How to Support Loved Ones Giving Up Alcohol
Three ways to help someone you care about in their journey through alcoholism
It can be extremely painful to watch a loved one struggle with alcohol addiction. Addicts can engage in behavior that strains or even breaks family relationships, leaving loved ones feeling helpless. But there is a way forward, and it begins with the right kind of family support. Indeed, family is often a major factor in successful addiction recovery — and by taking a holistic approach to the problem, family and friends can make a world of difference.
Researching and understanding addiction, encouraging the addict to enter a rehabilitation program, and supporting them throughout the recovery process can all have tremendously positive impacts for the addicted person as well as those around them. With love and support from family, it is possible to mend broken relationships and bring about a brighter future.
Step 1: Understanding Addiction
Someone who has never gone through addiction might find it difficult to truly understand the scope of the problem. Many friends and relatives of addicts wonder why their loved ones can't just drink moderately like everyone else, and why they continue to consume excessive amounts of alcohol despite the harm it creates.
The path to sobriety is hard work, and the first step in supporting your loved one's journey is understanding. Empathy depends on having a real grasp of the underlying factors that lead to alcoholism, which may include genetics, trauma, mental health conditions, or a combination of the three.
Recognizing the family dynamics that sometimes compound the problem, such as co-dependency, enabling, and triggering, can also alert you to environmental factors that may be contributing to the addiction.
A greater understanding of all the conditions that have brought about this addictive behavior can help you become a better listener and supporter — while also allowing you to guard against habits that you or others may be engaging in, which may have the effect of amplifying the addiction.
Love and support are essential in the effort to help those who are addicted to alcohol, but in many cases, they are not enough. The next step is to learn about interventions and recovery programs.
Step 2: Recognizing the Need for Help
If the addicted person has not yet come to terms with their problem, an intervention may be necessary. It can be difficult to confront your loved one about the harm they are causing to themselves and their family. It may feel easier to cover for them and make excuses.
But they won't be able to start a journey to recovery unless they accept the fact that they need help. An intervention can bring friends and family together, to sensitively but directly tell their loved one that they need to seek help. Many families find it worthwhile to hire a professional interventionist for this task.
With or without a professional mediator, a successful intervention should bring forward honest and plain discussion, within an atmosphere that is as calm as the situation will allow. The goal is to offer support on a personal level, while clearly identifying the addiction itself as a problem that needs to be addressed urgently. Ideally, the addict will then decide on their own that they want to stop drinking.
Step 3: Entering Rehabilitation
By far the best option for long-term addiction recovery is by getting professional help. There are many options available that range from intensive inpatient rehab facilities to outpatient programs, working with a therapist, and support groups.
The best option will vary depending on the severity of the addiction and other personal factors. It is also worth considering the various types of rehab programs available, particularly in light of financial considerations.
In general, it's best to pursue the most comprehensive and highest quality treatment program possible, in order to ensure the best chance of a full recovery. The cost of addiction — not just in money, but also in mental and physical health, career opportunities, and relationships — vastly outweighs the financial cost of recovery.
The most important thing throughout the rehabilitation process is continuous love, compassion, and support, which of course must continue throughout the recovery period and beyond.
Mending Relationships and Continuing Support
Alcoholism is a condition your loved one will be dealing with for the rest of their lives. Even though a person may have been sober for many years, it is always possible for them to relapse. That's why relapse prevention strategies, and a contingency plan for relapse, are both important for post-recovery support.
If your loved one lives with you, maintaining a safe and reassuring environment is essential — including emptying the area of any alcohol to avoid potential triggers. It's also a good idea to bond over healthy or productive hobbies, like sports or physical exercise.
Throughout these trying times, it's important for you to take care of yourself. You may have been traumatized by the consequences of your loved one's alcoholism. Your loved one may or may not follow through with treatment, and this is not your responsibility or fault. You can do everything mentioned here, and your loved one may not yet be ready yet. It may be wise to seek counseling and therapy to keep you balanced and on track with your own life and help you manage these feelings. Always remember: The healthier you are, both mentally and physically, the better example you set.
A great number of programs and meetings are available for those who are addicted to alcohol or other substances. But there are also many adjacent programs available for families. As with any other issue, it's always best if the whole family gets involved in a positive way.
David Smallwood, Clinical Director at The Dawn, a leading rehab in Thailand, offers valuable advice based on experience. "The most successful long-term treatment for addicts is to join with other addicts in self-help groups," he says. "In just the same way, families and loved ones are able to join groups like Al-Anon, to help them realize they are not alone with this terrible illness. The single best thing someone can do is to connect with a group of people who understand what you are going through."