Dealing with an alcoholic is not easy, especially when it is someone you are close to and love very much. Your loved one may repeatedly promise to quit drinking yet find it difficult to stop drinking for good. This can be overwhelming and feel out of your control, but there are some things you can do to protect yourself from the alcoholic and their behavior. Here are some tips to help you deal with an alcoholic.
Stop Blaming Yourself
Many alcoholics can be quick to blame others for their addiction. If your loved one is abusing alcohol, remember that it is not your fault and you do not deserve the anger or negative behavior they direct at you. If an alcoholic is trying to make you feel like you’ve done something to cause their problem, they are just trying to get the focus off of themselves. Alcoholics will drink no matter what, it has nothing to do with you or anyone else.
Don’t Take it Personally
It’s easy to think that if your spouse or family member loved you, then they would stop drinking. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Over time, an alcoholic’s brain chemistry changes and they start to surprise themselves with the choices they make. There is a time when a person’s addiction takes control over their life and they no longer do things they would normally do before. When they tell you, “I will never drink again,” and then they drink again, don’t take it personally. Their addiction to alcohol has nothing to do with you and it is in your best interest not to take offense by their alcoholism.
Just because you can’t stop an alcoholic from drinking doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do things to protect yourself. By setting boundaries and sticking to them, you are able to defend yourself from being a victim to their behavior. Create boundaries based on protecting yourself and not meant to punish the other person for drinking. By refusing to be around this person when they are drinking, you are making it clear where your boundaries lie and it gives the alcoholic a choice - they can continue drinking and not be around you, or they can stop drinking and spend more time with their loved ones. It is important to let them make the decision and not try to force sobriety on an alcoholic - that situation is rarely successful.
Don’t Hide the Problem
It is important not to hide someone’s addiction to alcohol from other family members or friends. Oftentimes, people find it easier to avoid social occasions or family get togethers because they don’t want to be around when people start asking questions about the alcoholic’s behavior or drinking habits. By avoiding those situations, you are actually contributing to the problem. The alcoholic needs to be held responsible for their behavior. The more negative experiences the alcoholic has to go through, the more likely they are to ask for help and get sober.
Stop Trying to Control the Alcoholic
Many family members of alcoholics will try to do everything they can to control the person’s negative behavior. They think they are helping the alcoholic, when they are actually making things worse. Not only will you set yourself up to be disappointed, but the reality is that the alcoholic doesn’t have control either. You might think you are trying to help, but the decision to become sober needs to be made by the alcoholic otherwise they won’t take sobriety seriously.
Talk to Them
When an alcoholic is sober and calm, you should plan to talk to them about what is going on. As you probably know, talking to an alcoholic when they have been drinking is a waste of time and energy. If you approach the conversation when you are mad, the alcoholic will often become defensive and they won’t listen to you. Make sure you talk to them from a place of love and concern so they can tell you sincerely care and you aren’t just judging them. Instead of saying something like, “You got drunk again last night and this needs to stop,” try to say something like, “I’ve noticed that you’ve been drinking 6-7 beers when we go out and I’m concerned that you might be getting addicted to it.” That approach shows that you care instead of that you are angry and are telling them what to do.
Family members and loved ones of alcoholics often hold onto a lot of anger, guilt and frustration when dealing with their addicted loved one. It is easy to feel like you should be doing more and that you can help them recover. The reality is that alcoholism is a disease and their addiction is out of your control and theirs. Counseling can help you understand what things you have control over and how to focus on those things. It can also help you understand why the alcoholic does certain things and can help you get over some of the negative feelings you hold onto because of their behavior. Al-Anon Family Groups are a great resource for loved ones and family members of alcoholics. The more you focus on yourself and making sure you are healthy, the more the alcoholic will also want to be healthy. Stop directing the focus on them and focus on yourself instead.
As you probably already know, dealing with an alcoholic can be very difficult and should be handled carefully. It is important to approach the issue from a place of love instead of anger. To find out more about our 12-week alcohol treatment study in San Diego, call us at (858) 784-7867 (STOP). Also, if you are a frequent drinker with no intention of quitting alcohol, call 858-784-7867 to find out if you’re eligible to volunteer for a 5-week, paid research study that aims to develop new medications for those suffering from alcohol use disorder.