Family and friends need to act before it’s too late
Without help, most alcoholics cannot permanently quit drinking. A combination of factors works to imprison the alcoholic with their addiction. In the early stages, before social and psychological problems develop, neither the alcoholic nor those around them see any reason why they should stop drinking. As problems begin to build, heavy drinking is generally seen as merely a symptom, and the alcoholic may be advised to get help with their “underlying problems.” Later, when heavy drinking contributes to their problems, the alcoholic and others are more likely to conclude that they should cut down on their drinking, not quit altogether.
The progression of alcoholism
Typically, only when the more blatant symptoms of alcoholism develop does anyone suggest that the alcoholic should stop drinking altogether. By this time, the alcoholic’s mental processes are firmly influenced by the addiction. Their need to drink pushes aside all rational concerns about the harmful consequences of continuing to drink. They may realize that they should stop drinking, and under pressure, they may even go “on the wagon” for a while. But the power of addiction, such periods of abstinence are temporary.
However, the alcoholic is likely to reject any idea that they should stop drinking. Dimly they may realize that their problems are connected to drinking, but the addiction blinds them to the fact that alcohol is causing those problems. Alcohol is their first aid and medicine. It is an effective remedy for the psychological and physical pain that ails them, immediately relieving their anguish and tension, stopping their hands from shaking and their stomach from heaving, and allowing them to think more clearly and act more normally.
Act before it’s too late
An alcoholic needs help, and they need it as early in their disease as possible. The widely accepted belief that alcohols have to “hit bottom” before being helped has been wholly discredited in recent years. Waiting for the alcoholic to realize they need treatment is simply a mistake, for left to their own devices, they are likely to become less willing to seek treatment, not more willing. If treatment is delayed until the alcoholic is so ravaged by their disease that their liver and brain are permanently damaged, their partner has given up on them, their employer has fired them, and they are living on welfare, it may have been delayed too long.
The alcoholic who can stand on his feet, who still holds a job, and whose marriage is intact may insist that they do not have a problem and stubbornly refuse to get help. They are likely to lie, steal, manipulate, and cheat to protect their right to drink. But their deceptions and refusals are no indication that treatment will fail. No matter how fiercely the alcoholic fights those who want to help them stop drinking, they can be helped more often than not. Over half of the now being treated successfully were compelled into treatment; they did not want to stop drinking, but certain crises in their lives backed them into a corner and forced them to seek help.
Rather than waiting for such a crisis to occur, there are time-tested strategies to create a situation deliberately and use it to convince the alcoholic to get into treatment.
Here are five basic guidelines:
- Learn about the disease. Understand the chemical alcohol, how it affects the alcoholic and the nonalcoholic in different ways, and why the alcoholic continues to drink when drinking is harming them. Learn about the underlying physiological dependence and the withdrawal syndrome, which profoundly affect the alcoholic’s behaviour.
- Avoid moral judgement. An alcoholic is a sick person, not a bad person. They need compassion and understanding, not anger and indifference. Moral judgement and condescending attitudes only make the alcoholic defensive and hostile and push them further away from treatment.
- Develop an emotional detachment. The person trying to help must understand that the alcoholic is physically and psychologically sick and that their addiction governs their behaviour. When drinking, they act in bizarre and unpredictable ways. At one moment, they may be consumed with self-pity and make sincere promises to change their ways. Moments later, they may angrily deny their drinking problem and become belligerent or indignant when anyone suggests that they do. Remember that the alcoholic believes what they have been taught – that alcoholism is a symptom of underlying psychological and social problems. They interpret facts as evidence that their drinking is caused by external events or other people beyond their control.
If the alcoholic’s family or friends become emotionally embroiled in these excuses and denials or believe that they are somehow responsible for causing the alcoholic’s unhappiness, the real problem – the psychical addiction – will get sidetracked. Then the psychological symptoms will be mistaken as the source of all the trouble.
- Pick a specific treatment program. Not all treatment programs are the same.Those trying o help the alcoholic should understand the limitations and benefits of various treatment programs. Outpatient programs offer counselling services but have no in-patient medical facilities. Most general hospitals provide brief in-patient detoxification but give no actual alcoholism treatment. Rehabs can be expensive and may have a long waiting list, in which time a lot of unpredictable things can happen – the goal is to get the alcoholic into treatment as soon as they are somewhat willing. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is not a treatment program. It provides no detox facilities, medical support, or professional counselling services – but as a program for helping the alcoholic maintain sobriety after treatment, AA is the best.
Perhaps the best option is getting detox in your home’s safe, comfortable environs under expert medical supervision. Ongoing psychotherapy by a professional is critical for preventing relapse. After initial medically supervised detox, a combination of psychotherapy and subsequent involvement in AA is the most potent and effective method of achieving long-term sobriety.
- Get help. A careful intervention strategy must be worked out in advance. It would be best if you rehearse your words before confronting the alcoholic. Under the guidance of an addiction therapist or a physician from a treatment service with a good success record, the family and friends can decide how to conduct the intervention.
Attend some AA and Al-anon meetings. AA has open meetings that anyone can attend. Al-anon is an organization patterned after AA but specifically designed for the concerned nonalcoholic. Both AA and Al-anon offer family and friends of alcoholics the solace of knowing that they are not alone and that others have been through similar or worse ordeals.
If you are concerned about someone’s drinking, call Freephone 0800 140 4044