved one passes out in the garden after a night out, and you carefully help them into the house and into bed, only you feel the pain. The focus then becomes what you did—moved them—rather than what they did, drinking so much that they passed out outside. 

If in this situation they wake up on the lawn in the morning with neighbours looking out the window and come into the house while you and the children are happily eating breakfast, they are left to face the pain. The only thing left for them to face is their own behaviour.

In other words, their behaviour, rather than your reaction to their behaviour, becomes the focus. It is only when they experience their own pain that they will feel a need to change.


  1. Putting Off Getting Help for Yourself

After years of covering up for an alcoholic and not talking about “the problem” outside of the family, it may seem daunting to reach out for help from a support group, such as Al-Anon Family Groups.

You may feel as though you are coping and do not need help, but many people find great solace in meeting others in a similar situation. For many people, going to an Al-Anon meeting is one of those things that once they have done it, they say, “I should have done this years ago.”

What Next?

There may be very little you can do to help the alcoholic until they are ready to get help, but you can stop letting someone’s drinking problem dominate your thoughts and your life. It’s okay to make choices that are good for your own physical and mental health.

If you’d like advice and assistance in arranging an intervention and treatment here in Bali, get in touch for a confidential, no obligation opportunity to talk through your options. 

We understand how difficult it can be to reach out for help but it is the first step towards recovery and a happier, healthier way of living.

Learn More


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