An alcoholic’s dependency and addiction do not only impact the individual but the entire family. Typically, a household faced with an alcoholic’s troubles experiences a family illness rather than simply a person’s challenges. Loving an alcoholic is difficult and it can be heartbreaking to watch a loved one battle with their addiction, falling into a downward spiral, their lives unraveling.
However, loving an alcoholic does not have to take a toll on the family. There are effective ways to help your loved one to take control, accept responsibility, and in fact, break free from their addiction. Of course, the best option to get your loved one the help that they need is to refer them to a treatment facility like The Hills where the trained medical staff will help your loved one down the road to recovery.
Let’s look at what life with an alcoholic means for any family. The bottom line is that life does not typically run smoothly when a family member, spouse, child, sibling, or parent, is faced with an addiction to alcohol. As much as you love the person, it is very difficult to watch their destructive behavior not only impact their lives but that of the entire household. In some cases, the pure act of loving an alcoholic encourages loved ones to enable them or even impede them getting the help that they so desperately need.
You may be asking, “how can I be enabling my loved one when all I want to do is help them?” Even the best-intentioned family members may be helping alcoholics allowing them to avoid the consequences of their decisions and actions. In other words, enabling creates an environment in which the alcoholic can proceed with their unacceptable behavior rather than taking steps toward becoming free from the addiction. Why would they want to get help for themselves when no matter what they do, no matter how uncomfortable they make the rest of the family, you will always be there to cushion his fall.
Unfortunately, enabling may take many forms. Let’s do a quick check to see if, in your efforts to help your loved one, you have been creating an easy situation for them to keep on doing what they are doing.
- Have you ever lied to cover up your loved one’s behavior?
- Have you ever had to bail them out of jail or paid legal fees because of their poor decisions?
- Have you ever made excuses for their behavior or absence?
- Do you avoid talking about drinking with your loved one in fear of their reaction?
- Do you continue to give your loved one “one more chance”?
- Have you completed a task on their behalf because they were too intoxicated?
- Have you ever made idle threats in an attempt to get them to change their behavior?
- Have you ever “loaned” them money, knowing that they were going to use it to purchase alcohol?
- Have you tried drinking with your loved one in order to relate or strengthen the relationship?
There is a fine line between helping and enabling and everyone who truly loves an alcoholic believes that they are acting in their best interest. The definition of helping is when a person does something for a loved one because they are completely incapable of doing it for themselves. Enabling, on the other hand, is doing things that they could and in fact, should be doing for themselves.
In the examples above, are each of the actions helping or enabling? In each case, the situation is such that the alcoholic has put himself and others in a position they may not necessarily have been in without the influence and addiction to alcohol. But they say that “love is blind”, right? If you were able to answer yes to at least some of the questions above, you very well may be contributing to the continuation of the disorder.
Nevertheless, loving an alcoholic is extremely difficult and stressful for everyone. Because they do not have to deal with the consequences of their actions, it is much easier for an alcoholic to continue down the path of destruction and denial that they even have a problem at all. Why would he or she think they have a problem when someone else is covering up for them? What would cause them to make a change when the rest of the world does not seem to be impacted by their choices?
Unfortunately, the alcoholic does not see the tough choices, difficult situation and burden that their actions are placing on the lives of their loved ones. They may “choose” to drink away money earmarked for groceries or bills yet if they are blissfully unaware of the damage that they are causing. It is only when the alcoholic comes face to face with reality that they may realize the true consequences of what their loved ones have had to endure because of their addiction to alcohol.
Often those who are closest to an alcoholic believe that they can truly get them to stop their behavior the more that they love them. Through their love, they will convince them to change their ways. Unfortunately, this loving mentality is not enough to cut the strong grip that alcohol has on their loved one.
If you are in the midst of loving an alcoholic, it is important that you understand several key aspects of the disorder and living with them.
- You cannot take the words or actions of an alcoholic personally. You may be tempted to believe them when they say that they will never drink again only to feel betrayed when they do. Because alcoholism changes the chemistry of the brain, they cannot physically go without the drink even if it means lying or hurting their loved ones to get it.
