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How to Help an Alcoholic Who Doesn’t Want Help

6 minute read

If your loved one is struggling with addiction but refuses treatment, you might feel helpless, scared, and frustrated. There’s no magic formula for how to get someone to go to rehab. You can’t force an adult to go to drug or alcohol addiction treatment, but there are some ways you can help them gain the motivation they need to go there willingly. Learn how to help an alcoholic who doesn’t want help.

#1 Accept You Can’t Do the Work For Them

You want so much for your addicted loved one to get better. You miss the person they were before alcohol or drug addiction took over. You’d probably do just about anything to change things for them. The reality is you can’t do the work for them. You can beg, plead, bribe, and threaten, but until they see their drug and alcohol abuse as a problem, addiction recovery will remain out of reach.

#2 Enlist People They Trust

The nature of addiction is that many people tell themselves they don’t have a problem, that they can handle it. They often dismiss the concerns of those closest to them. Sometimes it takes the words of a professional or someone on the outside for the right words to get through. For example, a physician or someone else they trust can have an impact.

If your addicted loved one refuses to believe their substance use is an issue, try to get them in for a regular checkup. Tell them if they don’t think they have a problem, what’s the harm in talking to someone? A physician can relay information in a factual way, removed from the emotions that a friend or family member may bring to these conversations. They’ll assess their physical health and talk to them about the long-term effects of their drug and alcohol abuse. They can speak in clear terms about what’s considered normal and problem drinking and risk factors that come with it. A medical professional can tell them whether their drug or alcohol use qualifies as a substance use disorder diagnosis. They can also refer them to a mental health professional to diagnose potential co-occurring mental illnesses like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or personality disorders that can fuel drug and alcohol abuse.

#3 Set Healthy Boundaries

Detach with love is a phrase you may hear a lot if you attend support groups for loved ones of addicts. This means that the best thing you can do for your addicted loved one is to stop enabling their drug and alcohol abuse with your behaviors. When it comes to addicted loved ones, what looks like and feels like support and love can actually be perpetuating their substance abuse. Not everyone needs to hit rock bottom to know it’s time for drug rehab but taking away the resources that make their addiction “easier” can provide the wake-up call they need to make changes.

The type of boundaries you set will depend on your relationship with the addicted person and their age, but examples of health boundaries include:

  • You cannot live in my home or get help with rent if you’re using alcohol and drugs.
  • If you use alcohol and drugs in my home, you will need to find somewhere else to live.
  • I will not make excuses for you if you miss work, school, or other obligations.
  • I will not pay for or help with phone bills, car payments, gas, etc. if you’re using drugs and alcohol.
  • I will not give you money for drugs or alcohol. If you steal money, you will pay it back and you must find somewhere else to live.
  • I will not bail you out of jail or legal trouble related to substance abuse.

The most important thing about setting boundaries is keeping them. If you set a boundary and then let them get away with breaking it “just this once,” you send the message that you will bend on any of the boundaries. Addiction is a disease that hijacks the brain. Your loved one’s brain is in survival mode. It thinks it needs drugs and alcohol to survive. That’s why your loved one may act out of character and do things they normally wouldn’t.

#4 Don’t Shame or Blame

Shaming or blaming your addicted loved one will only push them further away. Words that blame and shame put people on the defensive. Using “I” phrases when speaking with your loved one about their alcohol and drug use is much more effective. Speak in terms of how their addiction affects you and those around them. For example, instead of saying, “You are ruining our family. You are ruining your life and you’re going to end up dead from drug addiction,” use “I” words. “I feel so sad by how our family is struggling right now. I’m so worried about you and what will happen to your health and future if you don’t stop abusing drugs because I love you, and I want you to be here and be well.”

#5 Acknowledge How Difficult This Is

Being addicted or loving an alcoholic or addict is devastating for everyone involved. Drug addiction and alcoholism affects everyone in its path. Addiction is a chronic brain disease. It’s calling the shots right now, not your loved one. They are on autopilot, doing whatever necessary to feed their addiction because their brain thinks they need drugs and alcohol to survive.

It’s important to know and acknowledge how extremely difficult this is for both you and your loved one. It’s completely understandable if you’re struggling in all aspects of your life because substance abuse can take over families and become the focus. Be kind to yourself. This is incredibly difficult, but you will get through it.

#6 Stage an Intervention

When an addict refuses treatment, an addiction intervention can be the wake-up call they need. Drug and alcohol interventions involve gathering important people in your loved one’s life to express concern about their substance abuse. You may have the best outcome by enlisting the help of a professional interventionist. They can help you plan an intervention and navigate the difficult conversations that need to take place. An interventionist usually works with family and friends ahead of time to rehearse what will happen and suggest ways of communicating that won’t put your loved one on the defense.

After you discuss your loved one’s addiction, the interventionist can paint a clear picture of what drug and alcohol treatment is like. Your loved one may have many misperceptions about what happens during drug and alcohol detox and in an addiction recovery program. The interventionist will debunk any myths and address their hesitations about addiction treatment. Should your addicted loved one agree to treatment, the interventionist can provide recommendations for substance abuse treatment centers. It’s a good idea to speak with a few addiction treatment centers ahead of time, so you can get your loved one there immediately should they agree to go.

#7 Take Care of Yourself

It’s easy to lose sight of yourself and your needs when dealing with an addicted loved one. An important way to help your loved one is to take care of yourself. You need to be strong for yourself and your loved one. Spending all of your energy worrying about them or trying to fix things for them will go nowhere and negatively impact your physical and mental health.

Make sure you’re practicing good self-care. This may include:

  • Getting enough sleep
  • Maintaining proper nutrition
  • Attending individual therapy for yourself
  • Participating in support groups for loved ones of addicts like Al-Anon and CoDA
  • Exercising

We Can Help

Footprints to Recovery has helped thousands of people reclaim their lives from addiction. We can help your loved one too. We offer multiple levels of care and evidence-based therapies that address the underlying issues of addiction, so your loved one is less likely to relapse.

Our recovery centers offer:

We help loved ones recover together by providing family therapy and addiction education for loved ones. Call us today for a free insurance verification check and phone consultation. We’ll work together to get your loved one the help they need to take back their life.


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