A loved one – problems with alcohol – refuses to acknowledge it – What can I do?

It is very painful to see a loved one sinking deeper and deeper into the nightmare of alcohol addiction. It is even more painful when that person refuses to acknowledge that she/he has any sort of problem, let alone thinking about stopping. So what can you do?

Before I answer, you need to understand why an alcohol addict keeps on drinking, in spite of the harm it is causing.

The answer quite simply is fear. More accurately a tug-of-war of fear.

On one side, the fear of stopping:

  • “How will I manage my stress?
  • I will have no friends! Everyone will look down on me!
  • How will I live/manage/enjoy my life without my “anaesthetic”?
  • How will I enjoy a good meal (steak) without my red wine; it just won’t be the same?
  • What about those moments “having a beer on a terrace in the sun.”?

On the other side:

  • Alcohol is destroying my health; it will kill me!
  • If I carry on like this I will lose everything! It’s costing me a fortune!
  • I am damaging and destroying my family!
  • There also is a fear of having to face difficult, uncomfortable feelings, and the fear that “I will never get free of this!”

The result of all this fear is paralysis, often accompanied my fierce self-criticism and self–loathing.

That’s the background, so what can you do?

There are three possible approaches:

  1. Take care of yourself and get out of there. If you have tried to speak and reason with the person and they refuse to acknowledge or even change, then it is quite reasonable to say to the person something like, “I love you (or not), but I simply cannot live with this and the damage it is causing me (and the children). I must take care of myself (and the children) and leave.
  2. Take care of yourself and stay. The conversation may go like this: “ I know that I cannot stop you from going down this path; it is your life and your journey. I am here for you if and when you want to stop. I will do nothing to enable your drinking, nor to try and convince you stop. It is your journey, your life. If you decide to stop, then I will be here to support you. Having said that, be aware that I cannot continue indefinitely with this. There are limits to my patience.”
  3. I will stay and bully you, cajole you, manipulate you, nag you, humiliate you, pressure you. I will make you stop drinking. In other words, I will force you to change, whether you want to change or not.

This last position is very common and is often tied to a condition known as “co-dependence”. If you really want to go mad then probably the best way of doing it would be to try and change someone else (above all when they do not see the need to, or have not expressed any desire to change). It is insane. This attitude will make a difficult situation into an impossible one. It often increases the consumption of the alcohol addict, and increases suffering all round.

The most important aspect in this situation is to take care of yourself and any innocents such as your children. A parent’s alcohol addiction can cause life-long emotional damage to their children.

You can provide information in a neutral but positive way, focussing on the positive aspects of being free of the slavery of addiction to alcohol. You should not force, cajole, manipulate. There is a saying in English: “You can take a horse to water, but you cannot make it drink”. This is very much the case here.

Remember, take care of yourself and those children who depend on you.

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