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Helping an Unwilling Alcoholic

It's not unusual for an alcoholic to refuse to stop drinking or get help from a substance abuse professional or treatment center. The person can't be forced to get help except under certain circumstances, such as a violent incident that results in court-ordered treatment, a medical emergency or a situation in which the drinker's actions threaten the safety of others.

But you don't have to wait for someone to hit rock bottom to act. Many alcoholism treatment specialists suggest the following steps to help an alcoholic get treatment.

Here are tips from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism:

  • Stop all "cover-ups." Family members often try to protect the alcoholic or themselves from the results of his or her drinking. It's important to stop making excuses and covering for the alcoholic so he or she experiences the full consequences of drinking.

  • Time your discussion. The best time to talk to the drinker is shortly after an alcohol-related incident, such as a serious family argument or a car accident. Choose a time when he or she is sober, both of you are fairly calm and you can talk in private.

  • Be specific. Tell the family member you're worried about his or her drinking. Use examples of the ways in which the drinking has caused problems, including the most recent incident.

  • State the results. Explain to the drinker what you'll do if he or she doesn't get help--not to punish the drinker, but to protect yourself from his or her problems. What you say may range from refusing to go with the person to any social activity at which alcohol will be served, to moving out of the house. Don't make any threats you're not prepared to carry out.

  • Get help. Gather information in advance about treatment options in your community. If the person is willing to get help, call immediately for an appointment with a treatment counselor. Offer to go with the family member on the first visit to a treatment program and/or an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.

  • Find strength in numbers. Some families join with other relatives and friends to confront an alcoholic as a group. This approach should be tried only under the guidance of a health care professional experienced in this kind of group intervention.

  • Get support. It's important to remember you're not alone. Support groups offered in most communities include Al-Anon, which holds regular meetings for family members affected by a drinker. These groups help people understand they're not responsible for an alcoholic's drinking and that they need to take care of themselves, regardless of whether the alcoholic chooses to get help.