An alcoholic’s family and friends can often be the biggest motivator for an alcoholic to seek help. However, most of the time, the alcoholic’s loved ones have no idea how to help an alcoholic. Family and friends often don’t realize that they must seek help themselves to truly be able to help an alcoholic.
Addiction is known as a “family disease.” This means that the family and friends of an alcoholic are often as sick as the alcoholic themselves. Often, the loved ones of an alcoholic are enabling the alcoholic to continue drinking, even if they don’t realize it. Enabling a person with this disease is not the way to help an alcoholic. In fact, it can end up hurting them and allow them to progress in their downward spiral. Family and friends must work to change their behavior to be able to help an alcoholic. It is difficult to accept, but the truth of the matter is that you are probably not going to be able to directly change an alcoholic’s behavior.
What is the difference between helping and enabling? Simply put, when you help an alcoholic, you are doing something for them that they are not capable of doing themselves. Enabling an alcoholic is doing something for them that they could and should be doing themselves. Enabling creates an environment where the alcoholic can continue his or her destructive behavior. Enabling is the worst thing you can do if you want to help an alcoholic.
Enabling behaviors can include: Calling in sick for an alcoholic because they were too hung-over or drunk to go to work or school; making excuses for an alcoholic’s drinking or behavior; lying for an alcoholic, bailing them out of jail, or paying their legal fees; paying an alcoholic’s bills or loaning them money; giving them several “second chances” to change their behavior.
If you have done any of the above, it is important that you seek help yourself before trying to help an alcoholic. Al-anon is a great program for those that have been affected by an alcoholic. The program teaches loved ones how not to enable the alcoholic in their lives and allows them to be able to help an alcoholic in a healthy way.
Once you have sought help yourself, you are in a position to help an alcoholic. It is important that you don’t allow an alcoholic’s drinking and behavior to stay a secret. Don’t cover up for an alcoholic and don’t lie for them. A common saying in Alcoholics Anonymous is “Secrets keep us sick.” Covering up for an alcoholic’s behavior not only allows them to keep drinking without consequences but it encourages the idea that alcoholism is a shameful disease.
In order to truly help an alcoholic, it is important that you do not judge or label them. If you pass judgment on an alcoholic or potential alcoholic, or shame them, this will feed their alcoholism and provide a great excuse to keep going. Alcoholics use drinking to deal with their emotions. Approaching an alcoholic in a judgmental manner is not the best way to help an alcoholic.
Finally, often the best way you can help an alcoholic is by offering them a way to get help. Don’t try to force an alcoholic into treatment, but do let them know that you will not be enabling them to continue drinking. Make sure you have treatment options available if the alcoholic decides they need help. It may be best to research these options before you try to help an alcoholic.
Remember that you cannot get or keep an alcoholic sober but this does not mean you cannot help an alcoholic.