Dealing With an Alcoholic


Dealing with an alcoholic can be very frustrating for family and friends. During the 1990’s, a form of alcoholism intervention was popular in which family and friends would gather together to confront the alcoholic about his or her behavior.

The friends and family members would take turns telling the alcoholic how his or her behavior affected them and how they felt about it. They would inform the alcoholic that they would no longer support his or her drinking habit; for instance, the alcoholic’s wife might say that she would no longer call in sick for her husband when he was too hung over to go to work. At the end of the alcoholism intervention, the alcoholic would be asked to get into treatment.

Is this form of alcoholism intervention effective? It has mixed results. Here is what works and what doesn’t.

Bringing the Problem Out Into the Open

When dealing with an alcoholic, the problem is often kept a secret. The alcoholic tries to hide the extent of his or her drinking problem, and those close to him or her often assist with that process. Bringing the problem out into the open is helpful for all concerned. It does not mean, however, that the alcoholic is going to agree that there is a problem.

Talking About How the Alcoholic’s Behavior Has Affected Other People and How They Feel About It

It may be helpful for the alcoholic to hear how his or her behavior has affected others, but the alcoholic is often not in the right frame of mind to take that information in during the alcoholism intervention. He or she is often too busy denying that there is a problem.

It is also useful for family and friends to be clear about how the alcoholic’s behavior has affected them, because it can guide their future behavior. For instance, if the wife has been calling in sick for her husband and she feels guilty for lying to his boss, acknowledging that is the first step toward changing that behavior.

Sometimes just having the opportunity to state how they feel about things can be therapeutic for family and friends. They should focus on using “I statements” and taking responsibility for their own feelings and behaviors, though.

Telling the Alcoholic That They Will No Longer Support His or Her Drinking Behavior

When dealing with an alcoholic, it is easy to get sucked into their behavior. It is important for family and friends to take responsibility for their own behavior and reactions to the alcoholic’s behavior. When they tell the alcoholic that they will no longer support his or her drinking behavior, the alcoholic will often respond defensively.

This step can be difficult for family and friends, as well. While it is critical that they stop supporting the alcoholic’s behavior for their own mental health, they may find it hard to do so. For instance, the wife that calls in sick for her husband may feel guilty if she refuses to do so. She may feel she is abandoning her husband when he needs her help. She may even feel responsible if he loses his job.

Asking the Alcoholic to Get Treatment

This is one of the most difficult parts of dealing with an alcoholic. The alcoholic is almost certainly going to resist getting treatment. While this is the point of the alcoholism intervention, unfortunately most interventions do not convince the alcoholic that they need treatment. However, some will agree to get help just to satisfy their family and friends. Treatment is most effective when the alcoholic goes because he or she wants to, not because he or she feels forced. However, when dealing with an alcoholic, sometimes you have to take what you can get. Once in treatment, the alcoholic may realize he or she does indeed have a problem and treatment may be successful.






More about dealing with an alcoholic on our alcoholism intervention page

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