How to Encourage a Family Member to Attend Detox for Alcoholism

How to Encourage a Family Member to Attend Detox for Alcoholism


How can you convince a family member or a loved one to go to alcoholism detox? What is the secret to convincing someone to get the help that they so desperately need?

It is always easy for someone to hear this answer, but there is no magic bullet when it comes to this sort of thing. You know that you yourself are in control of your own life, and that if you do not want to do something, no one is going to be able to convince you otherwise.

With the alcoholic, things are no different than this. They have dug in their heels and decided that they are not going to go to rehab no matter what, that they are not going to quit drinking no matter what, and there is just nothing that anyone can say or do that will convince them otherwise.

This is classic denial. They are stuck in denial because they cannot see what the whole world can so easily see: That alcohol is the cause of all of their problems, and that booze is destroying them.

But they twist everything around in their mind to convince themselves that this is not the case, that they are actually just fine, and that it is the rest of the world that is all screwed up. They blame anything and everyone else other than their drinking habits. They point the finger of blame at society, at “the way things are,” at other people, at everything. The alcoholic will say anything or come up with any excuse as to why they are not at fault, why their drinking is not the cause of their problems.

This is a very difficult level of denial to communicate with. Another thing that you need to realize is that the person could be at different stages of denial.

For example, say that they blatantly declare that they are not alcoholic and that they have no drinking problem whatsoever. They refuse to entertain the idea even for a second. They simply don’t have a problem at all in their own mind.

That is what we might call “outright denial.” They are still early in the game. They have not had nearly enough consequences yet to convince them that they might have an actual issue.

Now the alcoholic might admit that they have a problem, and they might even say “yes, I know I am a real alcoholic.” But, they are not willing to seek help, nor are they willing to go to rehab.

This is another stage of denial in which they have partially surrendered to the fact that they have a problem.

Guess what partial surrender gets you in the world of alcoholism recovery?

Nothing, unfortunately. You stay stuck in active addiction, and your life spirals further and further out of control.

People in this partial stage of denial may say things like “I know I should get help, but I just don’t want to,” or “I know that I should go to rehab, but it never works for me,” or “I know I need help, but AA doesn’t work for me.”

Do you see what they are doing? They are not denying that they have a problem, but they are denying the solution. Or more accurately, they are denying that the solution could work for them.

This is part of the “uniqueness” problem that we have when we are stuck in active addiction. We believe that we are the only person to ever fall in love with alcohol so thoroughly, that we are the only one who has ever faced such a difficult challenge, and that if other people had our problems then they would surely drink to excess as well.

Now the problem with intervening in an alcoholic’s life to get them to go to treatment is that they often do not respond well to the intervention. You can organize a big, formal intervention involving all of the friends and family, or you can simply sit down and talk with the alcoholic yourself. But either way, the key in getting a good outcome is not whether or not you can actually convince them to check into rehab, but rather, whether or not the alcoholic is in a state of total and complete surrender.

Put another way: The harder you have to convince a person to go to treatment, the less likely they are to sober up, even if they reluctantly agree to go to rehab.

Now keep in mind that no one, pretty much ever, jumps up and down with glee at the idea of going to detox and rehab. That is not a fun kind of moment for anyone. Surrender, when reached, feels like real defeat. So sometimes the best that you can do is to put the offer out there.

Make an offer to the alcoholic to this effect: “I will help you get into treatment. I will do whatever I can to see you quit drinking, turn your life around, and get to rehab.”

You may go on to state that this is the only thing you will help them with, because alcoholics tend to be good at manipulation. So they can try to get you to “help” them in various ways, which may only enable them and allow them to keep drinking. So you may need to set a boundary and say “I am no longer helping you with anything at all, other than getting to rehab. You want to go to treatment? I will help you. Otherwise, nothing.” And you can say this while still loving the person and caring about them deeply.

This is actually the right response to an alcoholic who is out of control and refusing to get help. If you go to a therapist or an al-anon meeting they will confirm that this is the right approach: Offer to help them get to rehab, and that’s pretty much it. Make sure you make your offer clear to them. If they are not ready for rehab then they will ignore your offer, continue to drink, and their life will get progressively worse and more and more negative consequences pile up on them.

The goal is not to “rescue” the alcoholic when they have problems or get into trouble. The goal would be to all their natural consequences of drinking bring them closer to real surrender. You don’t surrender and seek help when everything is going decent. No, you seek help when your life is completely miserable and chaotic, and you have finally had enough. If people are “helping” you and denying you of those negative consequences (jail, miss work, angry spouse) then you are not actually being helped. The alcoholic needs to experience those miserable consequences, as their drinking as earned them those miserable things. After enough misery and chaos piles up on the person, they will eventually surrender and agree to seek help.

Is it worth the alcoholic attending treatment even if they are not in a state of total and complete surrender? In my opinion it is. They should still go to treatment because “seeds may be planted” there that later encourages them to seek help for real.