How to help when someone you love is an alcoholic
Updated: Jan 12
Life is a rollercoaster when you love an alcoholic. Crisis after crisis are met with promises of stopping or slowing down, which are inevitably broken as another bender takes over.
This cycle of drama and carnage can be exhausting and unwittingly exacerbated by how we treat the alcoholic.
Alcoholics are masters at denial (to themselves and others) and certainly aren't above manipulating and lying to hide their drinking. They'll do or say anything to keep people off their backs so they can keep drinking in peace. But did you know that denial is a hallmark too, of those in relationships with alcoholics? Any of this sound familiar?
'She's not really an alcoholic: she just drinks too much sometimes.'
'They've cut down, so it will get better. They've just been stressed out.'
'He works hard, so he deserves to let loose occasionally.'
'Everybody drinks too much – it doesn't mean they're an alcoholic.'
Signs of alcoholic drinking
We know it's easy to ignore problem drinking, especially in our society where heavy drinking can be seen as normal, but there are some red flags which should have anyone concerned. Does your loved one:
Hide how much they're drinking, or pretend they haven't drunk when they clearly have?
Have relationship problems because of their drinking?
Have legal problems because of how they drink?
Suffer from physical, mental or emotional problems because they drink too much?
Have problems with their finances because of their drinking?
Have trouble meeting work and family responsibilities because of their drinking?
Neglect friendships and activities that they love because of their drinking?
Continually break promises on how they'll cut down or quit drinking?
What you can and can't do to help
Until an alcoholic is ready to stop, there's not a lot you can do, besides offering the support, like rehab, which they need to help them to stop. It's worth remembering that many alcoholics cannot stop drinking on their own and need expert help, but they do need to be willing to take the first step.
Here's the 'ouch' bit. You could be part of the problem. Family and friends can enable alcoholics to continue with their addiction by excusing, minimising and denying their behaviour.
Alternatively, some people will go to any lengths to try and control the alcoholic, maybe by hiding alcohol or withholding their finances. This will stress them far more than the alcoholic, who always will find a way to drink if they want to.
So what to do? It's heartbreaking to stand back and watch someone destroy themselves through addiction and there are no easy answers. But here are a few golden tips we can offer if you want to help someone who is an alcoholic.
You can't control an addict but you don't have to accept bad behaviour: set strict boundaries about what you won't tolerate. Set a consequence, don't argue and don't go back on your word.
Don't buy into drama: don't engage with arguments or manipulation. Walk away and wait for the dust to settle.
Loving detachment: just because you will not tolerate certain behaviours doesn't mean you don't love the alcoholic. In fact, being firm but kind shows how much you really do love them.
Realise that alcoholics are sick and need help to stop drinking, often with professional treatment at a rehab. Don't feel bad that you can't cure them. Sometimes the best thing to do is admit you can't help but someone else can.
Look after yourself first. The disease of alcoholism takes a heavy toll on everyone involved. Remember, you didn't cause the alcoholism; you can't control it and you can't cure it. But you can be strong, be kind and offer to organise them the treatment they need, when they're ready.
Call Elaine on 027 573 7744 for a confidential chat on how Ocean Hills might be able to help you help your loved one with alcoholism.