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Exactly how NOT to help an alcoholic

The Most Important Things NOT To Do

This blog is written from personal experience of living with an alcoholic. This is just my story of a period of about 18 months.

I know first hand the pain and unhappiness of having someone who is very ill in the family and is acting out with alcohol. My father is a very kind compassionate man, however, he also had a history of taking tranquillizers.

After a period of financial strain, the tranquillizers no longer worked. The Dad who’d never been more than a moderate drinker turned overnight into a chronic alcoholic.

I have experienced endless telephone calls and texts asking “where you are you”, “are you OK”, “are you coming home?”.

I’ve had to pull someone outside the front door, who was unconscious, and carried them up to the bed, time and time again.

It is hell and we as a family have been there, mum, sister, and brother.

I have also cleaned up the blood and vomit and comforted the rest of the family as we stood around not knowing what was happening or what to do. Dr. Google isn’t always so helpful.

10 mistakes we made

If you are making any of the mistakes below please do not give yourself a hard time, we are all human and not one of us is a doctor or therapist.

1. Lack of knowledge

First, we thought alcoholism was just a case of weak will.

If we help my father to have a more active life and have more hobbies and interests then perhaps he would be less interested in drinking and more interested in just being normal. 

A sort of pull yourself together, tough love, lots of shouting at him.

This was counterproductive and made things much worse.

As a family, we believed we were the only people going through this experience.

2. Shame

As a family, we experienced a lot of shame in my father’s behaviour.

The result of this is we didn’t really want anyone else to know.

This stopped us from taking any medical advice or really getting any help. We hoped my father’s drinking we just get better on its own. The advice found on Google was not great.

3. Not removing alcohol from the house

We didn’t think it necessary to empty the drinks cabinet. The result was my father emptied the drinks cabinet with the sordid consequences that I am sure you can imagine. We also had a wine cellar. We thought that if we remove the wine from the wine cellar and hid it in a bedroom this would make all the difference.

My father found all the alcohol in the house regardless.

My mother had the brainwave of hiding the bottle openers and the corkscrews. The result of this was my father smashed the neck of the bottle’s and now we have a house that stank like a brewery and was full of smashed glass.

We lived in quite a large house, it was hard sitting watching the TV with my father, so we often left him alone. With no alcohol in the house, we thought of course if he’s here he can’t be drinking. Unfortunately, my father had stashed endless bottles of vodka all around the house.

After we found most of the hiding places again, we felt safe in the knowledge that he can’t be drinking. Of course, he found new hiding places such as the garage outside.

As a family unit, we started breaking down, no one wanted to go home. My younger sister started staying at an understanding friend’s house.

Eventually, we worked out that an alcoholic will get alcohol if they want it, and that we cannot guard against him purchasing bottles unless we physically sit with him 24/7.

We needed a solution, and fast.

4. Abandoning the alcoholic: leaving home

Living with an active alcoholic is horribly upsetting; it is truly a family illness. There was not one of us who wasn’t affected.

One evening when it all got too much for my mother and me, we decided to tell my father we were leaving and strangely went to stay in my office on the sofa bed, instead of a hotel. We took his car keys and money.

This is one of the major problems with continuing stress. You stop thinking logically. My mother cried through the whole night and I just sat at my desk Googling how to help an alcoholic. It was a horrible night.

Rather than teach my father a lesson, he just went across the road to my neighbour’s house and broke in through the back door and drank their alcohol. We were lucky they didn’t press charges.

5. Matching them drink for drink: we will show ’em

Eventually, we decided that we can’t beat them we will join him. What we all decided to do this we would drink just like him show him how his behaviour was affecting us as a family.

This was a complete disaster, I don’t what we were thinking. We were all going slowly mad.

6. Lying to the GP

As the problem got worse, my father was starting to do short stays in A&E and was a regular at NHS hospitals. We took my father to the GP. What we failed to do was to also go in with him. The GPs prescribed antidepressants. In hindsight, my father had lied about the amount of alcohol he was drinking.

We got nowhere. The GP offered counseling in six months and a leaflet on moderating your drinking like this one; https://www.nhs.uk/oneyou/for-your-body/drink-less. 

It’s not really good advice to the alcoholic drinker who cannot stop.

7. Faith in medication

After numerous trips back to the GP my father was prescribed anti-abuse. Anti-abuse is a drug that is designed to inhibit drinking by making the drinker very sick if they consume alcohol.

We thought this combined with the antidepressants would be the magic bullet. Unfortunately what happened was that my father took the anti-abuse, vomited everywhere and then passed out. We then called in an ambulance thinking he tried to commit suicide. Antidepressants do not work if you are sick all the time.

8. Faith in NHS

When my father was taken to hospital on what we thought was an attempted suicide case the NHS kept him for four days.

When it was clear that he’d actually been taking anti-abuse (hence a room covered in vomit and tablets and an unconscious man) the NHS sent him home. I do not know all of the ins and outs of this decision. However, we were left thinking there is no one to help as this is gonna go on forever until he dies.

What happened next was we found this website and spoke to a lady who also had a similar problem and had been to rehab to do something about her drinking.

She knew of several rehabs that have an above-average success rate on getting people sober LONG TERM. At this stage, we were so desperate that we would have believed and followed anyone.

They cost real money though and we thought on some level because we were so angry with him, why should we pay £10,000 after all the hurt and pain he had caused? Or perhaps we were just being economical.

9. Rehab 1.0

However, this isn’t quite the end of the story. Of course, my father didn’t want to go to rehab he didn’t believe there was anything wrong with him or his behaviour. “You would drink too few felt like me.” We also were mindful of the cost.

The end result of this was he agreed to go to a hospital for the weekend to stay a short while. They were the experts surely they could fix him.

What we didn’t know is that during the weekend rehab is there is very little treatment and especially on Sunday it’s more visiting time with the family than active addiction therapy.

My father checked himself out on Monday morning and we went back straight into the cycle of chronic drinking, chronic worrying, and tears.

My father got worse and deteriorated he got to the point which in AA they call the jumping-off point, death.

10. Rehab 2.0

We went back to this Rehab Guide and asked for more advice. Alison told us what had possibly gone wrong and said she could more involved. She called Castle Craig in Scotland to their rehab could take an emergency admission and see if they had a room available. This is a proper rehab/hospital with 30 years of experience with alcoholics not like the last place.  It was this or something awful was going to happen so we agreed.

Even dad seemed vaguely resigned to going.

We all helped my father get into the car and sat in the back to stop my father from getting out of the car at the traffic lights when driving to the four hours to Edinburgh. When we arrived my father was unconscious through alcohol. So the rehab did not believe an assessment was necessary and he was admitted immediately.

After 35 days at the hospital, my father came out and has now become an active member of our Alcoholic Anonymous. He has now been sober for over 10 years. It has been a long journey and there is no magic pill or fixed but it has been worth it.

We made so many mistakes, and even though our hearts are in the right place, we were woefully out of our depth. If you are experiencing something like the story above please don’t do what we did and go through 18 months of hell. Reach out and get help please.

Editors Note

Please find some appropriate medical help if you can resonate with this story. If you or someone else you know feel suicidal please call the Samaritans https://www.samaritans.org/how-we-can-help/contact-samaritan/talk-us-phone/

See also how to help an alcoholic.

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