Seeing someone you love fall into the grip of alcoholism can be one of the most painful, frustrating, and frightening situations a person can experience. Seeing the destructive path of alcoholism can – in many ways – be more painful for loved ones than it is for the alcoholic. The person suffering the addiction is often blind to the fact that it’s a problem. When they have no desire to help themselves, how can we be expected to provide alcoholics help?
It can be tricky. Legally, you can’t force an alcoholic to help themselves (except in situations involving actual crimes). However, that does not mean there are no options. There are some things you can do. It doesn’t guarantee that the loved one will stop using alcohol, but it often helps them decide it’s time to seek help.
The first thing you have to recognize is that protecting someone is not the same thing as helping them. Put another way, sometimes the best way to help someone is to stop protecting them. Alcoholism will almost always put a person in bad situations. When that happens, they usually call loved ones who come and help get them out of that situation. It’s an act of love, but it isn’t always the kind of help they need.
When you bail them out, you’re basically removing consequence from their actions. Without any consequences, it’s easy for an alcoholic to fall back into the same behaviors very quickly. It can be hard, but sometimes the best thing you can do is to let them face the consequences of their own actions. If they know you’ll always be there to protect them, it’s much easier to continue the behaviors that cause you pain.
When taking this approach, however, it is absolutely vital that your loved one knows this is an act of love. When an addict feels abandoned, he or she will often fall even deeper into the addiction. You must make it very clear that you are not abandoning them. Let them know that you will always be by their side and that you will stand with them throughout recovery, but you simply will no longer protect them from the consequences of their own actions.
They will most likely react with anger and resentment. They’ll probably say things they don’t mean. Just stay strong, and understand that addiction brings out the absolute worst in people. Never forget that when you protect the loved one from consequences, you are also protecting the addiction.
The third thing to remember is that an alcoholic isn’t a child and shouldn’t be treated like one. They are human beings with a problem. Being an alcoholic can cause a massive loss of dignity. They don’t need us adding to that by treating them like they’re children. When you’re communicating with an addict, it’s important to stay strong, stay honest, and make sure they know your love is unconditional.
Doing this won’t guarantee the person will seek treatment. That will only happen when they want the change. However, by showing some tough love, you can help them see their situation for what it is… and hopefully, that will be just the push they need. You can’t save an alcoholic. You can only help alcoholics help themselves.