How to live with an alcoholic in denial

Living with someone who’s in denial about their alcohol addiction can be frustrating, overwhelming and draining. They might refuse to acknowledge they have a problem, downplay their drinking or genuinely think they have their alcohol consumption under control. However, their actions can still have a hugely detrimental impact both on their own health and wellbeing and those who are closest to them.

In this blog, we provide tips on how to cope when you’re living with an alcoholic in denial as well as some practical things you can do to encourage them to seek the alcohol addiction rehab they need.

Living with an Alcoholic in Denial:Things to Consider

When you’re living with an alcoholic in denial, which is also sometimes referred to as a ‘functioning alcoholic’, you might feel helpless and not know where to turn. However, there are a number of steps you can take to help you cope with their behaviour, and support them to get the treatment they need.

Learn about Alcoholism

A really important first step when you think you’re living with an alcoholic in denial is to learn as much about alcoholism as you can. Try to familiarise yourself with common symptoms. Does your loved one:

  • Drink heavily on their own?
  • Drink at inappropriate times e.g. first thing in the morning?
  • Continue to drink even though it’s had a negative impact on their life?
  • Get irritable and angry when they haven’t had a drink?
  • Miss out on important events or occasions because of their drinking?

These are all signs of a drinking problem. It’s also important to be aware that an alcoholic in denial will also show some less obvious signs and symptoms. They may:

  • Hide alcohol in strange places, such as in their car, to try and prevent you finding it
  • Lie about how much they’re drinking
  • Be secretive about their activities and whereabouts
  • Find excuses to have a drink e.g. as a reward after a long day at work
  • Make jokes or try to brush off their drinking habits to try and mask how much they’re actually drinking
  • Buy expensive brands of alcohol to try and ‘prove’ their drinking isn’t out of control

By learning as much as you can about what to look out for, you’ll be able to spot patterns in your loved one’s behaviour and develop an understanding of why they’re acting the way they are. This can be helpful when it comes to getting them the help they need, even if they deny they have a problem.

Talk to them About their Behaviours

If you think your loved one is showing signs of being an alcoholic in denial, another really important step is to talk to them openly and honestly about their drinking habits and what you have observed. During this conversation, it’s a good idea to:

  • Choose the right time and place. Try to pick somewhere quiet and private for this conversation so your loved one doesn’t feel ambushed or attacked. It should ideally be a place where they feel safe and comfortable and where you won’t be interrupted. If your loved one feels relaxed, this will make it more likely that they’ll be able to open up to you about their drinking in an honest way, instead of just denying it
  • Have examples of their drinking behaviour. If you raise the subject of your loved one’s drinking with them, and are instantly met with denial, it can be really useful to have some specific examples of their drinking behaviour ready to share with them. Being able to gently remind them of times when their drinking was excessive and had a negative impact on others will help them to realise that their actions have consequences and accept that they might have a problem
  • Be non-judgemental. Even though your loved one’s drinking, and their denial of the problem, can be frustrating, it’s important that you approach the conversation in a non-judgemental and non-confrontational way. Stay calm and patient, and respond to what they have to say in a gentle and compassionate way. This way, they’ll feel listened to and will be more able to talk openly and honestly with you

By having an open conversation with your loved one, not only will you be able to let them know how you’re feeling and what your concerns are, but it might be an eye-opener for them, making them realise that they do have a drinking problem and need help. It also opens up lines of communication between you, so they’re more likely to come to you in the future if they’re struggling or want to talk about their drinking or any other problems.

Set Expectations and Boundaries

Living with an alcoholic in denial can be challenging. Their drinking can also have a real and lasting impact on you and other people in the household. That’s why it’s also a good idea to have some expectations and boundaries in place. This will help them to understand that their actions are affecting the wider family, and they need to work cooperatively with you to minimise these effects.
For example, you could make it clear that you won’t tolerate them being intoxicated around your children and make arrangements for your children to go elsewhere if this does happen. Make sure you stick to these boundaries and communicate them clearly and regularly to your loved one, especially when they aren’t under the influence of alcohol.

Avoid Enabling their Behaviours

When someone we love is struggling, it’s normal to want to help them and make things as easy as possible for them. However, when you’re dealing with an alcoholic in denial, this can be even more damaging in the long run and can actually enable their destructive behaviour. Enabling an alcoholic in denial may consist of things like making excuses for their drinking or calling in sick to work for them if they’re hungover. This allows them to avoid taking any responsibility for their drinking, meaning that it can continue to get worse.

Look After Yourself

When dealing with an alcoholic in denial, it’s important to remember to look after yourself too. Helping an alcoholic can be challenging, so try and make some time for yourself every day to do something relaxing or enjoyable. This might be going for a walk, reading a book or taking a hot bath. You can’t pour from an empty cup, so looking after your own physical and mental health is key to
making sure you’re in a position to be able to help others.

You could also look to join some support groups, such as Al-Anon or Families Anonymous, to share your experiences and receive support from other people who may be going through the same as you.

Supporting an Alcoholic in Denial with Treatment

Ultimately, if you’re living with an alcoholic in denial, it’s likely that they will need professional support to overcome their addiction. Encourage them to speak to their GP about their drinking; you could even offer to go with them to an appointment for moral support. Or you may wish to get in touch with a private provider like Manor Clinic, based in Southampton. We offer world class alcohol addiction treatment, helping your loved one to get back on track. Below are just some of the benefits provided:

  • A free, no obligation addiction assessment
  • A medically assisted alcohol detox, if this is required
  • A 28-day residential stay, with round-the-clock care
  • Evidence-based group therapy
  • A family support programme
  • A beautiful and welcoming environment
  • Free rehab aftercare for life following treatment
  • Free family support for life following treatment

With support, it’s possible for an alcoholic in denial to take steps towards overcoming their drinking and returning to the healthy and fulfilling life they deserve.