How to help an alcoholic in denial

It can be extremely tough to stand by and watch someone you love struggle with an alcohol problem, especially one they don’t seem to know they have. It’s also incredibly challenging trying to help someone in denial about their alcohol use and its impacts.

Denial can occur for a range of reasons including embarrassment, shame or guilt. The way denial is expressed can vary from lying about alcohol consumption to justification through comparison to someone else’s behaviour; or getting angry and defensive..

Here are 3 suggestions for how to help an alcoholic in denial.

Express your concerns.

Be sure to choose a moment when nobody is under the influence of any substances and be honest about your feelings of concern. Enter into this conversation with the goal of opening up communication, not seeking an instant conversion to acceptance of their problem drinking. This is an opportunity for you to do the best you can to create a safe space for discussion and understanding.

Try to avoid accusatory terms and criticisms. Stick to “I feel concerned when you [insert behaviour] because [insert impact or worry you have]” statements and show them how their actions have negatively impacted you. Any fears you may have for their health and safety or that of others, can also be expressed. There are numerous long term health impacts from drinking such as cancer or liver and brain damage. The concern for others can also include anything from them getting behind the wheel drunk, to being physically and/or emotionally aggressive and abusive. Just make sure you are talking from a place of concern.

Engage the use of an intervention service.

Unfortunately sometimes it takes something really serious for someone to stop, reflect, and really look at what’s going on. An intervention is designed to help with avoiding a catastrophic wake up call.

Interventions are about creating a safe space for open communication with the intention of affecting positive action and change.

Intervention services, like the one offered by Arrow Health, are here to help you stage an intervention for a loved one. Emotions can be high and stress levels through the roof when faced with this situation. Having a professional, non-judgmental third party involved can help control heightened emotions and also trigger a person to start to understand the severity of their behaviour.

Place boundaries within your relationship.

Boundaries are very important when it comes to helping somebody. Boundaries are not an ultimatum, they are about respect. It’s about stating how you feel, the impact of someone’s behaviour on you, and making a request for what happens next. And yes, there may be consequences involved.

For example: When you come home drunk, you often raise your voice and become aggressive and I feel unsafe. Please do not come home drunk, I’d rather you stay elsewhere and sleep it off. If you do come home drunk in the future, we will need to have a conversation about not living together anymore.

Clearly communicate that you care but that their continual behaviour and inability to respect or acknowledge your feelings and the impact of their behaviour has meant that you need to alter your behaviour and change your involvement.

Need more information on how to help an alcoholic in denial?
The team at Arrow Health are always available to chat with you about how to help your loved one. Please contact us with any questions you have.