Helping an Alcoholic is Possible

Alcoholics Can Be Helped to Stop the Descent into More Damage


An alcoholic can be helped to find freedom from their addiction. Ah, controversial, yes? But, helping an alcoholic is possible given the right set of circumstances.


Over the last 20 years I have helped and seen many alcoholics gain sobriety before they descend into the personal despair and disaster that marks many drinking careers.


What I have observed is that certain conditions must be manifested in the person or their lives to bring about acceptance and begin to recover.


Windows of

Most people will know of the devastation that an alcoholic can bring upon themselves. There may be strained or collapsed relationships, medical problems, legal problems, unfulfilled or interrupted careers, psychological dysfunction, or general moral decline.


Usually when something like the above happens to anyone, not just an alcoholic, they begin to question their thoughts and actions. There may disturbances of their inner sense of wellbeing, their material security, their social status, or their sexual relations. An examination is conducted at a profound inner level. Their inner spiritual-self is compared with their outer ego-self. Differences are noted. Promises are made to try and change, to bring the inner-self into line with the ego-self. This is a ‘window of opportunity’ for helping. Some people, even alcoholics will ask for help at critical time like this.


Qualities in helping an Alcoholic

Sympathy V. Empathy

Alcoholism is different from most other diseases in that sympathy with not help. To show a feeling of sorrow for an alcoholic only confirms their own sense of low self-worth. This feeling usually leads to more drinking to relieve the emotional pain.


Empathy is one value that a helper can use to aid an alcoholic. With an attitude of empathic understanding an alcoholic is more likely to respond openly. The American Indians and ancient Arabs had a saying ‘To know how I feel, walk a distance in my shoes’. Place yourself in their head, in their heart and try to imagine how it feels to lose control of your life to something which has become such a loyal friend and social status symbol.


Understanding V. Judgementalism

Alcoholics usually have an abundance of shame and guilt about their lives and the things they have done, or not done as a result of their drinking. To have it rubbed in their faces only engenders an attitude of more denial. Judging an alcoholic or their actions has a similar effect to sympathy. It confirms their unworthiness and to feel better they need to drink and anesthetize the pain.


An alcoholic feels powerless to understand just what is happening to them. Drinking alcohol is a socially acceptable activity. It’s approved by the government, most churches, and family and friends. Many an alcoholic has a wide circle of friends and colleagues who drink and some who drink heavily.


Additionally, alcohol has become a central to stress relief and ‘feeling normal’. The alcoholic, at some time in their drinking, crosses a red line into not feeling as though they are OK unless they have alcohol in their system from recent sessions.


Denial V. Reality

An alcoholic rarely consciously lies about their drinking. What actually happens is that awareness of their real drinking is denied to their conscious mind. This is a learnt state of mind over a long period of time.


Denial can best be thought of as follows; Just for a minute stop reading this and listen to the sound around you. You may hear building noises (Refrigerators, air-conditioning, computer), traffic noises, or nature (birds, wind, rain). These sounds are real and we have just experienced a ‘window of opportunity’ to listen to them. We have learnt to deny these sounds to our conscious awareness so that we can concentrate on more important things.


It’s the same with the alcoholic. They concentrate on defending their drinking experiences at the expense of reality. That is until a ‘window of opportunity’ arises to explore them.


Confrontation V.

To confront an alcoholic with the reality of their drinking or behaviour has the same effect as sympathy and judgementalism. Confrontation adds to the load of guilt and shame and generates denial, and often drinking.


A helper needs to wait for the time when the drinker may be open to exploring their drinking. Then their experiences may be examined with an open mind by both alcoholic and helper.


Rock Bottom V. Window of opportunity

A rock bottom for an alcoholic is when they have had enough of the emotional disruption at a deep level. Not when me or you or anyone else has suffered enough. Sure we can get fed up with their behaviour but we cannot help until they have had enough of their inner turmoil.


Then in this ‘window of opportunity’ they can be helped to see their true relationship with alcohol and all that their drinking is doing to them – and others. There are special methods for this process that any competent alcohol counselor or, indeed, anyone with interviewing skills can employ. 

Robin J. Foote BA, NCAC, RA.


Copyright © Robin J Foote 2005. This article may be copied and freely distributed providing the link to is maintained.



Foote is a healthcare professional with over 20 years experience helping alcoholics, addicts and compulsive gamblers find freedom from their addictions.


Foote also trains healthcare workers and cargivers in appropriate programs to help alcoholics, see