10 Things to Stop doing if you Love an Alcoholic

Place the Problem in a Different Perspective

Those of us who live or have lived with active alcoholics or addicts find that we have been deeply affected by the experience. Many times, the frustration and stress that we feel can be caused by our own actions and choices. By adjusting our approach and our attitude towards the problem, we find that we can place it in a different perspective, so that it no longer dominates our thoughts and our lives.

Here are 10 things that you can stop doing that may help relieve the pressure.

  1. Blaming Yourself

    It's typical for alcoholics to try to blame their drinking on circumstances or others around them, including those who are closest to them. It's not unusual to hear an alcoholic say, "The only reason I drink is because you..." Don't buy into it. If your loved one is truly an alcoholic, they are going to drink no matter what you do or say. It's not your fault. They have become dependent on alcohol, and nothing is going to get between them and their drug of choice.

  2. Taking It Personally

    When alcoholics promise they will never drink again, but a short time later are back to drinking as much as always, it is easy for family members to take the broken promises and lies personally. You may tend to think, "If they really love me, they wouldn't lie to me." But if they have become truly addicted to alcohol, their brain chemistry may have changed to the point that they are completely surprised by some of the choices they make. They may not be in control of their own decision making.

  3. Trying to Control It

    Many family members of alcoholics naturally try everything they can think of to get their loved one to stop drinking. Unfortunately, this usually results in leaving the alcoholic's family members feeling lonely and frustrated. You may tell yourself that surely there is something that you can do, but the reality is not even alcoholics can control their drinking, try as they may.

  4. Trying to Cure It

    Make no mistake about it; alcoholism, or alcohol dependence, is a primary, chronic and progressive disease that sometimes can be fatal. You are not a healthcare professional. You are not a trained substance-abuse counselor. You just happen to love someone who is probably going to need professional treatment to get healthy again. That's the alcoholic's responsibility, not yours. You can't cure a disease.

  5. Covering It Up

    There is a joke in recovery circles about an alcoholic in denial who screams, "I don't have a problem, so don't tell anyone!" Alcoholics typically do not want anyone to know the level of their alcohol consumption because if someone found out the full extent of the problem, they might try to help! If family members try to "help" the alcoholic by covering up for their drinking and making excuses for them, they are playing right into the alcoholic's denial game. Dealing with the problem openly and honestly is the best approach.

  6. Accepting Unacceptable Behavior

    It usually begins with some small incident that family members brush off with, "They just had too much to drink." But the next time, the behavior may get a little bit worse and then even worse. You slowly begin to accept more and more unacceptable behavior. Before you realize it, you can find yourself in a full-blown abusive relationship. Abuse is never acceptable. You do not have to accept unacceptable behavior in your life. You do have choices.

  7. Having Unreasonable Expectations

    One problem in dealing with an alcoholic is that what might seem like a reasonable expectation in some circumstances, might be totally unreasonable with an addict. When alcoholics swear to you and to themselves that they will never touch another drop, you might naturally expect that they are sincere and they won't drink again. But with alcoholics, that expectation turns out to be unreasonable. Is it reasonable to expect someone to be honest with you when they are incapable of even being honest with him or herself?

  8. Living in the Past

    The key to dealing with alcoholism in the family is staying focused on the situation as it exists right now, today. Alcoholism is a progressive disease. It doesn't reach a certain level and remain there for very long; it continues to get worse until the alcoholic seeks help. You can't allow the disappointments and mistakes of the past affect your choices today, because circumstances have probably changed.

  9. Enabling

    Often, well-meaning loved ones, in trying to "help," will actually do something that enables alcoholics to continue along their destructive paths. Find out what enabling is and make sure that you are not doing anything that bolsters the alcoholic's denial or prevents them from facing the natural consequences of their actions. Many an alcoholic has finally reached out for help when they realized their enabling system was no longer in place.

  10. Putting Off Getting Help

    After years of covering up for the alcoholic and not talking about "the problem" outside the family, it may seem daunting to reach out for help from a support group such as Al-Anon Family Groups. But millions have found solutions that lead to serenity inside those meetings. Going to an Al-Anon meeting is one of those things that once you do it, you say, "I should have done this years ago!"

Detachment with Love


One of the great gifts of the addiction recovery movement is the concept of detachment with love. Originally conceived as a way to relate to an alcoholic family member, detachment with love is actually a tool that we can apply with anyone.

Al-Anon, a Twelve Step mutual-help group for friends and family members of alcoholics, pioneered the idea of detachment with love. A core principle of Al-Anon is that alcoholics cannot learn from their mistakes if they are overprotected.

That word "overprotected" has many meanings. For example, it means calling in sick for your husband if he is too drunk to show up for work. Overprotecting also means telling children that mommy didn't show up for the school play because she had to work late, when the truth is that she was at a bar until midnight.

Such actions were once labeled as "enabling," because they enabled alcoholics to continue drinking. Today, the word "adapting" is more often used because it is less blaming.

