How to Get an Alcoholic Into Treatment

Alcoholic intervention
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Having a loved one who is alcoholic can be painful and emotional draining. You know in your heart that the person needs help, but every effort to encourage them may be met with anger or apathy. Moreover, unless there has been a crisis where the police have been called—such as a DUI, motor accident, or drunk-and-disorderly arrest—there is really no way to force an alcoholic into rehab.

This doesn't mean that you have to wait for a crisis to happen before taking action. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, there are eight things you can do to help influence change in a loved one needing help.

1. Stop All Rescue Efforts

Family members often try to shield an alcoholic from the consequences of his or her behavior by making excuses for others or helping the person out of alcohol-related jams.

If you truly want to help an alcoholic, it is important that you stop all rescue efforts so that the person can bear the full weight and responsibility for his or her actions.

Without doing this, there may be no real incentive for change.

2. Time Your Intervention

Plan to have your talk shortly after an alcohol-related incident. It may be after a family argument in which drinking was involved or an accident for which the person feels ashamed. Also, choose a time when you are both in a calm frame of mind and can speak privately without interruption.

3. Be Specific

Tell the family member that you are concerned about his or her drinking and want to be supportive in finding a professional treatment program. Back up your concerns with examples of how the person's drinking caused upset or damaged relationships.

Do so without anger or judgment, but do not shy away from saying what needs to be said.

4. State the Consequences

Tell the family member that until he or she gets help, you will carry out specific consequences. It may include refusing the person entry into the house if he or she has been drinking or moving out of the house entirely.

Consequences are important and should be stated clearly. But do not make any threat you are not prepared to carry out.

Moreover, tell the loved one that you are not trying to enact punishment but simply want to protect yourself from the harmful effects of the drinking.

5. Be Prepared to Act

Gather information in advance about local treatment programs or rehabilitation facilities. If the person agrees to get help, call for an appointment immediately with a treatment counselor. Offer to accompany the loved one to rehab or to the first AA meeting.

6. Call on a Friend

If your loved one still refuses to get help, ask a friend or family member to participate. (This is especially helpful if the person is also a recovering alcoholic.) Oftentimes, encouragement from a third-party who is caring and nonjudgmental can make all the difference in the world. In the end, an intervention may require more than one person or even more the one event.

7. Find Strength in Numbers

Some families may choose to organize an intervention with the aid of a professional therapist. While this approach may be effective, it should only be attempted under the guidance of a therapist who is experienced in facilitating group interventions.

8. For Yourself Support

Whether or not your loved seeks help, you can benefit from the encouragement and support of others in your situation. Support groups are available in most communities, including Al-Anon, which holds regular meetings for spouses and other adults in an alcoholic's life, and Alateen, specifically for children of alcoholics.

These groups can help family members understand that they are not responsible for an alcoholic's drinking and that they need to take steps to care for themselves regardless of whether the alcoholic seeks treatment or not.

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  1. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Treatment for alcohol problems: Finding and getting help. Updated 2014.

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