Helping an Alcoholic Who is in a Treatment Center

Helping an Alcoholic Who is in a Treatment Center


How can we best help an alcoholic who is in a treatment center?

So you finally convinced your friend or loved one to get some help and go to treatment. Now that they have finally taken the plunge and are in treatment, what can you do to help them? How should you behave in order to best support them?

First, realize that nothing you say or do is going to directly affect a person’s sobriety

They’re either going to make it or they’re just not ready yet. You and your actions are not going to be the deciding factor in another person’s sobriety. The decision to get sober is bigger than that. It takes a level of conviction such that outside circumstances will have little effect on the outcome.

So don’t feel like you have to walk on eggshells or make everything just perfect for the recovering alcoholic who is in treatment. If it is truly the case that your actions can trigger relapse, then that person is not ready to get sober yet anyway. But in spite of this idea that you can not be responsible for their possible relapse, you can still be supportive and even helpful. The following are some ways you can do this.

Participate in any friends and family programs that the treatment center might offer

Most treatment centers offer a program for friends and family to attend, in order to learn more about addiction and alcoholism, how to have healthy behavior around the alcoholic, and just be able to show support for the recovering alcoholic. Such programs are usually group sessions in the treatment center for a few hours each week. If you want to show support and genuinely help the recovering alcoholic, consider attending this group.

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If no such group is available at the treatment center, consider attending a local Al-Anon meeting instead. The message is going to be the same and you will be able to learn how you can best help the recovering alcoholic and be supportive without enabling them. Which brings us to our next point:

Be supportive, but keep healthy boundaries

It’s important to keep healthy boundaries when dealing with the recovering alcoholic, otherwise you could enable them to relapse when you thought you were actually helping them. Maintain boundaries even while they are in treatment. Don’t bend over backwards for them or allow them to manipulate you in any way. Do not “help” the person on their terms….only help them on your terms.

Encourage them to stay for the duration and cooperate

A very large percentage of people in treatment centers never successfully complete their short stay there. For a variety of reasons, many people simply walk out halfway through, and many will go pick up a drink immediately. Others will sometimes sabotage their recovery by acting out and end up being discharged early from treatment.

These outcomes are nearly always bad in terms of sobriety. Finishing treatment does not guarantee success, but leaving early is almost always a recipe for disaster. Encourage the person to stay for the duration and to be open-minded with the ideas being presented to them.

Encourage them to follow through with any aftercare recommendations

Most treatment centers will recommend some sort of follow-up plan for when the alcoholic leaves treatment. Depending on the situation, this plan might include group therapy, or meetings, or even long term treatment. Whatever the recommendation is, encourage the recovering alcoholic to follow through with it.

The therapists and counselors who work at the treatment center are giving their professional opinion about what would work best. This is similar to listening to a doctor who recommends that a diabetic take insulin or a cancer patient receive chemotherapy. Following the aftercare recommendations will greatly increase the chance for long term sobriety.

Almost no one ever regrets following an aftercare recommendation. But a lot of people do regret ignoring them. Use this information to your advantage and listen to what the experts recommend.


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