Originally, detachment with love was a call for family members to stop adapting. But as Al-Anon grew, people misunderstood detachment with love as a way to scare alcoholics into changing: "If you don't go to treatment, I'll leave you!" Such threats were a gamble that fear could force an alcoholic into seeking help.

Detachment with love means caring enough about others to allow them to learn from their mistakes. It also means being responsible for our own welfare and making decisions without ulterior motives -- the desire to control others.

Ultimately we are powerless to control others anyway. Most family members of a chemically dependent person have been trying to change that person for a long time, and it hasn't worked. We are involved with other people but we don't control them. We simply can't stop people from doing things if they choose to continue.

Understood this way, detachment with love plants the seeds of recovery. When we refuse to take responsibility for other people's alcohol or drug use, we allow them to face the natural consequences of their behavior. If a child asks why Mommy missed the school play, we do not have to lie. Instead, we can say, "I don't know why she wasn't here. You'll have to ask her."

Perhaps the essence of detachment with love is responding with choice rather than reacting with anxiety. When we threaten to leave someone, we're usually tuned in to someone else's feelings. We operate on raw emotion. We say things for shock value. Our words arise from blind reaction, not thoughtful choice.

Detachment with love offers another option -- responding to others based on thought rather than anxiety. For instance, as parents we set limits for our children even when this angers them. We choose what we think is best over the long term, looking past children's immediate emotional reaction.

In this sense, detachment with love can apply whenever we have an emotional attachment to someone -- family or friend, addicted or sober. The key is to stop being responsible for others and be responsible to them -- and to ourselves

Addiction – How the Family Suffers and What It Can Do

The members of a family are interdependent on each other. Therefore, when there is stress, the whole family readjusts itself to bring stability and balance into their lives. With an addict in the family, the rest of the family members begin to react in predictable ways.

When one member of the family suffers from addiction, there are multiple victims. Primarily, they are the wife, parents, and children. They are victims of addiction, without using chemicals themselves! These people suffer silently in the background, struggling to solve their problems, numbing their feelings. Such persons are referred to as co-dependents while addicts are called dependents (on a substance such as alcohol/drugs)

Co-dependents usually react rather than act to problems and pain. The need is to learn to act, rather than react.

As the problems increase, they suffer from isolation, depression, emotional/ physical illness and sometimes suicidal tendencies. Family members go through an emotional roller coaster ride that never seems to end.

Guilt is a common and overwhelming feeling. Culturally, the wife or parents are usually blamed squarely for the addict’s problems. This leads to a lot of self-blame and consequently to deep shame.

Grief is felt when the family loses the pleasures of life. In case of addiction, there is a chronic and extended loss with no visible end- loss of prestige, of family ties, of personal dignity, of feelings of love, of friends, of finances… the list goes on.

When there is no sharing and caring, it creates lots of Anger. The family’s helplessness makes them angrier with just about everything- family, friends, and the world at large. The addict gets angry and shouts throughout the night. The wife starts shouting the next morning. In either case, the other person is not listening. Continued anger becomes deep-rooted resentment.

There is also lot of humiliation. The drunken behavior of the addict in front of relatives and friends causes embarrassment leading to feelings of low self-worth and deep shame.

Living in such a constantly stressful state produces a lot of Fear- fear of future, of family life, of financial matters, of relationships, of arguments, of the addict’s health etc. These stressful situations lead to communication breakdowns in the family. There is no love, caring and sharing. Instead, in an attempt to hide the emotions, the family experiences terrible loneliness.

These negative emotions lead to a predictable behavioural response called denial.

As fear increases, the family denies having any problem. They justify and rationalize the situation by attributing all this to ‘too much pressure” or some such external factor. Denial is not lying. It is used unconsciously to control fear and anxiety.

The spouse/parent of the addict usually becomes a good ‘enabler’ with good intentions. In order to show care and concern, and to protect her dignity; she/he covers up the consequences of the addict’s behavior. She/He perpetually keeps bailing him out of situations to avoid an awkward situation, instead of allowing him to face the consequences of his actions. She/He becomes an ideal, competent and protective wife, husband, parent etc. thereby enabling the addict to continue his addiction without taking responsibility.

As a family member, one must realize that addiction is a disease- not a moral weakness, nor a lack of willpower. The addict is truly powerless over his addiction.

The family member needs to accept this truth. This will help in changing the attitude and approach towards the addict and his addiction. Just as addiction has taken years to develop, recovery cannot happen overnight. Addiction is a progressive disease, requiring professional help.

Some don'ts:

  • Don’t justify the addict’s chemical abuse.
  • Don’t hide liquor /drugs. The addict will anyway know how to acquire more and you will end up frustrated.
  • Don’t argue with the person when under the influence of chemicals.
  • Don’t attempt to punish or bribe.
  • Don’t feel guilty for the addict’s behavior.
  • Don’t treat the addict as a child.
  • Don’t try to control the addict and his addiction. Seek professional help.

Chemical dependency is family problem, a family disease. Whatever time it takes, recovery is worth all this effort – that of the addict and the family.