How to Help an Addict / Alcoholic at Home
How to Help an Addict / Alcoholic at Home
Watching a family member, friend, or co-worker struggling with an alcohol or drug addiction is extremely difficult. You might wonder what you can do to change the situation, and whether or not the person even wants your help.
Alcoholism and addiction are terms used to describe someone with a physical and psychological dependence on alcohol or drugs. They may have problems controlling their habits or choose to keep drinking or using even though it causes problems. These problems may interfere with their professional and social relationships or even their physical health.
Alcoholism and addiction can range in severity from mild to severe. Quite often, mild patterns develop into more serious complications. Early treatment and intervention can help get people back on track and restore their health and mental wellbeing. While it’s up to the person to willingly start their sobriety journey, you can also help. Read on for some steps you can take to help your friend, family member or loved one.
Step 1. Learn about alcoholism and addiction
Before you do anything, it’s important to know whether your friend or loved one has an alcohol or drug addiction. Alcoholism, or alcohol / drug disuse disorder, is more than just drinking too much from time to time or occasionally getting high. Sometimes using alcohol or drugs as coping mechanisms or social habits may look like alcoholism or an addiction, but they are not the same. People with drug or alcohol use disorder don’t drink or use in moderation, even if they say they’re only having one drink or hit.
Where are they on the scale?
Although not every person struggling with alcohol abuse goes through these stages, there are 4 widely recognized stages of alcoholism: (these stages may also be loosely applied to drug use)
Pre-Alcoholic: The first stage involves general experimentation with alcohol. It is typically when alcohol tolerance develops, as the person begins drinking more regularly to cope with anxiety, stress or other emotions.
Early Stage: This is a transitional stage where the development of a cyclical pattern of alcohol abuse begins. Drinking becomes more regular and individuals begin using social gatherings as an excuse to drink. They may also start consuming alcohol to cope with the negative consequences caused by drinking such as hangovers. At this stage, blackouts may also begin to occur.
Middle Stage: This is the most crucial stage – the stage when a person begins to drink frequently and consistently, maybe even starting to drink in the morning. Relationships may suffer as a direct result of the person’s drinking or using. This might be due to behavioural changes while under the influence or while dealing with hangovers or other consequences. Physical and emotional health complications may arise.
Late Stage: This final phase leads to a complete loss of control over alcohol consumption—the individual must drink. At this point, the individual’s body begins to require the presence of alcohol to feel normal. When the individual does not consume alcohol regularly, they may experience withdrawal symptoms and intense cravings.
No matter what stage your loved one is in, it is never too late to seek help. With the right care and professional treatment, there is a solution.
Step 2. Express Your Concerns
If you have read this far, the chances are you plan to speak with the person you care about concerning their alcoholism or addiction. Plan what you are going to say and most importantly let the person know that you’re available and that you care. Try to formulate statements that are positive and supportive. Avoid being negative, hurtful, or presumptuous.
Using “I” statements reduces accusation and lets you be an active participant in the discussion. It may be helpful to bring up a specific concern. You may mention when alcohol or drugs caused an unwanted effect, such as violent behavior or economic problems. Rather than saying, “You’re an alcoholic and you need to get help now,” you can say, “I love you and you’re very important to me. I’m concerned about how much you’re drinking, and it may be harming your health.”
Prepare yourself for every response. No matter what the reaction is, try and stay calm and assure your person that they have your respect and support. If you think that you cannot stay calm, you might not be the right person to talk to them at this time.
Choose the right time to have this important conversation. Have the conversation in a place where you know you’ll have quiet and privacy without being interrupted. Make sure the other person is not upset or preoccupied with other issues. Most importantly, the person should be sober, if at all possible – or at least not too drunk to comprehend the situation.
Tell your loved one that you’re worried they are drinking or using too much, and let them know you want to be supportive. The person may be in denial, and they may even react angrily. Do not take it personally. Give them time and space to make an honest decision, and listen to what they have to say.
Step 3: Offer your support
Realize that you can’t force someone to go into treatment if they do not want to. You can only help those who are be ready and want to be helped. Although the situation may seem dire to you, it may take them longer to realise the seriousness of their situation or they may remain in denial for some time. All you can do is offer your help. It’s up to them to decide when they will take it. Be non-judgmental, empathetic, and sincere. Imagine yourself in the same situation and what your reaction might be.
Your friend or loved one may also vow to cut back on their own. However, actions are more important than words. Ask for concrete commitments and then follow up on them.
Step 4: Intervene
Hoping the person will get better on their own won’t change the situation. Addiction and alcoholism are progressive illnesses and in some instances, an intervention may be a good option.
Approaching someone to discuss your concerns is different from an intervention. An intervention is more involved. It involves planning, giving consequences, sharing, and presenting a treatment option.
An intervention may be the course of action if the person is very resistant to getting help or adamant that they do not need help.
During this process, friends, family members and co-workers get together to confront the person and urge them into treatment. Interventions are often done with the help of a professional counsellor. A professional therapist can:
- give advice on how to get the person into treatment
- explain what treatment options there are (including residential, outpatient and even online options)
- keep the intervention on track and avoid discussions from becoming heated or escalated
- help prevent the individual from feeling attacked
If you are planning an intervention and would like our advice, or for one of our professionals to be in attendance, contact us to discuss your needs.
Step 5: Recognize Recovery as a Process
Treatment of alcoholism / addiction is an ongoing process. Don’t consider your part done after your friend or family member is in therapy and do not expect them to return ‘fixed’. Encourage them to stay for as long as possible in residential care. Have realistic expectations, 28 days is not a long stay in residential treatment. In most treatment centers, 28 days is the minimum stay and 3 to 6 months are recommended. All medical research points to a direct link between longer stays in residential care and long term sobriety. Once your loved one returns home, encourage them to attend therapy and 12 step meetings. Offer to help out with work, childcare, and household tasks if they get in the way of meetings and treatment sessions.
Standing by your friend or family member’s progress during and after treatment is very important. Even after treatment, your loved one will be in situations they can’t predict which involve drugs or alcohol. Ways you can help include avoiding alcohol when you’re together or opting out of drinking in social situations. Ask about new strategies that they learned in treatment or meetings. Stay invested in their long-term recovery.
Step 6: Things to Avoid
- Don’t drink around your friend or loved one, even in social situations.
- Don’t take on all their responsibilities.
- Avoid bringing up their past in arguments, to score points or to get them to do something.
- Don’t provide financial support unless the money is going directly to treatment.
- Don’t tell them what to do or what you think is best for them.
- Don’t tell them that they should stay sober for you, or that, “you would stay sober if you loved me”.
Step 7: Take Care of Yourself
Living with or around an active alcoholic or addict is not easy and it takes a toll on even the strongest person. Make time for yourself. Do not allow their addiction to become your life. While you may be anxious about leaving them alone, if they want to drink or use they will find a way regardless. Allow yourself time out with friends, time to yourself and do not give up your own hobbies and interests in exchange for time trying to control them. You cannot help someone if you are not in a good physical and mental state yourself. Putting your own wellbeing first is an important part of helping your loved one.
Treating alcoholism and addictions isn’t easy, and it doesn’t always work the first time around. Often a person has been contemplating abstinence for some time, yet couldn’t get sober on their own. Patience is necessary. Don’t blame yourself if your first attempts to help are not successful. The most successful treatment happens when a person is ready and really wants to change.
To discuss your personal needs and those of an addict or alcoholic close to you, reach out and contact us by email