How Can I Help an Alcoholic or Addict?

Sometimes The Best Way to Help Is to Do Nothing

Couple Talking
What Can You Do to Help?. © Getty Images

Friends and family members naturally want to help their alcohol or drug addicted love ones, especially when they find themselves in the middle of a crisis. In reality, that is usually the time when the family should do nothing.

When an alcoholic or drug abuser reaches a crisis point, sometimes that's the time they finally admit they have a problem and begin to reach out for help. But, if their friends or family members rush in and "rescue" them from the crisis situation, it can delay their decision to get help.

Let a Crisis Happen

For those who love an addict, it is very difficult to sit back a let the crisis play out to its fullest extent. When addicts reach the point in their substance abuse when they get a DUI, lose their job, or get thrown in jail, it is a difficult concept for their loved ones to accept that the best thing they can do in the situation is to do nothing. It seems to go against everything they believe.get a DUI, lose their job, or get thrown in jail, it is a difficult concept for their loved ones to accept that the best thing they can do in the situation is to do nothing. It seems to go against everything they believe.

How Can I Help?

Therefore, one question that we are often asked here at the About.com Alcoholism / Substance Abuse site is, "What can I do to help?" If the best thing to do when the addict is facing a major crisis is to let that crisis fully unfold, then how can I help?

Recently, a monthly newsletter from a Christian-based program for alcoholics, addicts and their families answered that very question. Dunklin Memorial Camp (DMC) was founded in 1962 by Mickey and Laura Maye Evans, as a "City of Refuge" for men with drug and alcohol problems.

The vision of Mickey Evans, known to everyone as "Brother Mickey," was to build an effective, Christ-based program for the spiritual, emotional, and physical regeneration of alcoholics and drug addicts.

A key part of that regeneration process at DMC has always included the addict's reconciliation with his family.

Guaranteed Prescription for Recovery

The July 2013 issue of the "DMC Campfire" newsletter featured an article aimed at the families of addicts entitled, "How Can I Help?" The article included what DMC calls a "Guaranteed Prescription for Recovery - Things you can start doing to help your loved one."

The following suggestions have been adapted from Dunklin's prescription for recovery. Although they are aimed at Christian families struggling with addiction, the principles can be applied by everyone:

You no longer have to deny the presence of addiction in your family.
Start facing the reality of the situation and learn as much as you can about alcoholism and drug abuse.

You no longer have to blame the addict.
Start concentrating on your own actions. Or as suggested in Al-Anon Family Groups, put the focus on yourself, not the alcoholic. Your actions and reactions will make a difference.

You no longer have to control the addict's using.
Start concentrating on his need for treatment and offer him understanding and encouragement to seek that treatment when appropriate. Besides, nothing you ever did to try to control it worked anyway!

You no longer have to rescue the addict.
Start letting him suffer and assume responsibility alone for every consequence of his or her using. Don't create a crisis, but don't prevent one from happening if it is the natural course of events.

You no longer have to be concerned with the addict's reasons for using.
Start resuming a normal living pattern. Don't buy into the addict trying to blame you for his decision to use. It's not your fault; you didn't cause it.

You no longer have to make threats.
Start saying what you mean, meaning what you say and doing what you say you are going to do. Issuing ultimatums and not following through can sometimes make the situation worse.

You no longer have to accept or extract promises.
Start rejecting the empty promises. Inform the addict that he or she will have to show you they are committed to recovery through their actions, not their words.

You no longer have to seek advice from the uninformed.
Start your commitment to your personal recovery and your long-term goals of health. Talk with others or seek support from those who understand the dynamics of addiction and know what you are going through.

You no longer have to hide the fact that you are seeking help.
Start telling the addict that you are seeking help. If the addict has a problem with you reaching out for help, it's his or her problem, not your problem.

You no longer have to nag, preach, coax or lecture.
Start by simply reporting the addict's inappropriate actions to him or her. Set boundaries for yourself. You no longer have to accept unacceptable behavior in your life.

You no longer have to allow the addict to abuse you or your children.
Start protecting yourself. Do whatever you have to do to protect the children. There are no circumstances in which verbal or physical abuse is acceptable.

You no longer have to be a victim of addiction.
Start being a victor instead. For Christians, DMC says, this means "be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain..." 1 Cor 15:57-58. Learn what you can and cannot change about each situation, and change the things you can.

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