After several messages of friends online asking "How do I help an alcoholic friend stop drinking?" I decided to share how I stopped drinking and what helped me continue to stay stopped drinking. Therefore, I am going to offer some suggestions. But before you take off with these suggestions, I am sure to have some Al-Anons or Codependents who've arrived at this page and their mouths may be agape with the thought, "I knew it! I knew it was possible! I knew I could get him to stop drinking!" Or for those of you in Al-Anon or Codependent recovery, "They never told me this in Al-Anon!"
Rest assured. These tips are coming only from me; Being a double winner of Al-Anon recovery [by way of Alateen in High School] and, when alcohol proved more successful than Alateen, finally to Alcoholics Anonymous I went and then back to Al-Anon I went. :)
This is my experience from both sides - being alcoholic as well as living with others' alcoholism - and if Alcoholics Anonymous and Al-Anon/Codependent Recovery has taught me anything about "advice" it's that I can only share my experience, strength, and hope. I will not offer advice or any other thing that I did not do or that did not work for me to get sober. Everything I will share played a part in turning this self-loathing helpless and hopeless daily drinking life-fearing suicide-attempting alcoholic into the woman who writes this article; A happy, whole, sober, non-drinking plethora of sanity and joy with life human being. Yep. I've come a long way. And you can too.
Despite what you are currently facing - whether it's your own alcoholism or alcoholic friend or family member or codependency in general, or an amalgamation of all of the above [like me] - you CAN heal. And I hope this to be my core message. So let's get to it.
How to Help an Alcoholic Quit Drinking
1. Don't let it remain a secret. Secrets have no light. Under the cloak of darkness and hiding is where dis-ease flourishes and they best flourish as secrets. It encourages shame and as long as shame by way of secrecy is an aspect of any dis-ease, healing cannot begin. Remove the secrecy; remove the shame and stigma. Then we can start.
Examples of not allowing the suspected alcoholism remain a secret: "You're drinking a lot. This worries me." or "Have you ever thought about trying to quit drinking?" or "I don't know but it seems like you're drinking an awful lot these days."
2. Don't judge or label. The trick with not letting the potential victim of alcoholism maintain the secrecy and shame is an attitude of tolerance and non-judgment.
Trust me. Believe me. If you pass judgment on an alcoholic or potential alcoholic, or shame them, this will feed their alcoholism and provide a great excuse to keep going. Alcoholics deal with their emotions by drinking [it is all they know] and if you're trying to help them, this would be counter-productive to the goal of "getting them sober." [If you need help with learning how to communicate please read my Words can Harm. Words can Heal series.]
If you have a difficult time believing that alcoholism is more than a matter of sheer willpower and you somehow think that shaming might work, think about this truth. I am a typical alcoholic. I did not have any tools other than alcohol in which to deal with myself. If I had a bad memory, I drank. If I felt sad, I drank. If I felt happy, I drank. If I had something to celebrate, I drank. Something to mourn, I drank. I did not know what else to do in the face of emotions; particularly fear and shame. You shame an alcoholic and what have you just done? You have just shamed an alcoholic. That's it. Just given another excuse to need to drink. It is not about willpower. It is about a real live deficiency in their emotional and mental toolkit. Would you shame a retarded person or a schizophrenic or even a diabetic or cancer victim? The American Medical Association does classify alcoholism as a disease. Therefore, this is not a matter of "just stopping" for the alcoholic by way of shaming or insulting. It is a disease.
3. Don't force but do make the offer to help. Timing, however, is critical. In the life of an alcoholic there are often presented many small to large windows of opportunity in which s/he would be receptive to alcoholism assistance. These windows are usually after some episode in which one could characterize as an unusual experience.
Some times I was receptive to assistance were plenty: When I threw up on myself after passing out on my bed naked. When I'd been arrested for underage drinking. When I was taken to the emergency room for alcohol poisoning and black-out. After yet another regrettable night of promiscuous sex in which I'd either been passed out, in a black out or using bad judgement. When I drove drunk to pick up a child. When I destroyed my sister's living room furniture in a drunken disorderly episode. When the police were called on me because I was having fun with a butcher knife. When I was having my stomach pumped and drowned with charcoal after another night of a drunken suicide attempt.
The reason for this timing should be clear; Alcoholics are more receptive to assistance when they have just suffered a consequence due to their drinking. It would not be advisable to approach an alcoholic who is drunk, however, if a drunk alcoholic approaches you or begins crying for help while drunk or under the influence - even just buzzed up - it may be appropriate to leave the following information with her/him as opposed to giving her/him an audience s/he is too buzzed up to be receptive to.
