How to Help an Alcoholic
This apparently simple question is really very complicated. It is unlike any other similar question. We intuitively understand what is expected of us when we ask, “How can I help someone who is physically ill, out of money, or depressed? But in the case of the alcoholic, we need to understand that the situation is quite different. Does it mean getting this person to stop drinking, reducing their drinking, getting them into treatment of some sort or does it mean getting them to admit they are dependent on alcohol?
We need to understand our limitations in helping an alcoholic. Regardless of what your intentions mayt be, it is very important to understand that the most assistance anyone can give is to help them take the first step on what may be a very long journey, one that may take years. Unlike the situation with one who suffers from almost any other condition, once you “help the alcoholic” they must take responsibility for making their own treatment. So the key to really helping is helping them find a program they can are willing to give a serious try.
Apart from the success of one treatment or goal over another, the key to helping is helping them see that they need help, helping them accept that they will need to do the bulk of the work, helping them feel the payoff for them of doing the work, identifying a method that they can use effectively and lastly–and most importantly–helping them identify an emotionally rewarding goal for their efforts.
Given the low success rate of most treatment programs, this is an important question. Most programs tell us that it’s not until the alcoholic hits bottom and admits to having a disease that they can be helped. But as we have discussed above, focusing on the type of treatment first is a mistake. Initially, we need to get the problem drinker to see that there is a problem worthy of their efforts to change.
Current models don’t offer many insights on how to bring this about. Most programs even attempt to shame you by saying that if you call on behalf of the alcoholic, you must be an “enabler.” Beyond waiting for them to hit bottom while you attend “Alanon” they offer only two methods to help:
1. Orchestrating an intervention. where the alcoholic is surprised or ambushed by family and/or friends and then confronted before being whisked off to an expensive residential treatment center. I have rarely found this method effective because the alcoholic really isn’t motivated from within.
2. “Tough love” where the alcoholic is removed from any practical or emotional support until they stop drinking. This often means exiling them to the street until they admit to having the disease of alcoholism. Again, I have not found this method very effective; few people want to put a son or daughter on the street, and often this only makes the alcoholic’s situation worse.
My own experience and that of my clients shows that he or she can be helped without waiting for them to hit bottom or putting them out of the house—if they are helped as individuals and not merely as part of a group of people who have a disease or are shamed because they “lack will power.” One size never fits all.
My method focuses on helping find a solution before the situation becomes more desperate. While your friend or loved one flounders with a serious drinking problem, I work with you privately to motivate them to seek help. They will never even need to know that you are positively influencing their thinking and attitude.
Are there any different ways different ways to help an alcoholic?
Yes, but this can be a very delicate process, one that requires you to feel safe first. I have experienced or researched most of the ways this can be done and bring to my clients’ friends and loved ones the benefit of my advanced training and personal experience. I can help you sort through your options to find the method that will work best in a given situation.
Learning how to help an alcoholic is something that is best done with the guidance of an experienced professional. With over 30 years of experience, I have personally acquired a great deal of professional experience and have had great success. With private confidential consultations, I can offer many tools to assist you in the process.