Here are a few strategies you might try for helping the addict or alcoholic in your life
- Help them hit bottom faster (do not rescue them)
- Give an ultimatum
- Stop reacting and detach
- Put your own self-care and sanity first
Let’s dig deeper and closely examine each one:
Helping them hit bottom faster
The clear and most direct route to help struggling addicts to hit rock-bottom faster is to stop enabling them. This is done by setting clear boundaries and sticking to them.
Some people might get the wrong idea here and think that they have to actually take action in order to make the alcoholic’s life worse. This is not really necessary. What should happen is that you must remove support of their drinking or drug use. That is all. This will bring about a change very quickly.
You may think that you can predict where an addict’s bottom is. In truth, sometimes it is much, much lower than we first suspect. Remember that many who struggle with addiction have lost pretty much everything, before they take action to restore their life. For example, you might think, “Ah, now that s/he has lost the job, s/he will surely go to rehab.” In fact, they may be 10 years or more away from giving rehab a shot. You just never know.
Remember, without any consequences, they are not going to change a thing. Become strong enough to set healthy limits, and even walk away from the relationship if need be. That is when they are most likely to hit bottom, when you can fully withdraw all support and focus on your own growth.
The idea is not to punish the alcoholic into getting sober. The idea is to decide what you will not live with, and then build your own strength to follow through with it.
If you are bearing the brunt of an addict’s addiction, then you probably also have the most power to change it. Not that you have a magic wand, just that you have the power to stop enabling them. In many cases, this will involve more than the threat of leaving – it may very well involve actual leaving. Most people who are living with an addict will say that this is impossible for them to do, or they will argue that they could never bring themselves to do it, and so on. But in some cases, it might be the best way forward and it might even lead to a stronger relationship down the road. Hitting bottom rarely happens when your spouse is still standing by your side, doing whatever s/he can to hold the relationship together. No, hitting bottom happens when your spouse has left, and you have very little left to celebrate. That is the moment of despair that can actually produce real change.
Giving an ultimatum
At some point in your relationship with an addict or alcoholic, you might choose to give an ultimatum. Things may have progressed to a point where you are at your wit’s end, and you cannot see yourself continuing to live in this state of chaos any longer. You want relief. You want resolution. You want the madness to stop.
So you might play with the idea of giving an ultimatum to the addict or alcoholic in your life. It will almost always take the form of, “either you quit, or I leave the relationship.” A slight variation on this is, “either you go to rehab, or I leave the relationship.”
Do not give an ultimatum unless you can live with the outcome. Never make a hollow threat with the idea that you might bully someone into taking action.
Ultimatums always work. They always resolve the issue. But this is only true if you actually follow through and stick to your new boundaries. If you are just making a threat to try and get them to stop drinking or using drugs, then the ultimatum will not work.
Ask yourself: “Is there really a compelling reason for the addict to suddenly change his life, especially if you are still supporting him and staying by his side?”
In many cases, the addict will not be willing to get help if the status quo can be maintained. Many addicts and alcoholics have to “lose everything”, before they are willing to ask for help for their addiction. This means that they need to lose their close relationships, among other things. An ultimatum is a sure way to bring this decision to a head.
You are essentially saying, “I am no longer willing to be with you, if you are not clean sober. Change now or I am leaving. Please choose.”
Stop reacting and detach
The natural inclination, almost always, is to blow up at the addict - to yell, scream, argue, and react to the unacceptable nature of their addiction.
The problem is that if we think if we do not get angry and blow up at their shenanigans, then we are “letting them off the hook.” And we feel that if we do not get angry at them and let them know this, it will only encourage them to keep using and abusing drugs and alcohol. But, of course, this line of thinking is actually a trap. Why?
Because when you blow up at the addict in your life, you take the focus off of them to an extent and direct it towards yourself.
How does this happen? Because when you blow up at them, they have a target. YOU are the one who is angry at them. YOU are the one who is yelling at them, and adding to the chaos. Yes, they may have screwed up due to their drug or alcohol use, and they may have created problems for themselves, but now it is YOU who are yelling at them, and this allows them to shift their focus.
The best thing for an addict or alcoholic is to examine their own actions. To see themselves for what they have truly become. If they get arrested and land in jail, let them sit there, where they are forced to examine their own situation.
So a key strategy is to not react when these critical moments arise. Let the alcoholic turn their rage into self-examination. Do not give them an out if they try to drag you into a fight. Stand above the fight; force them to examine their feelings and the core of their addiction.
Not reacting to chaos takes practice. Rise above the addiction and do not let it affect you. The addict will be surprised when you do not react. They will be confused when they cannot drag your emotions into their chaos and thus shift the focus off of themselves.
Sooner or later, if you do not react to their addiction, they will have to actually face it for once. And that could produce real change.
Put your own self-care and sanity first
A few benefits of putting your own sanity and personal growth first:
Setting the example
When you put your own health and personal growth first, as being the most important thing in your life, then you help to set an example for the alcoholic or the addict that you are trying to influence. Do not make the mistake of thinking that they do not notice your growth, progress or success.
Addicts may feel trapped due to their addiction and secretly think that they could never enjoy a better life, like you have. But it can still have an impact on them, and could eventually help to lead them to change. In other words, it is worth it to try and set a good example, even if the addict does not believe he could ever attain it.
Be the example of health and stability that you want for the addict in your life. Achieve emotional balance and stability for yourself.
You need to find a way to protect yourself from their chaos and become emotionally healthier. You do this by practicing detachment, becoming a stronger person yourself, and by seeking support from others.
Achieving emotional health is important from an indirect standpoint. While not directly causing anyone to get clean sober, being emotionally stable gives you the foundation to deal better with the addict or alcoholic in your life.