How to help during these windows of opportunity. Here are some suggestions:
- Call your local Alcoholics Anonymous and get their meeting information to give to your friend or email the local meeting schedule to your friend. [Meeting areas can be found at the AA website.]
- Call another alcoholic you may know who has quit drinking and see if s/he would be willing to sit down with your loved one for a talk; Not to recruit into any membership or religion or anything, just to share his/her story about what it was like, how s/he got sober and what it is like now.
- Visit your local A.A. and buy a copy of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous [or pick up a new/used one on Amazon] to offer your friend or relative as a gift. [Buying the A.A. Book from an A.A. meeting place will be at cost - which is usually $6 to $9 - depending upon where you are in the world; if you buy it elsewhere you may pay a higher price but if you click the above link, there are usually people on Amazon who will sell their *used* book rather cheaply!]
- Pick up other alcoholic or sobriety books that sound good. A.A. it was NOT what got me sober; Going to meetings gave me something to do besides drink, yes. It allowed me to know I was not alone, yes. It enabled me to meet friends who would understand when 'nothing in particular' was driving me to want to drink, yes. But what got me sober were ALL SORTS of tools and resources. Three books I bought after I realized the A.A. group I was attending was less than 'healthy' and subsequently needed a hiatus from were the Tao of Sobriety, The Zen of Recovery, and Rational Recovery.
- Share with your loved one [remember; do this when they are NOT drunk or buzzed up] precisely how his or her drinking is affecting you.
- If you have maintained some sanity (or have gotten some through your own healing processes) and are ready to make a boundary or set a limit or condition, tell them. But only tell them if you mean it otherwise once they cross the line again and see there are no such thing as limits with you, they've been made aware that, once again, reality is something they cannot trust as a safe place; but the blurred 'reality' of alcohol is what they can count on. The object is to get them to trust reality...even if in small doses. [ie, "I will not bail you out of jail next time." "Do not come over if you've been drinking. If you've been drinking, I will not let you in." To your child maybe: "I am taking your car keys away until you've attended 5 A.A. meetings this week." "Your allowance is going to be withheld until you write a report on what alcoholism is."] I certainly did not like my limits but - even if I could not see it at the time - I felt a warmth and safety in knowing that there WAS a reality outside of my drunken haze that I could trust. And this WAS one of the seeds that would contribute to my eventual sobriety.
4. Remember that you are 'just' the seed planter. But your role is vital! It is true that you cannot get an alcoholic sober. It is not true that you are powerless. You have many options depending upon your relationship with the one you are concerned is suffering with an alcohol addiction. Do not feel discouraged if your "help" has not been acted upon or you see nothing "good" coming from it yet. Too often we're eager to see the fruits of our work take hold but when an addiction like alcoholism is involved, the victim of it must seek the actual help herself and must do the work in getting and staying sober I do not care what anyone else tells you. [Please see the end of these suggestions for more general information of the mind of an active alcoholic.]
If we can think of ourselves as doing the good work, for the right reason, then the results are really none of our business is how I look at it. Now, I fully realize that that's a harsh pill to swallow if you're the parent, the child, or the spouse or relative of an alcoholic who is killing herself. I know this. I know how hard it is to accept. So, until they're ready, continue to love them but no need to love or enable their disease. [See #5.]
Seeds that were planted within me that eventually took hold were many! I am very glad that the seeds that were planted - from my teenage years on - eventually did root and grow! I am also glad that the people who took time with me didn't say, "She is not ready yet! We should withhold our efforts for someone who is ready!" (Solid A.A.'s may do well to remember this when a newcomer comes into the rooms.)
5. Get help for yourself if necessary. Alcoholism or alcoholic family members or relatives do not live in a vacuum separate from the alcoholic, even though it may feel like you're on different planets! Chances are that if you're currently living with an alcoholic, you are living according to what I call "Alcoholic Rules." These rules are usually generational, meaning that if you never even pick up a drink and your Dad is currently "the alcoholic" in the household, you are going to adopt these rules, function within these rules and then pass these rules to your own children or household:
- Anticipate. Anticipate the alcoholics needs so they need not do anything! After all, if you meet their needs, they may not *want* to drink! Turn into a people-pleaser and a mind-reader!
- Beg. Beg the alcoholic to change! Add some nagging for good measure.
