How to Help Someone With an Alcohol Addiction

Hand Help Gesture Stretch Out  - wal_172619 / Pixabay

Zimbabwe’s current socio-economic situation has seen many people, both men and women, turn to alcohol and drug use just to cope.

Watching a family member, friend, or colleague with an alcohol use disorder can be difficult – you might wonder what you can do to change the situation, and whether or not he or she even wants your help.

Alcoholism is a term used to describe someone with an alcohol use disorder. Someone with alcoholism may have both a physical and psychological dependence on alcohol. They may have problems controlling their drinking habits or choose to keep drinking even though it causes problems; these problems may interfere with their professional and social relationships or even their own health.

An alcohol use disorder can range from mild to severe, and mild patterns may develop into more serious complications. Early treatment and intervention can help people with alcohol use disorder. While it’s up to the person concerned to willingly start their journey towards either sobriety or moderation, you can also help, and here are some steps you can take to help your friend, family member, or loved one.

Learn about alcohol use disorder Before doing or saying anything, it’s important to know whether your friend or loved one has an alcohol addiction. Alcohol use disorder, or alcoholism, is more than just drinking too much from time to time. Sometimes alcohol as a coping mechanism or social habit may look like alcoholism, but it’s not the same. People with alcohol use disorder don’t drink in moderation, even if they say they’re only having one drink.

Practice what you’re going to say Let the person you care for know that you’re available and that you care. Try to formulate statements that are positive and supportive. Avoid being negative, hurtful, or presumptuous. Rather than saying: “You’re a bloody alcoholic — you need to get help now,” you can say, “I love you and you’re very important to me. I’m concerned about how much you’re drinking, and it may be harming your health.” Using “I” statements reduces accusation and lets you be an active participant in the discussion. It may be helpful to bring up a specific concern. You may mention when alcohol caused an unwanted effect, such as violent behavior or economic problems.

Prepare yourself for every response. No matter the reaction, you should stay calm and assure your person that they have your respect and support.

Pick the right time and place Choose the right time to have this important conversation. Have the conversation in a place where you know you’ll have quiet and privacy. You’ll also want to avoid any interruptions so that you both have each other’s full attention. Make sure your person is not upset or preoccupied with other issues. Most importantly (and you’d think this should be obvious) the person should be sober.

Approach and listen with honesty and compassion If the person does have an alcohol problem, the best thing you can do is be open and honest with them about it. Hoping the person will get better on their own won’t change the situation. Tell your loved one that you’re worried they’re drinking too much, and let them know you want to be supportive. Be prepared to face a negative reaction. Try to roll with any resistance to your suggestions. The person may be in denial, and they may even react angrily to your attempts. Do not take it personally. Give them time and space to make an honest decision, and listen to what they have to say.

Offer your support Realise that you can’t force someone who doesn’t want to get treatment – all you can do is offer your help. It’s up to them to decide if they’ll take it. Be nonjudgmental, empathetic, and sincere. Imagine yourself in the same situation and what your reaction might be. Your friend or loved one may also vow to cut back on their own. However, actions are more important than words. Urge them to get into a formal treatment program, or advise them to speak to a mental health professional or counsellor. Ask for concrete commitments and then follow up on them.

You may also want to see if other family members and friends want to be involved. This can depend on several factors, such as how serious the situation is or how private the person may be.

Intervene Approaching someone to discuss your concerns is different from an intervention. An intervention is more involved. It involves planning, giving consequences, sharing, and presenting a treatment option. An intervention may be the course of action if your person is very resistant to getting help; during this process friends, family members, and colleagues get together to confront the person and urge them into treatment. Interventions are often done with the help of a professional counselor. A professional therapist can give advice on how to get the person into treatment, explain what treatment options there are and find programs in your area.

You can also find a list of mental health professionals in Harare here on our website.