Continued from Helping an Alcoholic Friend, Part 1.
We don’t always intuitively know how to handle alcoholics, especially if alcoholism and recovery haven’t been a part of our own personal history. A significant percentage of what people try to do to help alcoholics is largely unhelpful. What, then, can a person do that will help?
Be A Friend, But Set Boundaries
Continue to engage your friendship with the alcoholic to the degree that you are able, but don’t be afraid to set a few boundaries. For example, you might really like to invite your friend to your dinner party or a family picnic, but his or her drinking is inappropriate for the occasion. You may need to be honest by saying, “we would love to have you there, but your recent behavior around drinking is out of line.” You don’t need to bail on your friend completely, but you may need to be more intentional about which activities you participate in together.
Avoid the Ultimatum
This is rarely, if ever, an effective approach. Alcohol over-consumption, as the disease advances, is not a choice that the victim has. Again, it is akin to telling a friend with cancer, “stop having cancer or we can’t be friends.” Alcoholism is an insidious disease that does not respond to threats or emotional appeals. Ultimatums only add frustration to the issue.
You want to be helpful, but there is a point at which helping and supporting becomes enabling. Is your friend calling you for money? Begging for a spot on your couch? While you want to help your friend and help him to evade his own destruction, you may need to check your degree of helpfulness. The problem with enabling an addict is that it doesn’t allow for the necessary “crash and burn.” Addicts, if they are to recover, sometimes need to hit bottom. It is painful to watch, but the sooner they come to the end of themselves the sooner they do what they need to do to get well.
Don’t Make Excuses
The addict needs to feel the weight of his or her drinking behavior. Trying to clean up the messes or get him off the hook, while it seems like an act of service, only keeps him from facing up to the reality of the situation. Again, it is important to separate friendship and care from co-dependency.
Attend A Few Al-Anon Meetings
Al-Anon is not exclusively for families. If you have a friend who is struggling in addiction, attending a few meetings can give you some helpful perspective on how to deal with his or her disease. You will learn what works and what doesn’t, how to set a boundary, and how to avoid enabling. You will find a sense of relief in being among a group of people who have struggled with relationships affected or destroyed by alcohol.
Continue to Be A Friend
While we expect relationships to be more or less 50-50 affairs, understand that an alcoholic is incapable of giving much at all. The disease demands total selfishness. Start by lowering your expectations. While the alcoholic may not be capable of giving much to you in his or her current state, if you can find it in your heart to give sacrificially and in a spirit of service, you may see your relationship flourish once again. Alcoholism is, by nature, a disease of isolation and self-hate. Alcoholics need people and they need love. You never know when the love and care that you show may bring your friend to a realization of the severity of his condition, the value of his life and his need for help.
You May Need to Disengage
If your friend’s drinking has reached the point at which it presents a potential danger to you or your family, you may have to let him go. Continue to pray for your friend and to be ready to help should he desire to recover, but at times, cutting the ties is the only rational and safe option.
Accept That Your Friend May Not Get Well
Your job is not to be the savior. This is something you cannot do. While many alcoholics will find sobriety and see their lives restored, many will not. You are not in control of this and you should not feel guilty if your friend meets with a sad end. Alcoholism will continue to claim our loved ones. We do all that we can do and then pray for the serenity to accept what we cannot change.