How To Get Help for an ‘Unwilling Alcoholic’

Convincing an alcoholic individual to get what may literally be life-saving assistance can be a considerably challenging effort. While mired in the depths of substance abuse or addiction, most individuals are incapable of acknowledging the extent of their problem or reaching out for the help that they so desperately need.

In the vast majority of cases, an adult cannot be forced to enter a rehabilitation program – and in the few instances (such as court-ordered treatment or a medical emergency) where such forced enrollment is possible, an unwillingness to participate can significantly undermine the likelihood of success.

owever, that doesn’t mean that friends and family members of individuals who are struggling with alcoholism have to stand helplessly by until the person with the problem hits the proverbial “rock bottom.”

The following tips can help concerned parties convince an unwilling alcoholic that getting treatment is not only a good idea, but a necessary step.

End the “cover-ups” – Few people relish the thought of watching a loved one suffer, but continuing to “clean up” after or “cover up” for the damage an alcoholic individual inflicts upon himself and others only serves to enable this pattern of destructive behavior. Allowing an alcoholic to fully experience the personal, social, and professional ramifications of her behavior is an important part of motivating her to regain control over her life.

Speak up at the right time – Trying to talk to an alcoholic while he is under the influence of the drug is likely to be an exercise in futility. But waiting until all is relatively calm can also make it less likely that the person will understand the gravity of the situation. Most experts advise confronting an alcoholic shortly after his drinking has caused a problem. Wait long enough to ensure that he is sober, but make sure that the effects of the problem are still being felt.

Avoid generalities and ultimatums – “You’re ruining all of our lives” or “I’m never speaking to you if you ever drink again” probably won’t have much effect, except for antagonizing the person you are trying to help, and putting you in the position of either taking action that you’ll regret or going back on your threat. By focusing on the specific (“You’ve already had two accidents while driving drunk, and I’m afraid you’re going to kill yourself or someone else if you keep this up.”) and remaining positive (“I won’t turn my back on you, but I’m not about to stand idly by and watch what you’re doing”) you strengthen your position and emphasize your willingness to help.

Arrange for help – The first conversation you have with your alcoholic friend or loved one might not result in her agreeing to get help – but if it does, you must be ready to follow through immediately. Before you talk, make sure you know who to contact (for example, a local hospital, counselor, therapist, or residential facility) and how to make arrangements for the afflicted person to enter treatment.

Educate yourself – Learn as much as you can about the effects of alcoholism, the likely objections that an alcoholic will raise when confronted with a plea to get treatment, and what treatment options are available. The more you know about alcohol-related problems or solutions, the better you will be able to speak intelligently, avoid being drawn into emotional arguments, and remain focused on the matter at hand.

Find support – Effective support networks can be important to recovering alcoholics – and can also be essential for individuals who love, care about, or are dependent upon the alcoholic. Informal gatherings of other friends and loved ones can help a person cope, can assist with an intervention (as long as they don’t overwhelm the person being confronted), and can provide the proverbial “strength in numbers.” Formal groups such as Al-Anon or online support groups can also be excellent sources of information, compassion, and motivation.

Ultimately, the decision to enter treatment needs to come from the person who has the problem. But by following the advice of the experts, friends and family member can help the afflicted individual reach this decision before the damage she inflicts upon herself becomes too great to overcome.