Knowing that someone close to you is suffering is very difficult to deal with, especially when it comes to addiction. Understanding how to help an alcoholic isn’t always easy. Those with an addiction to alcohol can often be quite defensive and are rarely sober. There are certain ways that you can help a person who has alcoholism, and the first is to understand alcoholism.
How to Help an Alcoholic Starts with Empathy and Understanding
When you’re in active addiction, the part of the brain that tells you to stop drinking isn’t as strong as it should be. As a result, addiction wins. Even though you may want to stop, you simply can’t.
Addiction is a very serious illness, and it’s important to understand that. When someone is struggling with alcoholism, many people believe that he or she could stop simply with strong enough willpower. The reality is that most people want to stop, but don’t have the tools or capacity to. The part of the brain that’s responsible for regulating things like addiction is also responsible for the following, which helps to explain the behaviors of someone with addiction:
- Logical decision-making
- Impulse control
- Emotional regulation
Start with an Informal Intervention
Help for alcoholics can start with something as simple as talking to the person about his or her drinking problem. This is a soft approach that many refer to as an informal intervention because there aren’t any firm boundaries. Believe it or not, when a person is in the cycle of alcoholism, he or she may not have even thought about going to treatment. Once you bring your concern to his or her attention, it may give him or her the push he or she needs towards help.
Enabling and Boundaries
While you may not realize it, you might be enabling your loved one’s addiction. Although you may not be buying alcohol for the person directly, you may be enabling the behavior. In the mind of a person with an addiction, the brain justifies drinking by saying things like, “Well it can’t be that bad because I still have support.” Sometimes you need to draw boundaries to let the person know that he or she needs to get help.
This is very difficult to do, and it can be even more difficult if the person is your child, spouse or parent. The reality is that if you don’t draw this firm boundary, you may be helping the person continue his or her behaviors. The other aspect you need to be aware of is your own mental health. Your ability to find peace is just as important as your loved one’s. Sometimes you may need to draw this boundary to take care of yourself as well as your loved one.