How Can I Help an Alcoholic Family Member in Denial?

by | Oct 21, 2021 | Addiction | 0 comments

No one wants to see a family member or loved one struggle with addiction. Making the situation even more complicated is the fact that many people living with alcohol use disorder (AUD) are in denial about their addiction. Because of this, they may be unwilling to acknowledge their drinking or seek treatment. So, how can you help an alcoholic family member who is in denial?

Does Your Loved One Have a Drinking Problem?

You may not be sure if your family member really has a problem with alcohol. Maybe you’re scared to discuss a family member’s drinking. Or perhaps your loved one tries to hide the amount of alcohol they are actually consuming. Here are a series of questions that can help you determine if your loved one’s drinking has reached a problem stage:

  • You worry about how much or how often your family member is drinking.
  • You make excuses for your loved one’s actions when they have been drinking.
  • You’ve been hurt or embarrassed by things they have done when they were drinking.
  • The amount of money your family member spends on alcohol concerns you.
  • You bail them out when their drinking keeps them from their responsibilities.
  • Your loved one’s behavior, when they drink, makes you anxious.
  • You’ve called — or thought about calling — the police because of their drinking.

While only your loved one can make the decision to get help for their addiction, you can share your concerns with them and offer to support them in finding treatment.

Signs of An Addict in Denial

Many people struggling with alcohol use disorder lie to themselves, their loved ones, and their employers about their problem. There are several ways that your family member may exhibit their denial about their drinking.

For instance, they may place the blame for their heavy drinking on other situations or individuals, or even their life circumstances. The person may try to hide their alcohol use or deny they have been drinking when asked directly. Others may become defensive and argue that their drinking is a personal choice they make.

They may also express denial through dismissal of their alcohol use, either by refusing to talk about their drinking or saying it is not a real problem. Your addicted loved one may even agree with you that they have a problem but then never follow through with any suggested action to stop their drinking. They may try rationalizing their drinking to make the amount or frequency seem more acceptable. Finally, the family member may compare their drinking to someone else as a way of denying that their drinking is excessive.

How To Deal With An Alcoholic Loved One in Denial

There are steps you can take to help a loved one who is in denial about their AUD. To start, it is important to research information about the effects of alcoholism. Having facts on hand will help you identify if your family member is misusing alcohol.

Find a time when your family member has not been drinking to talk to them. To increase the chances of a positive outcome, time your conversation for a moment when neither of you is under a great deal of stress.

Use the factual knowledge you have learned about excessive drinking to clearly state the concerns you have about how alcohol is affecting their overall health. Focus on expressing concern for them and emphasizing that you care about them.

Have a plan prepared of actions that your loved one can take. For instance, look up local 12-step meetings that they could attend, or research rehab centers where they can safely detox. Find out in advance which counselors or facilities accept your family member’s insurance and offer to help them get to any of the locations or meetings.

It is also important that family members of alcoholics continue to take care of themselves. Living with someone with a drinking problem can be draining. Seek out support for yourself and continue to find ways to stay engaged in activities that you enjoy. It is highly likely that your family member will initially deny they have a problem or push back against your efforts. Having someone you can turn to if this happens is helpful.

Actions to Avoid

While it is up to your loved one to make the decision to seek treatment, there are certain behaviors and actions you should avoid when trying to encourage them to seek help.

  • Do not blame them for their drinking. Lecturing, shaming, or threatening someone to change their behavior often backfires.
  • Do not continue making excuses for your loved one to help hide their alcohol abuse. Doing this keeps them from recognizing that there are consequences to their actions.
  • Do not let their alcoholism consume you. It is not your fault that they have AUD, and sometimes you need to step away from the situation so you are not overwhelmed.

Remember, when you take care of your own mental, physical and emotional health, you will be better positioned to help them when your family member is ready to seek treatment for their alcohol problem.

At Bridges of Hope, our treatment philosophy is based on a comprehensive and integrated approach to addressing all issues related to substance use and mental health disorders. Utilizing therapeutically proven, evidence-based clinical practices, we provide superior care to clients across Indiana.