Watching a loved one struggle with alcoholism can be heartbreaking and frustrating. Finding a way to help them and seeing them grow in sobriety can be joyful. Here are some tips to help an alcoholic friend:
Have Inner Strength – The first step in helping a friend or loved one that has a problem with alcohol is to gather the inner strength to know that you did not and do not cause their drinking. Most people who are in active addiction are master manipulators. They may blame you for their drinking. They may say, “If we spent more time together, then I wouldn’t drink,” or, “If you didn’t complain so much, I wouldn’t have to drink.” The list can go on and on. The reality is that someone else’s addiction is not our fault. When they throw hurtful words our way, it is their way of living in denial and of manipulating our love for them.
Do not be an Enabler – If you want to help an alcoholic friend, do not enable them. We may think that we are helping them when they tell us they have no money to fix their car so that they can get to work. We pay for the car to get fixed, only for them to miss work because they were drinking. We pay their rent or bail them out of jail. Maybe they tell us they have no food, so we give them money for groceries, only to find out that they used the money for drugs or alcohol. When someone is in active addiction, their main concern is feeding their addiction. They care not for the feelings of others. The people who care the most get hurt the deepest. Most people who struggle with addiction think that they are hurting no one but themselves. They do not and cannot see the fallacy in that until they get sober. You can be there for your loved one, but do not give them money or lie for them. It will only make the process longer if we keep putting out their fires and helping them to feed their addiction. It may be difficult to see someone we love struggle, but remember, in this instance, not giving is giving them what they need the most.
Speak with Love – Share your concern with your friend. The timing should be appropriate, when the person is not under the influence or hung over. Find a good time and share your concern. Many people believe that someone has to “hit bottom” before they will get help. This is not always true. Many people can be spared years of misery if they get help early.
Expectations – Try not to have expectations of them stopping their drinking just because they told you that it would be the “last time.” The person struggling with alcoholism may be physically addicted, which makes stopping abruptly dangerous. The closer you are with your friend, the more aware you will be of his/her tolerance level and physical symptoms when they do not drink. If your friend is getting the shakes, getting sick to their stomach, or having seizures when they do not drink, they need medically assisted detox. They may have to drink until they get into treatment, as alcohol withdrawal can be fatal.
Intervention – If your friend will not listen to you, or if you can never find a good time to share your concern, you can put together an intervention. This is when loved ones and preferably someone from AA or a counselor come together and confront the person in a loving way.
Go to Al-Anon – Al-Anon consists of people who have friends or loved ones with an addiction problem. Addiction affects the lives of everyone involved. Try at least several Al-Anon meetings to see if it is for you. Within the Al-Anon groups, you may find the support you need to work through feelings about how your loved one’s addiction has affected your life.
Remember, to help your friend, you need to stay strong and take care of yourself!