- Alcoholism is a mental health disorder that cannot be “cured” with pure love and care. Your loved one must receive treatment by trained professionals like those at The Hills to effectively recover from their disorder.
- Even the most well-intentioned partners, spouses, and children cannot force an alcoholic to stop drinking. You cannot control their behavior and trying to do so will only make the situation more difficult and strained. If you try to stop their drinking by hiding their alcohol or forcing them to do something they do not want to, you may, in fact, make them angry, resentful or accusatory, further damaging the relationship.
- You are not to blame!! Although your attempts at loving and helping your alcoholic family member are coming from a good place, they may not see it that way. They may point the finger at you, threatening or blaming you for their troubles. In fact, they are suffering from a mental health condition that you are not to blame for.
- Alcoholism is a mental challenge that your loved one is experiencing. It does NOT define who they are as a person or diminish who they were. The person that you love is still there but their true self is masked by the body’s dependency on alcohol.
- Making excuses for an alcoholic and their bad behavior is only prolonging the recovery process. By lying or distracting attention away from the problem, they are empowered to continue their behavior because they can hide behind the lies.
- Do not enable!! If you make things easier for them, they have no reason to see the impact that their behavior has on others let alone make a change. If they say that they will do something for the children or the household, do not do it for them. They need to see the result of their inaction or behavior to understand the impact that it has.
- Loving an alcoholic was certainly not how you may have envisioned your life and more than likely, you did not plan it this way. But the reality is that you are faced with an uncomfortable situation. However, it is critical that you remain positive, continuously looking toward the future rather than living in the past of what was or what was supposed to be.
- Remember that an alcoholic’s brain has been transformed by the alcohol and they may no longer think or behave how they once did. What may seem to be logical and reasonable options and behavior to them may be completely inappropriate or outrageous to the brain that has not been distorted by alcohol. Be sure to set reasonable expectations for their treatment and recovery to protect your own feelings.
- Alcoholics love to have a drinking buddy. They feel better about what they are doing if you are doing it with them. However, trying to be their “friend” or cohort in this area only encourages them that it is acceptable behavior condoned by you.
- Although your frustration and stress may force you to make threats and ultimatums, they probably have no effect on the alcoholic who is in the throes of the disorder. They may get angry or lash out, blaming you for their drinking. However, it will not deter them from continuing with their behavior and in reality, they may not recall the conversations when they are sober.
- Loving an alcoholic is very stressful for the entire family. Although they may be in denial or refusing to accept the impact that their behavior has, it does not mean that you cannot and should not take care of yourself. You do not have to suffer in silence nor alone. You do not have to pretend that everything is okay or that you are not being affected by their behavior. It is critical that you find support and help to keep your own mental and physical health intact to ensure that you can continue to help and guide your loved one.
While the above are all critical to living with an alcoholic family member, it does not negate the fact that they need professional medical attention to help them break free from the stronghold of this mental disorder. If you are loving an alcoholic and know that your love may be enabling and empowering them to continue, it may be time to reach out and seek the assistance of the trained therapists at The Hills. After an initial consultation, an appropriate treatment and recovery plan will be outlined to pave the way for the best possible outcome to enable them to live their life as normal as they are supposed to.
At this point, you may be wondering a treatment plan for your loved one may look like. First things first, ridding the body of the grips of alcohol will begin with detoxing. Because of the withdrawal symptoms that will undoubtedly occur, it is imperative that your loved one is under the care and supervision of trained mental health and medical professionals.
Stopping the drinking is only a part of the solution on the road to recovery. As part of their treatment plan, your loved one will participate in cognitive behavioral therapy to change the patterns of thinking that got them to this point. By learning new skills and creating strategies to maneuver through everyday life, the alcoholic can successfully recover from this mental health disorder and return to a “normal” life with their loved ones.
Loving an alcoholic, while it can be stressful, frustrating and at times, may seem impossible, remember that the person that you love is still there and is the one battling with the disorder. As difficult as it may seem to be the one looking in, dealing with the bad behavior, the lying, and deceit, with the proper treatment and appropriate care from a rehabilitation center like The Hills, your loved one can fully recover and return to your family to love and be loved.