Trying to help an alcoholic can be an incredibly trying experience that ends up being the closest thing to hell on this earth. The most unfortunate thing about it and the thing so many have a hard time grasping, is that there is nothing they can do to fix an alcoholic loved one. No amount of preaching and moralising will change a loved one’s behaviour. However, that does not mean family members and friends are helpless. While you may not be able to fix the alcoholic’s problem, there are things you can do to help him or her.

We have divided these things into two categories: what you should do and what you should not do. By making an effort to implement these things within your home and family, you will increase the likelihood that your alcoholic loved one will get help. There is no guarantee mind you, but the chances go up.

What You Should Do

First and most importantly, you should seek out counselling support for yourself and other family members. Understand that your alcoholic loved one may never get the help he or she needs to recover. You should not – you cannot – allow the rest of your life to be ruined by the actions of an alcoholic. You and the rest of your family need counselling and support if you are to both cope with alcoholic loved one and live a happy and productive life outside of that influence.

Next, make an effort to investigate what sorts of rehab and detox programmes are out there. No, you cannot force your loved one to undergo rehab and expect it to be successful. Nevertheless, it is always a good idea to have the information on hand in the event your loved one decides, on his or her own, to seek help. Taking advantage of that decision as quickly as possible makes it easier to get your loved one into rehab. Do not wait until the decision is made to start investigating; your loved one can change his or her mind in the time it takes you to find the information you are looking for.

In addition, you should:

• learn everything you can about alcohol dependence;
• express your love and concern without preaching and without making excuses;
• regularly show your willingness to support recovery should the individual decide to get help
• come to terms with the fact that your loved one will never get better until he or she wants to.

What You Should NOT Do

The first thing you should not you do is make excuses for your loved one or take over his or her responsibilities. Alcoholism brings with it certain consequences that must be experienced by the alcoholic if he or she is to ever recover. Removing the consequences only makes the individual believe that alcoholic behaviour is okay. It only cements that behaviour in the heart and mind as being normal, acceptable, and not harmful.

It is also important that you do not yell, scream, or preach to your loved one about alcohol use. Doing so only causes bitterness that could quite possibly encourage the individual to dig in his/her heels and drink even more. You can be firm about the rules and boundaries of your house without yelling, screaming, and preaching.

In addition, you should NOT:

• blame yourself for the behaviour of your loved one;
• encourage your loved one by joining in his or her drinking;
• argue with your loved one while he or she is intoxicated; and
• put forth the martyr syndrome (making sure your loved one knows you are a victim).

Conducting an Intervention

Intervention is a tool that can be very powerful as a motivator to seek help. Having said that, conducting an intervention in the wrong way, or when inappropriate, could make a bad situation worse. It is always best to consult with a professional counsellor prior to undertaking an intervention. That counsellor can recommend whether or not it is a good idea and, if you prefer, help lead you through the process.

In an intervention, the family members and friends of the alcoholic confront the individual in a neutral setting and in a way that is not accusatory or inflammatory. They explain the problem in a clear and logical manner as a means of helping the alcoholic understand the damage his or her behaviour is causing. The goal is to encourage the alcoholic to come to a place where he/she makes his/her own decision to get well.

Please remember that alcoholism is a complex problem that cannot be solved overnight. Also remember that you cannot fix your alcoholic loved one. Only when he or she makes a decision to get well, and then undergoes the proper treatment, is full and complete recovery possible.