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Helping People with an Alcohol Addiction

Abstract: If you try to help a person to stop drinking, make sure that you really help the person solve problems in a better way than drinking.

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Helping People with an Alcohol Addiction

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Question(s): 
Written by: Wendy Moelker, Psychologist in charge, tutor, Emergis center for mental health care, Goes, the Netherlands.
First version: 22 Jul 2008.
Latest revision: 22 Jul 2008.

How can you help people with an alcohol addiction?

Answer:

With regard to helping people with alcohol problems, you must always ask yourself what your help means for the drinking behaviour. Does your help make it easier or more difficult for the person to keep drinking? Many drinkers see that a lot of things go wrong in their lives: taking care of their home, work, family, appointments, etc. Help from friends and acquaintances often consists in solving the things that go wrong, like running errands for the person or cancelling appointments. In the short run, this is helpful for the drinker, but at the same time he can keep drinking because he knows his problems will be solved anyway. So it may be better for him that things go wrong every now and then, so that he realizes what he is doing. So don't put away empty bottles, don't get liquor and don't clean up the mess for him. Of course, it is good to keep an eye on a heavy drinker. Make it clear that you are always there to talk about his problems and possibly find a solution with him. In that conversation, you will have to try to motivate the drinker to change his situation. There are a few important items related to this:

  • Make the drinker feel positive about himself. Many drinkers think very negatively about themselves and find themselves useless. Don't reproach, but give compliments about the things that do go right.
  • Try to have a conversation about the advantages of liquor. That usually takes a lot of tension out of the conversation. When you talk about the advantages, there is also room to talk about the disadvantages. You could make a list of advantages and disadvantages.
  • Take away the prejudices about treatment, such as the idea that people are always hospitalized, that therapy only consists of talking, or that others will judge him.
  • Give the drinker a perspective. Examples you can use are that you will have more money if you don't drink, that you have better with your family, that you will have better health, a better chance for a job, etc.
  • Listen also to possible problems that make the person keep drinking, but indicate that drinking will not solve these.
  • Ask the person if he doesn't want to be helped or cannot be helped and what needs to happen to convince him to get treatment.
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