We’ve all seen the images of alcoholism in television and the movies, such as Leaving Las Vegas, Barfly, and Arthur. Usually, we see someone falling over, laughing at things that aren’t funny, and being disruptive in an otherwise civil crowd.
We see them continuing to drink despite witnessing their already drunken state and seeing them crash bottles against the wall in anger when their friends or family members leave. These are the classic images of alcoholism we see.
However, it’s easy to see these images in a movie or television show. Eventually the movie will end and the alcoholic we were just introduced to is no longer in our lives. However, this isn’t true when we have an alcoholic living with us, or an alcoholic who is a parent, spouse, or teenage child.
How To Help An Alcoholic
How do you really help an alcoholic? How do you respond to him or her when there are drunken arguments, angry outbursts, and continued drinking despite his or her life falling apart?
There are really two situations you might want to seek assistance for. The first is when your family member or loved one is under the influence and argumentative or disruptive. How might you respond? How do you ask that he or she leave the room until no longer drunk?
Or how might you ask that your loved one not bring up certain topics when he or she is under the influence? The second situation is the problem of getting your loved one to agree to treatment.
- Approach in a way so that you don’t re-traumatize that person.
- Approach with care.
- Respect personal space.
- Use gentle, soft voice and body language.
- Make clear, brief statements.
- Focus on the here and now.
- Show respect and do not put the person down with judgments or criticism.
- Use humor, if you think that will help to create a connection. But obviously don’t use humor at the person’s expense.
- Stay calm and avoid getting into a confrontation.
- Empathize with the person.
- Work to disarm fear.
- Calm the fight or flight response in the person you’re talking to.
- Give the person time to process.
- Repeat yourself as often as necessary.
- Check that he or she is in physical health and is safe.
- Leave the situation if the person becomes agitated or behaviorally inappropriate.
- Validate the person when warranted.
- Offer concrete help if he or she asks, such as places to seek drug treatment, a safe place to rest, a safe place to sleep, and places to seek medical attention.
- If a person is intoxicated and also suicidal, do not leave him or her alone. Instead, call 911 to ensure safety and professional support.
The second situation may require an intervention, which is a formal invitation with everyone involved as well as a mental health professional to convince your loved one to seek treatment. If he or she agrees, then admission to treatment would happen immediately.
However, this formal meeting may not be therapeutic, depending on how you think your loved one will respond. Having such a meeting might feel like too much pressure and he or she might simply get up and leave.
A More Therapeutic Meeting
If that’s the case, you might want to use your relationship with your loved one as a means for helping him or her see what’s happening. If the two of you have a positive relationship, then your conversations might gently include a reminder of how important your relationship is and how drinking is affecting it.
If the positive relationship isn’t there, then find someone who can relate to your loved one. Someone who can also utilize the strength of the relationship to gently point out the destruction caused by the drinking.
Working with an alcoholic is a challenging situation. Sometimes you must ride it out until he or she sees for himself that the drinking must end. If you feel that you need further assistance than what is provided in this article, contact a mental health professional.
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