After I wrote a post last October called Dear Alcohol It's Over about my personal struggles with alcohol, I've had several people contact me with a question that goes something like this: Hey, I've got a friend/ family member who might be an alcoholic. Maybe she's just depressed, I don't know, but she's drinking (or insert other self-destructive behavior here) too much. Her life is a mess. She's not going to work. She isn't seeing friends. She seems to have given up. I'm scared and I want to help, but I don't know what to do.
Let me be clear, I'm not a doctor or an AODA (alcohol or drug addiction) counselor. However, I have personal experience in this area. Therefore, I offer my suggestions based on my experience, strength, and hope. Keep in mind, these are only suggestions, and other folks might have other ideas. Nonetheless, I hope it's helpful.
1. First, TELL your friend your concerns. Too often people tip toe around and talk to everyone except the subject of concern, because they're afraid to have a difficult
3. If your offer of help is declined, accept that your friend is not ready to change. Unfortunately alcoholics are a stubborn bunch. Alcoholism is a disease that tells us we don't have a disease. What could be more frustrating? In any case, this is where helping an alcoholic gets tricky. If he doesn't want help, there's little you can do. We can't change other people. We can't make people want to get better. I couldn't stop drinking until I surrendered, threw up my hands, and said, "I need help." But if you'd told me what I needed before I was ready, you would've gotten an earful. Please know that your conversation was not in vain. You planted a seed. Your friend knows you'll be there when she is ready.
So now what? This is the hard part-- accept your friend's unwillingness to change and detach with love. It sounds harsher than it is. Let me explain. If you have expressed your care and concern, done some research, and have a plan at the ready for when your friend decides to get help, you've done what you can. Now take care of yourself. You cannot live day to day obsessed with worry and panic. Your health will suffer.
4. While you wait for your friend to want help, change your behaviors. Some people don't like to hear this part, but if you're serious about helping a friend or loved one get help, the best thing to do is make changes that will have an impact on the alcoholic.
- Don't drink with the alcoholic. If you believe this person has a serious drinking problem, don't be a drinking buddy. This action separates the proverbial men from the boys. Many friends are unwilling to take this step. It can rock the apple cart and upset your friend. But if your friend's health/ life/ future is important to you, have the guts to do this. If not, you become part of the problem by condoning the drinking. Harsh, but true. You wouldn't seat a person who is allergic to bees next to a hive, so don't drink with someone who has a drinking problem.
- Don't go bat-shit crazy in reaction to your loved one's drinking. This is a tough one. The self-destructive behaviors of addicts are infuriating. However, don't let them see your anger, frustration, fear, etc. You know why? Alcoholics are master manipulators. An alcoholic will make your tantrum the issue and deflect the fact that she got arrested, didn't come home, spent too much money, etc. If you yell and scream each time you and your wife go to a dinner party where she behaves obnoxiously and passes out, fair or not, you give her a "get out of jail free card" because then you both have behavior that is out of control. And trust me, an alcoholic will put the spotlight back on you. If you are in control of your emotions, the alcoholic will have no one's bad behavior but his own to examine.
- Don't make excuses for her behavior. Let consequences happen. If you rescue, the addict will not believe her life is out of control and will not have motivation to change. This does not mean you should leave an alcoholic in an unsafe situation, but stop doing anything that helps the alcoholic continue drinking. That is enabling.
- Don't accept unacceptable behavior. Put plainly: keep your self-respect and dignity by setting boundaries. If you let an alcoholic take advantage of you, you may grow resentful. That's on you. If you're angry at your loved one for drinking his pay check, driving drunk with the kids in the car, or not coming home some nights, do some soul-searching of your own. Let your loved one know you aren't willing to live with certain behaviors and then follow through. But don't make idle threats-- you'll just become more resentful when you don't follow through.
I don't know why some alcoholics are willing to get help and others are not. Addiction is cunning, baffling and powerful. But I do know that alcoholism is a progressive disease. If untreated, it's terminal; so if you're worried about a friend who is suffering, don't put off that difficult conversation. Your courage could help save a life.