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Alcohol Treatment Help - how can family members help an alcoholic admit they need help?

Published 28/02/2008

Living with an alcoholic may be one of the most frightening and isolating problems that their family members ever have to deal with.

They may feel their problems are overshadowed by those of the alcoholic - but, due to economic hardship, disruption of domestic routine and emotional and physical abuse, the family's suffering may be just acute, if not worse, than that experienced by the problem drinker who insists that everything's fine.

And in many cases, the havoc that alcohol abuse is wreaking on family life is covered up and kept a secret out of a sense shame and the fear of social disgrace.

Keeping up appearances under such conditions can be hard and punishing work. Often, family members will go to great lengths on the drinker's behalf. They may call the drinker's boss to say they're sick, when they're actually drunk or hungover. They may clear up after the drinker. They may pay bills out of their own pocket or go without essential items rather than reveal that the drinker is penniless. They may even supply the drinker with alcohol for the sake of a quieter life.

 "To help themselves and help the drinker, this pattern of collusion with the drinker's behaviour must change," says Sue Allchurch, director of Linwood Manor Group. "A calm and honest approach is essential, because threats and blackmail simply aren't going to work. But a strong family that takes positive action and supports the drinker can go a long way to getting them into recovery." Her advice?

 Stop all rescue missions

When family members cover up for a problem drinker, the drinker stays in denial. If rescue attempts stop, however, he or she is forced to face up to the harmful effects of their drinking and thus may be more motivated to tackle the problem.

Time interventions carefully

Plan to talk with the drinker shortly after an alcohol-related problem has occurred ? for example, a serious family argument in which drinking played a part or an alcohol-related accident. Also, choose a time when he or she is sober, when both of you are in a calm frame of mind, and when you can speak privately.

Provide specific examples

Present the problem drinker with examples of occasions (preferably recent) when their drinking has had a negative impact on other family members. This makes it harder for them to argue away your concerns.

State the consequences - and stick to them

Tell the family member that until he or she gets alcohol help, you will carry out consequences ? not to punish them, but to protect yourself and the rest of your family from the harmful effects of their drinking. These may range from refusing to go with the person to any alcohol-related social activities to moving out of the house. Warning: Do not make any threats you are not prepared to carry out.

Be ready to help

Gather information in advance about local alcohol treatment options. If the person is willing to seek help, call immediately for an appointment and offer to accompany them on their first visit to an alcohol clinic.

Get your own support

Whether or not the alcoholic family member seeks help, you may benefit from the encouragement and support of other people in your situation. Support groups offered in most communities include Al-Anon, which holds regular meetings for spouses and other significant adults in an alcoholic's life, and Alateen, for children of alcoholics. These groups help family members understand that they are not responsible for an alcoholic's drinking and that they need to take steps to take care of themselves, regardless of whether the alcoholic family member chooses to get help.


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