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The Answers To Living with an Alcoholic Uncovered

Lisa Taylor
Lisa TaylorAddiction Counsellor

Living with an alcoholic is not an easy thing to do. Alcohol dependence strains family relationships, harms physical and mental health and destroys family finances. It can be maddening for the person who genuinely wants to help an alcoholic who is living in denial. You want to do something, but you know there is little that can be done as long as your loved one refuses to recognise his or her problem.

In this guide, we will lay out some suggestions that may help you live with an alcoholic in your home. Some may work for you; others may not. The most important thing to remember is that you cannot force your loved one to seek treatment. Even in cases where treatment is sought out, you cannot force a person to get well. Overcoming alcohol dependence is a personal decision that requires a personal commitment.

We are an independent advice and referral organisation specialising in assisting alcoholics and their families looking for treatment. We can assist you as well. Speaking to one of our counsellors can give you instant access to professional services that will help you better cope with your situation. Please do not hesitate to use our 24-hour helpline or this website to make contact with us.

With all of that said, below are four suggestions you might use in your struggle to live with an alcoholic. Each of the suggestions is directly related to the issue of denial.

1. Do Not Enable the Alcoholic

Denial is a common symptom of alcoholism and alcohol abuse. It is caused by several factors, not the least of which is the fact that alcohol prevents the user from thinking clearly. Even if everyone else around the alcoholic can clearly see the signs and symptoms of the condition, the alcoholic him/herself cannot.

Families do not make things better by enabling the alcoholic to continue drinking. Living with an alcoholic is only made worse through enabling behaviour. Therefore, you must not enable the person you are living with. All enabling behaviours need to be recognised and brought to an immediate end.

Examples of enabling behaviour include:

  • Making excuses for the alcoholic and his or her lack of self-control
  • Providing comfort when the alcoholic's choices result in negative consequences
  • Calling in sick on behalf of the alcoholic who does not want to work
  • Drinking with the alcoholic in the hope of soothing raw emotions
  • Providing financial resources that enable the alcoholic to purchase his/her drug
  • Including alcohol at family functions to encourage the alcoholic to attend.

It may be difficult for you to recognise your enabling behaviour. That is normal as well. A professional alcohol counsellor can assist you in this endeavour by taking a look at the relationship between you and your alcoholic loved one. Any recommendations a counsellor makes regarding enabling behaviour should be heeded.

2. Establish Consequences for Continued Drinking

Your number one priority as someone living with an alcoholic is to protect yourself and your family from that person's destructive behaviour. One way to do this is to establish consequences for continued drinking. For example, let us assume that your husband is the alcoholic in question. You may decide to make it known that he may no longer spend time with the children while under the influence of alcohol. You might also decide you will not share the bedroom with him if he comes to bed under the influence.

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The idea of establishing consequences is to make life as uncomfortable as possible for the alcoholic living in denial. These very real consequences give a person an opportunity to come face-to-face with the reality that drinking is ruining his or her life.

On one final note, consequences you do not follow through on become nothing more than idle threats. As any alcohol counsellor will tell you, idle threats constitute enabling behaviour. If the consequences of continued drinking are to be effective, you must follow through on them.

3. Consider Alcohol Intervention

Over the last several decades, the alcohol recovery community has gradually embraced the idea of alcohol intervention. This support strategy is designed to confront the alcoholic living in denial. Interventions can be led by professional counsellors or conducted by a team of family members and friends by themselves.

How does intervention address the denial problem? By directly confronting the alcoholic with information that demonstrates the effects of his or her destructive behaviour. For example, you might show an alcoholic spouse the collection notices from numerous unpaid bills. Presenting the paperwork, complete with warnings to pay immediately, is irrefutable evidence that alcohol abuse is threatening family finances.

The choice to conduct an intervention without the help of professionals is completely legitimate. You may be very comfortable with the idea. But please know that you do not have to approach intervention by yourself if you do not want to. Private alcohol counsellors are available to assist you throughout the entire process.

4. Leave the Home If Necessary

Denial of an alcohol dependence problem may also include denial of physical or emotional abuse. We previously mentioned that your number one priority as a person living with an alcoholic is to protect yourself and your family, and that still stands. Taking the steps to protect yourself are especially urgent if you or your children are victims of abuse.

There is no personal problem that justifies abusing spouses and children. Likewise, no amount of love you might possess for the alcoholic justifies risking your health and safety by remaining in the same house. If your alcoholic loved one is emotionally or physically abusive, you need to get out of the home right away.

Leaving home for the safety of alternate shelter accomplishes two things. First and foremost, it separates you and your children from immediate danger. Second, it addresses the denial issue by once again confronting the alcoholic with some very real consequences for his or her actions.

Denial Is Part of the Condition

The unfortunate truth is that denial is part of alcohol dependence. The alcoholic believes that quitting is possible at any time; he or she believes that drinking is under control and that no harm is being caused. But that's just the alcohol talking. Someone who is dependent on alcohol is a person living a life of self-destruction that could eventually result in a premature death. It is certainly no way to live.

There is nothing you can do to force an alcoholic loved one to get well. But living with an alcoholic does not mean you are completely powerless. We hope you will utilise the four suggestions we offered here, for your benefit and that of the rest of your family. We are here to assist you in any way we can within the scope of our mission. Please contact us if you want advice about conducting an intervention, or you are looking to access any of the free alcohol services available to the family members of alcohol abusers.

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