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Chapter 5

How To Help An Alcoholic Who Doesn’t Want Help

A concerned woman looking back at a man drinking on the couch.

Updated on

24 Apr, 2024

Dealing with a loved one’s battle with alcoholism can be incredibly tough. It may leave you feeling helpless and desperate for a solution.

The issue gets trickier when they’re resistant to seeking help. Balancing support and respecting their autonomy becomes a delicate tightrope walk.

Whether you’re a friend, family member, or caring colleague, this guide will give you valuable insights on how to help an alcoholic who doesn’t want help. We’ll offer practical advice and encouragement to help you support your loved ones through a challenging but vital process.

Remember, your role is essential, and even in the face of resistance, there is always hope for positive change.

Approaching the Situation

Talking about addiction issues openly and honestly, while still showing respect for the person facing those issues, is important. A conversation is a good-faith effort to identify the issue and talk about your legitimate concerns related to it. It allows your loved one the opportunity to take an active role by listening and responding.

You care about your family member, friend, or colleague. A conversation about their issues with drinking is a key step in acting as part of their support system.

Expressing your concerns may or may not convince someone with alcoholism issues to seek treatment. It’s not always a direct and easy answer to the question “How to help an alcoholic who doesn’t want help?”.

However, these discussions will still raise the issue. They let your loved one know that their issues with alcohol harm themselves and others. By taking on this responsibility, and approaching it in a compassionate way, you’re showing that you truly care for them.

So, how should you talk to someone about issues related to drinking?

Talking to a Loved One About Issues With Alcohol

Choosing to have a conversation with a loved one about issues with alcoholism or problem drinking, whether it’s addiction or alcohol dependence, is often not an easy decision. If you’re committed to taking this step, then you deserve some recognition.

You’re trying to help someone you care about, and that’s commendable on its own. You’re also standing up for yourself, in the sense that alcoholism can negatively influence friends and family members of people dealing with this disease.

However, this is a very sensitive subject. Your loved one truly might not yet realize they have a problem or not want to admit they’ve noticed the issue themselves.

Find the Right Time

Finding the right opportunity and approach to this conversation can help. It won’t always immediately lead to them completely agreeing with you or deciding to enter treatment. However, it can encourage them to start thinking about the issue and recognize the impact it has on themselves and others.

To that end, look for a time to have this conversation when:

  • You feel prepared to have it (read the next section to learn more about getting ready).
  • Your loved one won’t feel like their issues with drinking are put on display — avoid doing so publicly or during a large family gathering.
  • Your loved one is sober and not facing a significant amount of stress from another source, as WebMD explains.

What to Say and How to Say It

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism explains that avoiding a judgmental tone and showing empathy during this conversation can make it more productive.

You want to make it clear that you care about your loved one. You aren’t broaching the topic to criticize or judge them.

As far as what to say, focus on the facts and avoid accusations and labels. Don’t use logic to trap them or force a label like “alcoholic” onto them.

Explain how their drinking has affected you, and themselves, with compassion. Point out some of the serious health issues that are associated with excessive drinking.

Explain that you don’t want them to end up dealing with those issues. Be sure to offer assistance and think through what you can offer. Whether it’s emotional support, participating in activities that don’t involve drinking, or actively working to help them find effective treatment for alcohol addiction, explain how you’re willing to help.

Make it clear throughout the conversation that you’re bringing the issue up because you care about them and their well-being.

Don’t be afraid to practice what you want to say, either. These can be difficult conversations, and it helps to work through the process so you have a better idea of what to expect.

Recognize that Talking is the First Step

A conversation about issues with alcoholism will inspire some people, but not all, to seek treatment.

In other cases, the conversation is the beginning of a process that ideally ends with your loved one entering treatment. If you’re wondering how to get an alcoholic help, keep these two key points in mind:

  • You may need to have more than one conversation, or even stage an intervention.
  • Without this conversation, it’s that much harder to help your loved one choose to help themselves.

Educate Yourself

Education is crucial for you to understand the many issues faced by alcoholics. Alcoholism is a disease, not a choice, as Indiana University Health explains.

When dealing with alcoholism, people’s rational minds face incredible pressure from their reward pathways. In a sense, their brains demand more alcohol. That’s a battle that willpower alone can’t win. That’s why compassion and understanding are so important in these conversations.

Educating yourself about the risks and consequences of alcohol use also allows you to take a fact-based approach to your discussion.

Focusing on proven information can help you avoid emotional escalation while making clear points to your loved one about their well-being. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers some foundational information about alcohol as a good starting point for learning more.

An upset man ponders his alcohol issues while sitting with a glass at a table.

Tips for How to Help an Alcoholic

Why is a Support System Important?

Having a support system means someone with alcohol issues doesn’t have to go through treatment or deal with returning to everyday life alone. They know they have people who care about them to lean on when times get tough as they keep working toward sobriety.

