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It can be painful dealing with a family member or loved one while they struggle with a drinking problem. Their actions affect themselves, their family, employers, and many others in society they may or may not even know. So what do you do when an alcoholic doesn’t want help?
How many times have you heard others tell you there is nothing you can do unless they hit bottom or ask for help? A family member or someone close to the alcoholic can certainly follow that advice and it rarely works. It often comes with watching someone you love slowly deteriorate before your eyes while increasing your stress and anxiety.
Although you may not be able to directly control the alcoholic, you can work with professionals to identify changes that can be made to the alcoholic’s family and environment. This could and often does increase their chances of making changes and seeking treatment.
When an Alcoholic Doesn’t Want Help
The question would be better served by asking why the alcoholic doesn’t want help. Much emphasis is put on the alcoholic as to what they will or should do. Does anyone really have direct control over that? The main reason an alcoholic does not want help is that the benefits of stopping are not greater than the consequences of continuing. As the stages of change suggest, an alcoholic has to see both sides of the argument. If their belief is there is more benefit in continuing their drinking than stopping their drinking, then that is what they will do. Other factors for continuing alcohol use include maintaining a victim mentality. Stopping drinking would require ownership for problems caused by oneself. Staying active in abusive drinking allows the alcoholic the opportunity to stay mad at the world and everyone in it. Every sip of alcohol is met with a destructive thought of how they are going to change the people, places or things that are not favorable to them and their beliefs.
Alcoholic denial sometimes comes with a straight refusal that there is a drinking problem. However, it is more often the case that the alcoholic admits they should address the problem, and the denial is that everyone and everything else is the problem and causes them to drink. If the world and the people in it would just do as they say or act or behave a certain way then they would not be so bad and wouldn’t have to drink. How many times have you heard them say it’s your fault and not theirs?
Like an addiction to any substance, most alcoholics believe that everything but them is the problem. It is always someone else’s or some other thing’s fault that causes them to drink. So whether the denial comes from actual drinking or the denial comes from ownership of the problem, the only recourse is to look at what is keeping them from seeing things differently. If they choose to stay the way they are, they have that right. Those connected to the alcoholic have an equal right to take care of themselves and make necessary decisions and changes that could encourage the alcoholic to look at things differently.
What Not to Do
- Control the Situation and be the Hero: If you’re a family member reading this, think about a time when you were drunk or out of your mind; could you be reasoned with or controlled? Times that by 10; can you control it now? Reflect on a time you were in an argument with a loved one, not even intoxicated, that became heated. You’re flooded and your emotions are running wild. Could you then be controlled or talked off the ledge? The point is, when you come around is when you come around. However, there are things that can be done surrounding the situation that could slowly or even abruptly change one’s direction and thought. The speech from the hero is not going to fix the alcoholic. Changing the family and the alcoholic’s environment which in turn changes the perspective of the alcoholic is far more effective. Although the alcoholic ultimately has to come to their own conclusion that change is necessary, they will most likely not come to that realization if nothing else changes. Those closest to the alcoholic should not continue their strategies or patterns of behavior that may be preventing the situation from improving.
- Enable Them: Enabling an alcoholic disables their ability to see the need for change. Enabling actually takes away the alcoholic’s ability to move through the stages of change and move into recovery. When someone enables, they are doing it for themselves, not for the alcoholic. Enabling is a maladaptive behavior and coping mechanism for the one providing the enabling comfort. It is using another person to provide needed relief for the way they feel. All we ever hear about is how enabling makes the alcoholic comfortable and many continuously state the obvious. Let’s start looking at the real problem with enabling. It is a selfish act by the one doing it and it is an attempt to keep another person sick and in harm’s way in order to feel better about themselves. Enabling does not help the alcoholic, it only helps the enabler.
- Delay Getting Help: Similar to enabling, this is another attempt for those connected to the alcoholic to make any change about themselves. When we speak of families changing, we are referring to healthy and effective change. Although families are flooded and turned upside down, they often forgo confronting the situation because of fear of the changes they will have to make. There is also the fear of confrontation in addressing the problem with the alcoholic. This fear is often greater than the need for someone to receive medical attention. What other medical condition would a family or friends of a person in need delay calling 911 or getting someone to a hospital? The answer is none, because no other problem disrupts and changes the thinking of a family in the way alcoholism does. The longer you wait, the worse the alcoholic and the family system becomes.
Some of the biggest reasons families enable and wait to address the problem is due to fear of the unknown outcome. They become so used to the way things are and for the most part are used to the routine and know what to expect. Doing something different takes away the illusion of control and presents a fear of something they can’t see or pretend to be in control of. Other reasons are:
- Fear their purpose and role of the alcoholic’s caretaker will be taken away.
- Fear of letting go of their unhealthy family role that they perceive is working for them.
- Fear of no longer being needed in the relationship.
- Fear of what will happen to them if the alcoholic gets better.
The translation is, enabling and waiting to do nothing makes it all about the other person in an unhealthy way. As a result, the family and the alcoholic become progressively worse. The quicker the alcoholic receives treatment and medical care the greater the chances of recovery for both them and those affected.
How to Get Help For Your Loved One
There will be an intervention for an untreated alcoholic or drug-addicted person whether the family initiates it or not. Unfortunately, most families are forced into change by society’s laws and rules. Alcoholism may be sustainable for family and friends a little longer than it is for those that are not emotionally attached. It eventually will not be sustainable for the alcoholic and others that are unwilling to tolerate it. Interventions come in many forms such as medical conditions, arrest, loss of jobs, children and homes, etc.
To get help for your loved one using alcohol, you can initiate change before the alcoholic or society does. In the event they are still unwilling to change, the family can and should start their own recovery process as soon as possible. Learning how to change behaviors that affect the alcoholic’s path are positive solutions to starting the process of change and recovery.
How you get help for your loved one starts with helping yourself and your family by addressing any behaviors that are either directly or indirectly encouraging inaction by the alcoholic.
Seeking Help from Intervention Specialists
Interventionists and other addiction professionals bring knowledge and experience. Their greatest asset to these situations is their unbiased view and the fact that they are not emotionally attached to the situation. Therefore, an intervention specialist is able to see the big picture from the balcony and help with effective strategies to help improve the situation for the alcoholic, friends and family.
Those attached to the problem and who are part of the problem are almost always unable to solve the problem. Addiction affects the entire family system. These same family members almost always have different opinions on how to address the alcoholic problem. This causes the group not to be on the same page. In most cases, a family seeking to rectify the problem without professional help would bring similar results as if they were trying to solve any other medical problem or illness without professional help.