- Control. Make sure to try to control the alcoholic. Manipulating is good too. In fact, why stop there? Make sure to control every situation and even the non-alcoholics in the family! If you can exert more control, surely things will change!
- Deny. Denial is necessary! Don't think about it. Don't talk on it. Don't tell on it. Tell yourself there is no problem.
- Enable. Enable the disease. Don't allow the victim to feel the consequences. Bail out of jail. Give money. Call in sick for the victim. Make plenty of excuses.
- Fret. Walk on eggshells. Feel hopeless and helpless but only when no one is looking.
- Gag Order. Make sure you gag order the family so they cannot get help! See #3 & #4.
- Hero. Be the hero of the family. Everyone loves a martyr!
- Isolate. Make sure to isolate. Alcoholism loves this one and tries to get everyone doing it. Remember that dis-ease loves secrecy! See #7 so everyone does it!
- Justify. Justify why all of the above are necessary and work for your way of living and repeat. These rules will then infiltrate every aspect of your life enabling the progression of your own dis-ease! [Codependency, raging, workaholism, over-eating, pills, and even the beginning of your drinking career!]
The above rules can sometimes even be seen even in households in which there is no alcoholism due to the nature of how we pass along what we know down generational lines. But if these rules are exhibited in a household with no alcoholic, you may still seek help in order to stop these rules from destroying you. [Resources: My Codependent Recovery Articles will share which books helped me the best and how; Or start at the Codependency Recovery page to see how it affected me; Or read one such recent article for inspiration that healing is possible: Codependents Guide to the 12 Steps]
If these rules seem familiar to you while having remembered that an alcoholic did influence your early life and you think you need help, Al-Anon and Alateen are organizations comprised of people who understand. They understand the secrecy, the pain, the powerlessness, the anger... Both helped me to understand the effects of alcoholism and how to choose a different way of living that led to serenity despite and while living in the midst of a person whose solution was to stay lit. Al-Anon and Alateen are versions of Codependent Recovery but specific to a loved one being an alcoholic. In my life story of recovery, I outgrew Al-Anon and adopted Codependent Recovery because it was a more complete picture of what I needed as most of my younger life had been characterized by "alcoholic rules" dysfunction - not necessarily arising from 'an alcoholic.' And once I gained a sane outlook on my life as a whole, dealing with alcoholics, addicts, or just generally dysfunctional relationships or people fell into place.
More about Alcoholism for the Non-Alcoholic
The Mind of an Alcoholic - An alcoholics mind can be perfectly well-balanced except as it pertains to alcohol. A normally honest spouse will lie if he has to regarding his alcohol. Normally smart about money-matters, if you have a relative you suspect of drinking [or doing drugs for that matter] and it becomes coupled with not having enough money and the punchline is 'can they borrow some?' it may very well be related to their drinking.
Alcoholics are funny, too, in that - although they may not be completely aware of it [I wasn't] - they think they have a secret. The entire world can witness the barrage of trouble they seem to find themselves in or take note [as was my case] how they would shut the door and unplug the phone and not emerge for weeks, but they really think as if it will go unnoticed. Alcoholism is a very twisted disease.
Drinking is only a Symptom - I know it is strange for non-alcoholic people to even begin to understand this disease called alcoholism, and to tell you the truth, even alcoholics in recovery frequently refer to the disease as it's relayed in the Big Book, "cunning, baffling, powerful!" What we do know is that over-drinking or dependence on drinking or drinking despite negative consequences is only a symptom. Where recovery comes in is equipping the alcoholic with more productive tools than the drinking that has turned damaging.
Alcohol was my Friend until it Wasn't - Alcohol did not judge me. Alcohol gave me confidence for my otherwise introverted nature. Alcohol eased my discomfort at being around other people. Alcohol eased my emotional turbulence. Alcohol was always there for me. This is my truth and this is how it started. But, not even getting started good as a teenager, it began turning on me.
I could never seem to just stick with any limit I would impose upon myself. I remember begging my sister, as a teenager, before I began drinking for the night, to not let me drink more than three. [Three happened to be my magic number when the *feel really good* kicked in.] I remember how she tried, my poor sister. But in the end, my manipulation, my lies of "Oh I didn't mean it" worked. It always worked. But in case I sensed it wouldn't, there was always the threat of physical violence or ruining the good time we were having. Nothing was off limits when it came to feeding my alcoholism.