Support systems can also boost self-confidence. The people who make up a support system should show kindness to their loved ones, even as they point out the problems substance abuse causes. That kind of compassion, even in the face of a major issue, helps people with alcohol issues build a stronger sense of self and potentially resist the temptation of relapse.

Additionally, support systems also play crucial roles in helping people with alcoholism realize they have a problem. It can be easy to ignore or never fully recognize the problems that come along with excessive or compulsive alcohol use. Having people who genuinely care raise the issue is a crucial early step toward treatment.

If you’re reading this article, you’re likely a part of that support system for your loved one. When a difficult situation or setback occurs, remember the good that support systems can do on the journey to recovery.

Exploring Treatment Options for Loved Ones Refusing Help

Even if your loved one isn’t ready to start treatment at this moment, you can still learn about the available options. This accomplishes two key goals when helping a loved one with alcohol issues:

  1. Having potential treatment programs and treatment centers lined up can make this major life change easier to manage for your loved one.
  2. You’ll learn more about how treatment for alcoholism works and what to expect.

There are a few especially important factors to consider when exploring treatment options. One is the specifics of care provided.

Does the treatment facility offer a full continuum of care? Do they take an evidence-based approach to treatment and have qualified professionals on staff? Do they treat related mental health issues in a dual-diagnosis model to offer more holistic and effective support to clients?

Cost is also an important point. Finding out if your loved one’s health insurance covers a given facility can remove a common objection to starting the process. Learn more about the insurance coverages Infinite Recovery accepts. Remember that we work with all major insurance companies.

Staging an Effective Intervention

Staging an intervention to encourage alcohol rehab can feel intimidating. It’s admittedly a high-stakes situation — several loved ones confront the person with alcohol issues and encourage them to seek help.

How can you make it less intimidating? Our most important recommendation is to work with an intervention specialist.

These professionals have the knowledge and experience to help loved ones through the intervention process. They also play a crucial role in moderating and guiding the intervention itself. Infinite Recovery can help you find an intervention professional who’s well-suited to address your loved one’s situation.

Other valuable guidance includes:

  • Remain calm and avoid reacting in a way that can escalate the situation.
  • Have participants prepare what they want to say ahead of time. Review those statements with the intervention professional to help focus on productive discussions.
  • Avoid judgment and accusations — stick to the facts.
  • Have information on treatment available to make it easier to pursue, should your loved one agree to move forward.

A family member reaches out to comfort a loved one during an intervention.

Coping Strategies for Loved Ones

Self-Care Tips and Advice When Encouraging a Loved One to Seek Treatment

Addiction in general can put stress on you and your relationship with your loved one. Encouraging them to seek treatment might lead to them escalating the situation. How can you take care of yourself in this context?

Setting healthy boundaries and avoiding enabling or codependent behavior is crucial. Read the next section to learn more.

Don’t commit to doing more than you realistically feel able to do in terms of encouraging treatment. Talk to fellow family members and friends about how to share the responsibility.

Consider family support groups and therapy options. Infinite Recovery offers weekly family support groups and monthly, two-day family workshops.

How Do Healthy Boundaries Help?

No matter how much you want to help an alcoholic spouse or any loved one dealing with alcoholism, you need to protect yourself as well. Healthy boundaries help you do exactly that.

The fear of losing a loved one to an addiction can lead people to protect their loved ones from the consequences of their issues. When there aren’t healthy boundaries or reasonable expectations also put in place, that can harm you and your loved one. This approach can quickly turn into enabling behavior that does the opposite of encouraging treatment.

Keep in mind, that it’s perfectly fine to offer assistance and support in return for positive change on the part of your loved one. That’s part of what makes healthy boundaries and reasonable expectations valuable. However, you need to protect yourself if you truly want to help your friend or family member.

Staying Persistent and Patient When a Loved One Has Alcoholism

Not all people with alcohol issues will immediately seek help after they’re confronted. Some may deny the issue to start. Others might genuinely want help at that moment but also need time to process the major upcoming changes in their lives.

That’s not easy to deal with as a friend or family member. However, you can recognize this fact early on. Accepting that recovery is a long and sometimes uneven process can help you continue to offer support without setting expectations that are too high.

Our other piece of advice is to remember why you’ve gotten involved with this process in the first place. You care deeply about your loved one.

Is working to encourage a major and positive change worth the time invested and frustration caused? Despite the complications, the answer is very often a resounding “yes.”

A man raises his hand in an alcohol support group.

Helping an Alcoholic Who Doesn’t Want Help: Final Thoughts

It’s not always easy to encourage someone with alcoholism to enter treatment. We hope the advice in this guide can support you in achieving such an important goal while ensuring you take care of yourself at the same time.

Infinite Recovery takes a holistic, evidence-based, and comprehensive approach to treating alcoholism and addiction issues. Ready to transform your life or help a loved one? Reach out to us today.

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