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Exactly how to help an alcoholic

Five of the most important things you can do

From personal experience, I can tell you that living with an alcoholic and watching them change from the person you love to someone you don’t recognise is truly distressing. If you’re currently going through this is our hearts go out to you.

If you’re worried that you or a family member are drinking too much and/or they are negatively affecting your life then this is for you

Initially, it is all about education, minds over hearts

The situation will only get far worse if you let your emotions run away with you. You need to take a deep breath and act as calmly as possible. Being upset and angry are all very appropriate emotions in this situation, however, to make a ‘change’ you need a clear head free of resentment.

As tempting as it may be to shout and scream at the alcoholic it isn’t gonna solve your problem.

1. The first things you need to learn or stop saying is the following.

  • No one becomes an alcoholic because they are just lazy, unemployed, bored, teenage or just drink a bit too much
  • Alcoholism is nothing to do with being weak-willed, alcoholics are often extremely driven successful people
  • Alcoholism is not about being stupid or uncaring. On the contrary, alcoholics often far above average intelligence and some of the most caring people when sober
  • “If he or she loved as they wouldn’t drink.” Alcoholism is an illness, it is a disease of the mind, it is not a lifestyle choice
  • “Surely they can give up for their family, they have so much going for them.” This is the heartbreak, The disease of alcoholism is never rational.  Again this is a little bit like saying someone with a broken leg you think they fix it themselves as they have such a loving wonderful family. Alcoholism is an illness. Whether or not it is hereditary, genetic, learnt behaviour at this point in time doesn’t matter. It’s in your family and you need to know how to help them get better
  • Many people recover from alcoholism including myself

2. Stop Enabling

The first step is to stop enabling the drinker or drug taker. Allowing alcoholic to get away with certain behaviours, being drunk often, being late, being unreliable etc. needs to stop. It is as bad as buying alcohol for the alcoholic.

Don’t blame yourself. I am not saying that enabling an alcoholic has been done on purpose and I’m not making any judgement. All I’m advising is you need to turn to the person in the family with the problems with drink and say this behaviour is not acceptable, it is not appropriate, this cannot continue. Be firm and assertive without blame.

All of the lying, the covering up, the hiding away, all has to stop.

At no time I saying this is a small thing to do. Facing the shame facing the humiliation facing the problem head-on takes a lot of courage from all of the family. The only way forward is to go through the fear.

2. Take alcohol out of your home life

It is time to remove all of the alcohol from within your home.

Why should I? Work at putting aside your anger, you now know that alcoholism is an illness. The alcoholic is sick, not bad. Make the home a substance-free zone.

It is important that the entire family knows about the problem, the extent of the problem and that the alcoholic cannot control their drinking. As well as removing alcohol, other members of the family mustn’t drink in front of them or enable them by buying or supplying them with alcohol or drugs. When alcohol affects family life.

This also includes giving the alcoholic money.

The alcoholic left to his/her own devices will sit in a room, pull the curtains and drink. They will not pull themselves together, they will not stop drinking because of guilt or remorse, they will not go to doctors or hospitals willingly or tell the truth.

3. Look after yourselves

This is now a family problem alcoholism is a family illness it is affecting you all. It is time to take care of yourself. All of the other family members also need support and help from a therapist or counsellor.

4. Talk to the alcoholic

You need to get together as a family and approach the alcoholic and offer them your full support.

To stop the endless circle of blame guilt remorse and to begin to formulate a way forward you all need to sit together and talk.

The whole family needs to be involved, this is not a one-person job. You will need patience, a strong shoulder to cry on and money.

This is hard. It is so important to try and gain a degree of compassion for the person who is ill. The alcoholic or problem drinker will already be very ashamed of their behaviour. This is all softly softly catchy monkey.

They will often be in denial where they don’t really think they have a problem at all. It is only by the other members of the family clearly saying how the alcoholic drinking is affecting them that this denial can be broken down and help can be sought.

Thinking of organising professional interventions is more common in America. One they are costs involved and they can be very successful. See here.

5. Medical help

Sometimes it is said that the alcoholic will only get help when the pain becomes so unbearable that he or she is forced to find a solution.

This is sometimes true. However, in the meantime, many more alcoholics die through a car crash, accidents or suicide.

This all depends on how bad your alcoholic is. How long can they go without a drink? Is it an hour, a morning or a day? Do they have a psychological addiction to alcohol, where their first thought when faced with the problem or even success is to drink, or rather also physically addicted where every morning they cannot function without an immediate drink?

Of course, the physical addiction and the psychological addiction combined make for a much more serious and immediate problem.

It is in fact two problems. I cannot stop drinking because without it I will go into fits, and/or I cannot function within my life i.e. go to work, face people without a drink.

If the member of your family has a physical addiction to alcohol you have two choices.

As you can imagine the NHS route is going to be slower and more convoluted. If things come to a crisis point then contacting websites like this one for advice on which rehab offers the most appropriate treatment is possibly an option.

Please bear in mind that many rehabs including the cheapest ones do not actually offer rehab and will often take patients to A&E themselves. As you can imagine this isn’t really the best method of moving forward. Find local NHS resources here.

OK, you got through the alcoholic, you’ve all been honest on how you feel and how their drinking is affecting you and the rest of the family. So where to get help?

The first step is always your GP. Recovering from alcoholism often includes medication as well as talking therapies. What does the GP suggest, what medication is appropriate, is this a good idea or a solution?

Secondly; does the alcoholic require residential treatment?

By this what I mean is does the alcoholic need to be removed from not only alcohol but also the rest of the world for a short period of time, normally 28-35 days. Would this be helpful?

There is a temptation with families with money to hand the problem over to someone else. The difficulty with this attitude is that the alcoholic remains sober within rehab and then relapses when they come home. Rehab is a family decision.

NHS or private

There are some amazing NHS rehabs. They have a lot of success with our colleagues in drug addicts. Accessing these services is hard as you can imagine there is a long waiting list.

However, that doesn’t mean give up.

Your GP will be to put you in touch with the local alcohol, drugs and mental health services that can offer some immediate counselling and support.

Once you are within the system there is a greater chance of gaining NHS addiction treatment.

If this seems too daunting or looks like it is gonna take too long then your only recourse is a private residential alcohol treatment centre.

Accessing these types of hospitals is twofold. Either you have private medical insurance, hence you need a referral from your GP or you simply a telephone and like a shop purchase the medical treatment you wish. Click here for Castle Craig’s free addiction assessment.

There are a number of places that offer free addiction assessments to help answer questions like “am I bad enough”, “is rehab suitable?” etc. 

When the alcoholic attends rehab you may become aware that there are degrees of family therapy available.

It is so important if you can put aside your anger and hurt to attend these sessions as when the alcoholic returns home they are going to need all of your love and support.

They will also need perhaps going to our colleagues anonymous, they may have other medical conditions and need treatment, but regardless they will need a shoulder to lean on.

We can help you learn exactly what you can do and we’ve also written a piece on exactly what NOT to do.

Need urgent support?

  • For live threaten situations please call 999. Alternatively please contact the Samaritans, who are available 24/7 on 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org.
  • For rehab don’t suffer in silence, talk to us today on 0808 1150 446.

Last Updated on April 29, 2021 by Alison