So what does an alcoholic do when her only solution turns into her biggest problem? She looks for another solution. Some alcoholics choose suicide and still, others choose to continue drinking [sometimes being directly or indirectly responsible for leading them to jails, institutions, and/or an alcohol-related death]. I chose a different route.
My solution was to learn other tools so I would not have to drink for my solution and that is what I did. There are a few ways to get into this solution. Alcoholics Anonymous [I did this one] Rational Recovery [this too!], a spiritual awakening [like I had] ... The point is, there is no monopoly on solutions to stop drinking although some solutions may try to claim as such. Even the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous concedes this point. The main point for you, as the person who wants to help a potential alcoholic, is that for every personality of alcoholic, there is a solution. However, if you start throwing 500 different alternatives to an alcoholic hoping one of them will stick, you may frustrate them so go slow, easy does it, don't force. Simply be available.
Is Alcoholics Anonymous a Cult? Yes, maybe and no, not at all. First of all, if you read the first 164 pages of the Alcoholics Anonymous Book [as well as the Traditions] - and you can read it online here - you will see that A.A. is almost anarchy in it's approach! There are no rules, no mandates, no lectures to be endured... And those are facts. The program within the Big Book is Alcoholics Anonymous at the core.
Then we have the meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous - or what we call 'the fellowship' - and meetings are only as good as the Traditions of A.A. they follow. This means that some people have, indeed, suffered some bad A.A. meetings or groups that do not keep the Traditions in mind. So like any social organization it is prone to the indulgences of ego. The good news is that there are many meetings and some, even online. [ALSO, there are resources that are not Alcoholics Anonymous related, to be fair.]
So can you be an Al-Anon as well as an Alcoholic? Absolutely. I was. I am. I was in Alateen while I was using drinking. Eventually I went full fledged over to drinking in order to deal with every problem I had. When I got sober is when I went back to Al-Anon because although I was now sober and developing new tools in which to deal with life in general, I still wasn't at ease with family members and friends who continued drinking or living within alcoholic rules. Going around them or talking to them made me feel scared, angry, and powerless; All the reasons I drank to start with.
Final Word about Alcoholism
Alcoholism is a treatable disease. Although it manifests as a physical affliction, the disease centers around the mind. No one can force an alcoholic to seek treatment or force an alcoholic into sobriety or make an alcoholic quit drinking short of trying to lose your mind in the process. However, as a friend or family member who cares for and loves an alcoholic we can help the alcoholic stop drinking. Our best and most loving response is to carry the message that there is hope. If we judge or maybe even label the drinker as an alcoholic to their face [much less without their acknowledgement or acceptance over what that even means] or try to manipulate situations in which to force outcomes we want or enable their disease an easy time of continuing to ruin our beloved's life, we can be always assured that WE are now contributing to the problem.
The 'disease' of alcoholism will use everything it can to isolate the drinker from help or sanity. 'It' [thought processes, feelings, emotions] will manipulate, lie, ruin relationships, and everything else it can think of. If we do the same thing - given that we are human beings and not diseases - Alcoholism has no Spirit; We do. Alcoholism has no feelings; We do. Alcoholism does not care; We do. Alcohol has no limits; We do. - Who will win this? Who will suffer? If you want to keep your sanity through this - or regain it - and have ANY chance at helping your loved one, engage the mentality of "fighting fire with water."
We continue to love our friends and relatives who are harming themselves. We listen with compassion at their plight when they want to talk. We do not allow, though, the disease to lie to us or to remain activated in secrecy. We are honest with our loved ones and strong in the face of their sickness. We do not enable, make excuses, or agree to the alcoholic rules. And at the same time, we are loving, kind, and patient. But sometimes this means getting well, ourselves, first - before we can help our loved ones who may be under the influence of alcohol.
If you are currently living in hell with an alcoholic I pray and encourage you to seek health and serenity for yourself first. We can't transmit hope or sanity for anyone until we have realized hope and sanity for ourselves. If I can help in any other way, please leave a comment at the bottom of this article or send a private message.
Suggested Links or Links Mentioned in this Article
Alcoholics Anonymous Specific
Help with Not Drinking and Sobriety
Help for Dealing with A Loved One's Drinking
Getting to the core of Healing with/from Dysfunction
Codependent Recovery - This is a solid place to start.
Codependent Articles - These articles are linked from the above page.
Codependents Guide to the 12 Steps - Instructions & inspiration.
Codependent Recovery Books New/Used
My Autobiography - My Recovery Story
© Samsara [Digits on Newsvine] 2008-2013. Last Updated Jan 15, 2013.