In this article we discuss two methods to help make living with an alcoholic less harmful.
In the two previous articles in this mini-series we discussed the Dilemma of living with an alcoholic and Changes that you can make to improve your life. In this final article we will introduce you to ways that you can influence your alcoholic.
The first issue that we need to address is the widely held belief that you are powerless, we have discussed previously and you might want to look at what we said about this issue (Powerlessness article). It is true that many alcoholics are resistant to change, but this is very different from saying that we are powerless to influence them. In Bottled Up we provide workbooks to show you two ways of influencing a drinker, depending on how established the drinking pattern is.
The first method of influence we call SHARE, which is an acronym for Safety, Health, Ambition, Relationships and Environment, which are five distinct areas of your life that may be affected by his drinking. If the drinking pattern is a long established one then we suggest that SHARE is the method you use first. The main reason to use this approach is to reduce the negative effect of drinking on you and your household, rather than trying to get him to stop drinking altogether.
If you live with an alcoholic who has a long established pattern of drinking, then you already know how difficult it is to get him to change. You have no doubt tried every trick, method and technique there is to get him to stop. And, if you are reading this, the likely result is that nothing has worked, in fact each new attempt to get him to change probably starts another big fight and maybe even another drinking binge. For that reason instead of saying “I want you to stop drinking” this approach says “I know you are going to drink, I’m just asking that you do it in a safer or less harmful way”.
The way you go about this method is to examine each of the areas of your life that SHARE represents. You then write down a list of all the problems that his drinking causes in these areas. When you have your list then you score the problems out of 10. Finally you select the three problems that cause the biggest disruptions in your life, if there are more than three with high scores then pick the ones related to your, or your children’s, safety first. Now you are ready to have a conversation with your drinker.
Choose a time when there are no distractions and he has not been drinking or, if that never happens, then he is at least sober. Start by telling him that although you would love him to stop drinking you realise that would be difficult for him, so you are not asking him to do that. Instead you want to explore how to minimise the impact of his drinking. For example if he disrupts the household when he drinks as he wants attention, you could ask him to drink in another room and leave the lounge for you and the kids. If he refuses then you could say that he can have the lounge and you and the kids will use another room. The point is that you are trying to minimise any negative consequences of his drinking.
Work your way through the three problems trying to find some compromise that reduces the harm of his drinking. However you should never compromise when there is an abuse issue that leaves you or your children in danger and should make arrangements to go elsewhere on either a temporary or permanent basis. If agreeing these boundaries help to make living with the alcoholic more bearable then you can revisit your list at another time and negotiate other boundaries for the other problem areas.
The other strategy we call LOVE, which stands for Letting the negative consequences happen; Optimising your time with him when he is sober; Valuing the drinker; Encouraging change. People change for two reasons or a mixture of them. The first is to escape or stop the negative consequences happening and the second is to get something good.
This is another strategy where you need to carry out some preparatory work, looking at the negative consequences, the things that you like to do as a couple and the characteristics of your alcoholic that you value and love. During the meeting you then inform your drinker that the negative consequences of alcohol are his responsibility and not yours, you will no longer be rescuing him or clearing up after him. By doing this you allow him to experience the negative consequences that may motivate change.
Second you tell him that you value him and tell him the reasons why. Then you inform him that you would like to do things together that you both enjoy, things that do not involve alcohol. You are doing this for two reasons. First is to change the negative feelings that naturally build up when you live with an alcoholic (ie anger and resentment). Second you want to provide a positive reason for your drinker to change. He may be more likely to change if there is a reward waiting rather than being subjected to anger and accusations (regardless of how much you think he deserves it).
If you want your drinker to change his drinking behaviour then you need to change the way that you approach him. We know that might not seem fair. However at Bottled Up we believe in trying to be pragmatic and do what is necessary rather than what you might think is the right and fair thing to do. Lets face it, if the right and fair approach worked you would not need to read this article, you would already have solved the problem. Try this approach, many others have tried it and been pleasantly surprised.
If you want more information have a look at the materials that are available at Bottled Up.