How to Deal with an Alcoholic
Learning how to deal with an alcoholic is something no one is taught in school. Dealing with an alcoholic isn't even something people think about until they find themselves caring about, or living with, an alcoholic. But alcoholism is a chronic disease that left untreated, will continue to hurt the alcoholic and those around them and learning how to deal with an alcoholic can improve the alcoholic's chance for successful recovery.
How to Deal with an Alcoholic - Stop Alcoholic Denial
Denial is a term used to indicate the unwillingness or inability of a person to admit to some truth, in this case alcoholism. For example, an alcohol addict may vehemently disagree with concerns of those living with the alcoholic that he is drinking too much, in spite of the fact that he has been charged with driving under the influence of alcohol three times in one month.
But denial is not just something seen in the alcoholic, denial is also common in those living with an alcoholic.
One of the reasons alcoholics continue to function while drinking and stay in denial is because the family and friends refuse to admit to dealing with an alcoholic. Because there is stigma attached to the term "alcoholic," loved ones want to deny that they are living with an alcoholic. However, admitting to a problem is the only way to start dealing with an alcoholic.
Ways to Remove the Denial Around Living with an Alcoholic:
- Admit that you are living with an alcoholic and that it is a problem.
- Clearly look at the behaviors, emotions and physical symptoms of the alcoholic. Admit that they are due to alcoholism and not another ailment.
- Do not deny the destructive actions of the alcoholic.
- Shed the guilt and shame associated with living with an alcoholic - the alcoholic's disease and actions are not your fault.
- Do not get rid of the alcohol and pretend it wasn't there.
- Understand there is nothing you can do to stop alcoholic behaviors - alcoholism is a disease and not a character flaw or poor judgment on the part of the alcoholic.
How to Deal with an Alcoholic - Admit to the Effects of Living with an Alcoholic
A huge amount of harm comes from living with an alcoholic. Refusing to deny the alcoholism also means admitting to the effects that living with an alcoholic, or caring for an alcoholic, has on you and your family. Dealing with an alcoholic also means dealing with alcoholism's effects in an honest way.
How to deal with the effects of living with (or caring for) an alcoholic:
- Admit that living with an alcoholic is hurting you and your family.
- Acknowledge the effects alcoholism is having on the alcoholic and those around them.
- Talk about how you feel about the alcoholic's behaviors. Allow others to do the same.
- Be honest about your feelings with respect and do not threaten, bribe or make overly emotional appeals which may increase the alcoholic's guilt.
How to Deal with an Alcoholic - Stop Enabling the Alcoholic
The term "enabling" is used to refer to any action used in support of the alcoholic's behavior. Dealing with an alcoholic may seem impossible when the alcoholic denies there is a problem and it may seem easier to just give the alcoholic what they need to go on with the day, but enabling will never stop alcoholic behaviors. The alcoholic must make their own choices and face the consequences of those choices without the help of those living with the alcoholic.
Dealing with an alcoholic by not enabling the alcoholic in the following ways:
- Do not make excuses for the alcoholic.
- Do not take over the responsibilities of the alcoholic.
- Do not cover up the actions, or the consequences of the actions, of the alcoholic.
- Do not supply the alcoholic with alcohol.
- Do not drink with the alcoholic.
- Do not argue with the alcoholic when he is intoxicated.
- Do not allow the alcoholic to pull people into his drama. For example, if the alcoholic is arrested for drinking and driving, do not try to get him out of it. The alcoholic created the problem and the alcoholic has to find a solution.
How to Deal with an Alcoholic - Get Help for Yourself and Those Living with an Alcoholic
There are many families living with an alcoholic who refuses help. In these cases, it's useful for the family members to seek their own help when dealing with an alcoholic.
People who can help those living with an alcoholic include:
- Social workers
- Support groups, like Al-Anon or Alateen
- Trusted friends or members of a faith community
Last Updated: 20 June 2016
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD