If you or someone you love has been through alcohol or drug treatment, you’ve likely heard something along the lines of, “You can’t make an addict stop. They will only stop when they’re ready.”
It’s true that while the addict is the only person who can stop their own alcohol use, loved ones can still take certain steps to try and curb addictive behaviors. The following methods may help in bringing light to your loved one’s drinking or drug problem. Here are some tips on how to help an alcoholic stop drinking.
1. Open the lines of communication.
The person you are concerned about is never going to know you’re concerned unless you voice that. This may be an uncomfortable conversation for both yourself and the drinker, but it is a necessary one. You could call this an “intervention,” or simply a conversation. Interventions typically are more serious in nature and have more concerned people in attendance, so it really depends on the specifics of the situation. Whether an intervention or a conversation, the desired end result is the same: bring attention to a loved one’s drinking, and hope they can understand where your concern is coming from. If they can, they are one step closer to recovery.
2. Make them comfortable to talk about what underlying cause contributes to their drinking.
Very rarely do people drink simply to drink. Often they struggle with depression or anxiety and drink as a way to self-medicate. It is important to acknowledge that you think there may be an underlying issue that results in drinking, but try not to sound accusatory, especially if the person may not know they suffer from depression or anxiety. Instead, ask them gently if they think there could be a contributing cause to their drinking. Feel out their response, and go from there.
3. Be ready with concrete examples of why you think there may be a problem.
Before seriously confronting someone about their drug or alcohol use, spend some time thinking about the reasons you have for being concerned. Be ready to offer these up as examples when having a conversation with your loved ones. If you say you are concerned but have no solid reasoning, your loved one isn’t likely to take you seriously.
4. Don’t offer an ultimatum.
More often than not, someone with a drinking problem will choose alcohol over any other option they are given, resulting in more stress and frustration, even hurt. Instead of offering ultimatums, offer advice or options for help. This means doing your research ahead of time and knowing some good programs to refer a loved one to, or being familiar with a professional they can talk to for help.
5. Don’t pass judgment or shame.
Making an addict feel more shame or lowering their self-esteem will do no good in a situation such as this. Remember, alcoholism is a disease. If you yourself have not been through it, do your best not to make any judgments when someone you love is struggling with it. Not only do you not understand it firsthand, but you may also do more harm than good. Shaming an addict will only make them turn to what coats their emotions, which is likely drinking. The approach of judgment and shame does nobody any good in the end.
6. Utilize the people in your life.
If you know someone who has successfully quit drinking, speak with them. Ask them how they finally came to terms with their problem and how they were initially approached about it. Of course, what works for one person will not necessarily work for everyone. However, if you think their experience sounds similar to that of your loved one, ask them if they’d be willing to talk to that person for you. Sometimes information and concern coming from someone who has been through recovery mean more than when it comes from someone who has not.
7. Offer resources to your loved one.
Sobriety and recovery will seem a lot less daunting if they have a starting point of sorts. Be ready to direct them to a treatment program you think may be a good fit, or to online resources. There is a wealth of information about recovery, and it can be overwhelming to decide where to start when in the early stages of sobriety. If you are able to make that task a little more manageable, you loved one is more likely to take advantage of the work you’ve put into their well-being.
8. Don’t drink around the person.
Once you approach someone about their potential alcohol problem, it would be highly inconsiderate and counter-effective to drink alcohol in their presence. Drinking around them could lead them to want to drink, or make them believe you weren’t serious in your concern. This is not to say you can’t drink — just don’t do it around the person you confronted, at least not soon after voicing that concern.
9. Do not enable them.
Enabling an addict means that your behavior somehow allows them to continue their use. This could mean making excuses for them or bailing them out of bad situations. While it may be difficult to practice tough love, it will be beneficial for the addict in the end. The longer people in their life allow their use to continue, the longer they will take advantage of that fact. Enabling can also mean doing things for an addict which they are plenty capable of doing themselves. Part of recovery and sobriety is learning how to be self-sufficient, a skill which will never be refined if someone continues taking on an addict’s responsibilities.
10. No matter what, continue to be supportive throughout their recovery.
Show them that you are proud of them and will support them through their entire journey. The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc. states, “While maintaining your own commitment to getting help for yourself, continue to support their participation in ongoing care, meetings and recovery support groups. Continue to show that you are concerned about their successful long-term recovery.” Continued support is vital for continued recovery. The moment it seems like you no longer care about a loved one’s recovery, they will pick up on it.