One of the hardest things to go through is being the friend or family member of someone with a drinking problem. You can go through a roller coaster of emotions and stages: denial, disgust, embarrassment, concern, and more. Usually the alcoholic does not realize they have a drinking problem, or if they do know they have one do not show any signs of stopping or motivation to quit drinking.
So how do you help someone you love get help with their drinking problem? There is no “one size fits all” answer that is guaranteed to work. It would be nice if there was, but what may help convince one alcoholic it’s time for help may not work on another. There are some general ideas and guidelines however, which we’ve listed below to help you:
Plan Ahead of Time: Before discussing the drinking problem with the person, do some planning. Find 3 or more treatment options available near you so you can give the person a choice. Decide how you will say what you need to say to get them the help they need.
Be Non-Accusing: By accusing somebody and assigning blame, they will naturally be inclined to build up their self-defense walls. Saying things like “You’re an alcoholic” or “You’re such a worthless drunk” are not going to convince the person it’s time for help with their drinking problem.
Don’t Be an Enabler: Many people actually enable the alcoholic to keep drinking without realizing it. Doing things like making excuses, being too forgiving, or going in alcohol friendly places such as bars and restaurants with the person make you too accommodating to their drinking problem.
Use “I” Statements: Saying things like “I’m worried about you” or “I’d like to help you” or “I feel like this” is a lot more open and less confrontational than “you worry me” or “you need help” or “you do this” which can result in arguments or blaming sessions.
Focus on the Positives: Talking to someone about being an alcoholic isn’t exactly a party, but it’s important to stay upbeat. Think of some positive outcomes of them quitting alcohol – you could do this or go there.
Consider Rallying Other Friends & Family: Sometimes there can be power in numbers, though other times this will make the alcoholic feel even worse about the situation, so think carefully before deciding. However, if several people show concern it could make the alcoholic feel more inclined to seek help with their drinking problem. If you decide to go this route, think of ways each of you can help with helping the alcoholic recover – one person could be in charge of doing fun non-alcoholic things with the alcoholic, another going along on therapy sessions, etc. etc.
Ask Open Ended Questions: Part of convincing an alcoholic they need help is having a non confrontational discussion about their drinking. Ask questions like “Do you think about how much you drink?” or “What would make you want to quit drinking?”
Be Prepared for Resistance: Nobody likes being told they need help, and most alcoholics are in denial that a problem even exists. Before you approach the alcoholic, think of the things that they might object to and ways you can work those objections out. Reasoning may not be an option, so carefully think of ways to deal with their resistance and stubbornness.
Negotiate: Sometimes you will have to give a little in order to get them to agree to getting help with their drinking problem. Offer if they meet with a counselor for just one meeting, you will do something. You could also offer to give up something with them to make it easier.
Sometimes, even with the best laid out plans, it is still impossible to get someone the help they need with their drinking problem. If that fails, see if there are any support programs for families of alcoholics in your area or a counselor you could speak to. They may offer additional options and suggestions on ways to find help for someone with a drinking problem. Don’t forget that you need to take care of yourself as well.