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How to Support an Alcoholic or Addict

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Those that suffer from alcohol use disorder, or any other addiction, experience a change in their brain chemistry and they need a lot more than a break from the addictive substance to fully recover from the addiction – they need support along the journey.

Many people associate alcoholism, or alcohol use disorder, with an inability to control the consumption of alcohol, and some assume the alcoholic can just put down the bottle and walk away.

Alcoholism isn’t the same for everyone. Some addicts continue to work and maintain relationships while others can barely function at all. No matter how the person you care about handles their addiction, it is important that you be a strong and proactive support. Not sure how to support an alcoholic? Here are a few ideas:

Safeguard yourself.

It might sound silly, but one of the first steps to supporting an alcoholic is to find support for yourself. Utilize various tools and resources that will help to support your loved one in the best possible way: attend family group meetings, inform close family and friends of the situation, and do some research to learn more about addiction, treatment options, and recovery. Take some time to ensure you are emotionally in a place to support the one you love. You might find it helpful to talk to the professional therapist before taking any further steps to support your loved one.

Talk with your loved one and address your concerns.

You don’t have to wait for your loved one to hit “rock bottom” before approaching them about their addiction, but you should wait to talk to them until you are both in a safe environment. This is also a delicate matter and you should approach them with care.

Start calm and remain calm. This may be hard to do, especially if their actions have negatively affected you, but being calm and genuine in your conversation will make it easier for them to discuss the situation. Maintain a calm attitude during your conversation and remember that many individuals who struggle with addiction often struggle with mental health issues as well. Accusations and negative talk will not help the individual or the circumstances. Avoid placing blame by using “I” statements in your discussion, such as “I am concerned” or “I have noticed”.

Keep the conversation simple.

Use simple, easy-to-understand terms, and focus on the most recent event. It is also important to be truthful. Let them know of your honest feelings and concerns; that you are there to support them and that your concern comes from your genuine love for them and desire to see them succeed.

Offer to attend sober meetings and to help find treatment options.

Even offering to drive them to their meetings or therapy appointments can show your support. Attending their meetings or driving them there can help them avoid temptations along the way, like a stop at the liquor store or frequented bar. Supporting them in this way can also help ensure they make their meetings a priority, especially if they don’t have their own mode of transportation to get there.

Stay in touch with them.

You don’t have to be with them 24/7 to offer support. Sometimes some physical distance can be helpful as both of you go about this journey. However, be sure to keep in touch with them and let them know you will continue to support them. If your loved one makes the decision to stay in a rehabilitation facility, make sure to visit during open visiting hours.

Be patient.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and an alcoholic won’t recover in one either. Individuals go through recovery at their own pace and it is important to support them in their journey, no matter how long it may seem to take. Sometimes you need to take a step back and offer encouragement, but keep in mind that you cannot save them from their addiction.

Set clear boundaries.

Boundaries keep you safe emotionally and physically by defining limits and consequences. When setting boundaries, it is important to first determine what behavior you deem as unacceptable. If you can’t pinpoint behavioral dos and don’ts just yet, then use a journal of observations. Next, determine what the consequences are if boundaries are overstepped. Boundaries without consequences are futile.