Loving an alcoholic is a rocky road. Whether it’s a parent, spouse, or other loved one, it’s extremely difficult to witness a self-destructive cycle and wonder if you’re enabling them, or if you should be doing something different to help. You may also be wondering what not to say to an alcoholic. If you are living with an alcoholic, here are some options for you and tips that may help.
Work on your own state of mind
Wait, you may be thinking, ‘I’m not the one with a problem’. This is true — ultimately, you are not responsible for anyone’s choices but your own. However, you can’t change anyone else’s behavior, so rather than trying to get anyone else to change, redirect that energy into focusing on yourself. By shifting your perspective, the problem will no longer control your life.
Sometimes it is better to leave
Living with an alcoholic is extremely toxic and draining. Eventually, you may decide that you need to get out of this lifestyle, especially if there are children involved. That’s certainly a valid choice, and no one is entitled to having a permanent enabler.
If you or your children are in danger, leaving may be your only choice. Take heart in the fact that leaving may not be a permanent decision and may just inspire them to get the help they need.
Hold an intervention
Alternately, you could hold an intervention in hopes of sparking a change. An intervention is a planned meeting with other family members or loved ones to confront the addict’s behavior. The goal of an intervention is to help the alcoholic face the impact their drinking has on others and to begin to determine a treatment plan.
What not to do
- Don’t blame yourself
Never blame yourself, even if the alcoholic does. Remember, no one’s addiction is your fault. Alcoholics often try to shift the blame to others to avoid taking responsibility for their actions. If someone is truly dependent on alcohol, nothing will keep them from drinking. If they aren’t, nothing can drive them to drink.
- Don’t try to control the addiction
As difficult as it may be, you cannot stop an alcoholic from drinking. Many family members will try everything in their power, only to wind up hurt and frustrated. Furthermore, if your loved one is slipping into a crisis, like losing their job or getting a DUI, you must let the crisis unfold. Protecting them is enabling their behavior, and often a crisis serves as the wake-up call they need to make a change.
- Don’t take it personally
If your loved one breaks promises related to drinking, try not to take it personally. While it may seem natural that your relationship should matter more than any substance, remember that an addict’s brain chemistry changes so that they physically need their drug of choice.
- Don’t enable their choices
Keeping secrets, bailing them out (figuratively or literally), lying or making excuses for an alcoholic shields them from the consequences of their behavior. It may be difficult, but enabled addicts will never seek help.
- Don’t ignore your own needs
Whether your loved one seeks treatment or not, it’s important to take steps to protect your own mental health. There is little you can do until an addict admits they are ready to make a change. Therapy or AA meetings can go a long way toward maintaining your sanity. Remember, you can’t pour from an empty cup and navigating a relationship with an addict can be very trying.
Why are alcoholics so mean to the ones they love?
The link between anger and alcohol is well-known. Unfortunately, many people stifle feelings of anger only to explode on those closest to them. Alcohol can exacerbate anger, lower inhibitions, and provide a false sense of grandiosity, resulting in an ugly mix. In this case, avoid engaging with an angry alcoholic and remove yourself from the situation if necessary.
If you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol dependency, please reach out to a qualified addiction specialist right away. Despite what you may think, relationships can survive after alcoholism, but the important first step is getting help.