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What to Say When a Friend or Loved One Has a Drinking Problem

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By Lisa Boucher

We’d all like to know the magic words that would stop a loved one in their tracks and yank them right out of their alcoholism. Alas, just as we know there’s no such thing as unicorns and fairies, we also have to understand that the perfect words that will make someone alter their life do not exist.

We can’t always help someone up, but we can do our part to help them down and quit enabling. No more excuses for the person who has an alcohol or drug problem. No more covering up for any of their mistakes. No more loans. No more bailing them out of their messes. Let them feel their consequences.The best approach is to not ignore your friend or loved one’s excessive drinking. What we can do is say things such as, “I love you and I’m concerned about your drinking. Are you interested in receiving help?” If the person has a child and is the sole caregiver for that child you can add, ”We’re concerned about your safety and the safety of your children. We cannot let this go on. What do you think would be helpful?”

Keep in mind that even though your words may ooze with love and compassion, in most cases you’ll be met with push-back, maybe even denial sprinkled with a hefty dose of anger. That’s okay. You said your piece. The hard part is now that you’ve said it, you have to leave it alone.

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That conversation will plant the seed. It puts the person on notice that you and others are aware of their drinking. If they are a party person and you are too, stop inviting your alcoholic friend to go get drunk with you. We can’t be selfish if we want to be helpful. We have to learn healthy boundaries.

Here’s a recap:

  • Be compassionate.
  • Be strong.
  • State your boundaries and then stick to them.
  • Let it go.

I’ve seen too many women roll their eyes at their friend’s drinking, but they never cut the friend off from the festivities. If you have a friend who you know has a drinking problem, you have to want what’s best for that person––even if it means a temporary pause in the friendship. I have many friends who still drink, but I’m not their go-to person when they want to hit the bars. Instead, we have lunch—we drink tea. It’s incredibly selfish and enabling to continue to drink with a friend who has a problem. We have to take ownership of our part in the equation. When things get bad enough, people will often stop and look at their life. Maybe the simple act of not calling them to go out drinking will cause them to have a look—maybe it won’t, but at least you’re not supporting destructive behavior.  

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If you feel you must do something more, there’s nothing wrong with scouting out a rehab program if finances aren’t prohibitive. Keep in mind though, that rehab alone is rarely sufficient. When people leave rehabs, it’s often recommended they attend AA, peer-support groups, or find some way to connect with a recovery community. Repeated trips to rehab can get costly if a person wasn’t serious to begin with – many leave a facility only to relapse a short time later. Twelve-step recovery is free other than if you care to throw a buck in the basket that gets passed around the room at some time during the meeting, and AA meetings are available most anywhere in the world.

I didn’t go to rehab. When I decided it was time to quit drinking, I went to 12-step meetings. I liked the flexibility of the 12 steps and felt I could incorporate the suggestions into my everyday life: Go to a meetings. Don’t drink. Call your sponsor. Work the steps. These suggestions worked for me because I was open to the idea, and I knew they worked. I watched my mother transform from a demoralized drunk into the strong, beautiful woman that she was meant to be. The doctors and hospitals never did that for her. Twelve step meetings may not be the solution that resonates with everyone, and regardless of the method a person chooses, the important aspect is change. A person has to change from the inside out because if we stay the same and just try not to drink, we are doomed to failure.

I know many young adults who seem to be blazing their way into full-blown alcoholism. These are men and women who drink almost everyday, but because they’re young, educated, and have budding careers, they think there’s nothing wrong with the “work hard, play hard” mentality. Those after work drinks can turn into daily drinking that morphs into a habit that they may not even be aware of until they try to quit drinking or slow down, and realize they can’t. Relationships start to unravel. Work problems arise. This is the person who can’t get along with anyone anymore. Chaos seeps into their personal and professional lives. There may be detrimental consequences to their finances – after all, buying all those drinks adds up. Free floating anxiety may become a constant companion, but the person will blame everyone and everything else but the alcohol. The thinking is that as long as they’re functioning well in their daily lives, everything is fine.

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For many families, when a grown child with kids is in the throes of their disease, the situation becomes even more complicated. You want to protect the innocent children who have no say in the matter. Concerned onlookersoften rush in to call Child Protective Services (CPS). From my years working in healthcare, I can tell you that I don’t think CPS is the best option. If family members can step in without getting the courts involved, you’ll all be better off. Most CPS departments are stretched too thin already due to the heroin epidemic. Even if they do step in, the kids may be sent to foster care in the interim and that option almost always traumatizes the children – to be yanked out of their home and placed in a situation with strangers where even worse things can happen ...too many children live with scars that will never heal.

Alcoholism and drug addiction are beastly diseases. People will deny there is a problem and keep on drinking and drugging until the bottom falls out, but here’s the good news: If you refuse to be an enabler, the person may find help much sooner. Try to follow a few simple suggestions: Never, ever cover for them. Do not clean up their messes. Do not make excuses. Do not take them in. Let them feel each and every consequence. It’s only when the consequences begin to overwhelm the person more than the disease that many addicts step out of the cycle of self-destruction.

The scariest aspect of dealing with an alcoholic is the question: will they survive the journey? There is no way to say, but the act of enabling will surely erase any hope that a person will plunge into recovery.

 

After short stints where she trained polo horses, worked as a flight attendant, hairdresser, and bartender, Lisa Boucher revamped her life and settled in as a registered nurse. For past 28 years, she has worked with hundreds of women to overcome alcoholism, live better lives and become better parents.  She was prompted to write “Raising the Bottom: Making Mindful Choices in a Drinking Culture,” published in June 2017, when she realized after 24 years of working in hospitals, that doctors and traditional health care offer few solutions to women with addiction issues. She lives in Ohio. Learn more at www.RaisingtheBottom.com and follow her on Twitter and Instagram, @LBoucherAuthor.

 

 

 
 

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