The Dos and Don’ts of Helping an Alcoholic

Addicted to alcohol man drinking alone at the bar

You want to help a loved one who is struggling with alcoholism, but maybe you don’t know how. You can be a real asset to your loved one as they enter and work through addiction recovery, but only if you know how to be properly supportive. Sticking with some basic dos and don’ts will steer you in the right direction.

Don’t Enable the Addict

Often times what we think is helping or being supportive is actually fueling addiction. Some forms of help turn out to be enabling to an alcoholic. Examples of common types of enabling include:

  • Financially supporting an alcoholic who is refusing treatment.
  • Sheltering an alcoholic from negative consequences of their behavior. This could mean making excuses for them to others, or fixing their mistakes for them.
  • Accommodating the disease by rearranging your life to work around it.
  • Pitying your loved one and assuming that they are incapable of change.

Behind nearly every alcoholic is someone, or a whole group of people, enabling their addiction in the name of love. While it might feel counterintuitive, stopping this enabling is the only way that an alcoholic will be able to recognize their damaging behavior and begin to want to change.

Don’t Lay Blame or Guilt

There is no place for blame in any successful recovery. You can try to blame the alcoholic for their addiction, but this won’t make it go away. You can blame yourself for the addiction, but this won’t make you more supportive or helpful. Addiction is a disease, and it requires strength and a positive outlook to overcome it, so you’ll have to leave blame behind in order to move forward. Heaping blame or guilt upon your alcoholic loved one won’t inspire them to change, it will only make them feel worse, and drive them further into their addiction.

Do Educate Yourself

In order to learn how to be supportive of an alcoholic, and what kinds of help you should be offering, you need to educate yourself. Read articles on the subject, attend Al-Anon meetings, join other support groups, and get some formal counseling. Supporting a recovering addict is a big job, but it’s not one you have to do alone. Take advantage of the information, help, and resources available to you to battle this disease.

Do Take Care of Yourself

You can’t be strong enough to help someone else if you don’t take care of yourself. Addiction will creep in and destroy your entire family if you let it, so put your guard up. Get proper rest, nutrition, and exercise. Attend to your duties at work, within your family, and around the house. Don’t let addiction derail you from your own life because you need a strong body and spirit to stand against it.

Do Offer Help Now

A common addiction myth is that you have to wait for your loved one to hit rock bottom before offering help. The truth is that the earlier your loved one can get help for their alcoholism, the less damage the disease will do. Sit down with your loved one now, and calmly and lovingly offer to help them through recovery. If they refuse your help now, at least they know that you’re on their side and they’ll know who to turn to when they are ready to make that change.