How Do You Help an Addict or Alcoholic?
Updated: Jul 24
For many people this seems like a loaded and unsolvable riddle, but it's not as complex as it seems. Before we dive into the answer, we'd like to help displace some unsavory falsehoods about what precedes a person getting sober.
They have to hit rock bottom This is nonsense and it kills people. We couldn't find an origin for this statement, but we'd be willing to bet that it's some well-meaning therapist or treatment center. For a real addict or alcoholic there is no such thing as rock bottom. Any person engaged in a program of recovery will abundantly confirm out of their own experience that at [certain times they have been completely unable to bring into their consciousness with sufficient force the memory of the suffering and humiliation of even a week or a month ago.] They are without defense against the first drink/drug.
They have to want it
This is partially true, but it's more a matter of timing than want. Talk to the woman that was raped at a crack house or the man that's lost his children as a result of his drinking or the kid on a ventilator after a Fentanyl overdose. They wanted it.
They have to lose everything
Who says? Hollywood and the media sure have made that case. Clean and Sober, Basketball Diaries, 28 Days, Requiem for a Dream - in nearly every case it was some disturbingly low point that served as a turning point for the addict. The truth is that addiction doesn't care about how much you do or don't have. It's equal opportunity. It's also why early intervention is still the best way of treating someone. The downside is that in 9 out of 10 cases the addict/alcoholic will recognize the signs long before they accept the reality which makes early intervention difficult.
"Got it, duly noted, but how do we help an addict or alcoholic?"
The truth is just this and nothing less - timing is everything. The window of opportunity where a person is willing to receive help is very small. Wait even a day and that want or need may vanish without a trace. As amazing as it would be to hop on the nearest jet and be admitted same day to a hospital it's financially out of reach for 99% of people. So, what can you do?
Know where the good meetings are and avoid anything Open Discussion (OD). The message that can hold the interest of an alcoholic or addict must have depth and weight and they are unlikely to find such a message in an OD meeting. Instead, search for meetings that are for new-comers or beginners and are literature-based. This holds true across AA/CA/NA.
Get them connected. Getting sober is hard and at times very lonely, especially when changing people and places. The more they can be surrounded by people they can identify with, the better the chances of their recovery. Don't know anyone in recovery? Call your area's Intergroup and they should be able to help.
Get them moving. The 12 Steps are a program of action. It is in these actions that we recover. If they are brand new to sobriety get them a book and help them get connected. If they have ties to the recovery community have them reach out to an old sponsor. The point is that forward progress is imperative.
Empathize. At times this seems impossible to do, especially if they have been engaging in harmful, criminal. or hurtful behavior, but remember they are bodily, mentally, and spiritually sick. Coming from a place of understanding will go a long way.
Know your own limitations. Frothy emotional appeal has never brought an addict or alcoholic into recovery. Understand what your boundaries are and don't waver.
There is a world of difference between apathy, sympathy, help and enablement. Put yourself in a position to be of maximum help to the person in your life that is suffering. Help them find meetings, get connected, and keep moving.