The Importance of Kindness and Compassion for Alcohol Addiction Recovery

In England alone, there are an estimated 586,780 dependent drinkers, with only 18% receiving treatment.[1] Many of us know someone close to us battling an alcohol addiction, and it can be a heavy burden to carry. How do you begin to help someone in their recovery? For years we have believed the saying that an addict can only begin to heal when he accepts that he has a problem, but this can be the most challenging point of an addict’s journey. How can we help our loved one accept the help they need? And are we able to help them before this point? Research has shown that partners of alcoholics can play a huge part in helping their partner to recover.[2] And one of the most powerful and effective things we can do throughout an alcoholic’s recovery is to practice kindness and compassion.

Educate Yourself on Addiction and Alcoholism

Being kind and compassionate to someone who may have deeply hurt you due to the very actions instigated by their alcoholism is difficult to put into action. A good place to start is by letting go of all previous expectations and understandings of your loved one’s problem and instead educating yourself on addiction and alcoholism. Find out more about your loved one’s alcohol dependence – what causes them to drink and what is their thought process behind their actions? We can only offer kindness and compassion when we understand why someone behaves in the way they do.[3]

Counteract Shame With Compassion

Alcoholism can cause individuals to act foolishly, embarrassing themselves and their loved ones in social situations. An alcoholic may feel shame each time they sober up, too. Anger and frustration can build up within those directly affected by alcoholism, but these do not serve to help anyone. While your loved one is causing hurt to those around him with his excessive drinking, it is important to remember that he is suffering beneath it all and there is deep shame attached to his behaviour. It may be that shame caused him to drink in the first place – perhaps due to a traumatic experience as a child, or the loss of a loved one, and turning to drink helps him to cope. When we react with anger or resentment, we only serve to push our loved one away, reinforcing their shame and thus continuing the cycle. But when we practice compassion, we offer a new, sometimes unexpected pathway for our loved one – one through which they are heard, listened to and understood. Empathy is another way in which you can begin to be more compassionate. Try and picture yourself in your loved one’s position. Even if you cannot begin to imagine ever abusing alcohol in the way he does, remember that no one wants to be an alcoholic. By practicing empathy you show that you care and want to understand, which will help to soothe and diminish the shame your loved one feels.

Be Kind & Compassionate Even if They Are in Denial

Your loved one might be at a point where they will not accept they have an alcohol problem, and may even turn it around and say that you are the one with the problem. This can be hurtful and damaging in any relationship, and at this point it is natural for us to feel like giving up and letting our loved one carry on until they are ready to accept help. But rock bottom does not need to be the point at which we offer our help – by continuing to be kind and compassionate even when a loved one is in denial, you are standing firm and showing that you will not give up. This kind of solidarity and loyalty is not a sign of weakness – far from enabling your loved one’s habit, you are showing that you are there for them no matter what, and this sense of security is exactly what helps many addicts accept the help they need. We cannot change the ways of other people, but we can change how we react in certain situations and when you become the person an alcoholic can go to without feeling judged or ashamed, you are helping them on their journey to recovery.

Adopt the CRAFT Approach

Is there anything that can prove how compassion and kindness can help our loved one’s recovery? Research has shown that as family members and loved ones of alcoholics we have the power to positively impact his motivation in changing his ways.[4] The evidence suggests that instead of admonishing an alcoholic for their behaviour, by adopting kindness and compassion we can actually help them. CRAFT – which stands for Community Reinforcement and Family Training – is based on principles of reinforcement[5] and has been proven to help families support loved ones suffering alcoholism.
CRAFT teaches family members to take control of their lives – again, going back to how we can only control our own actions and not those of our loved one – and how they can change the way they interact with the substance abuser in helpful ways that actively promote positive behavioural change.[6] Clinical trials of CRAFT have shown that when family members adopt a more supportive attitude to their loved one suffering alcoholism, they are able to help them get the treatment they need to recover.[7]

Be Kind to Yourself, too

You may have experienced a great deal of hurt due to the actions of your loved one under the influence, so it is important to be kind to yourself, too. This does not mean you have to pity yourself, or blame yourself for your loved one’s problem. Being kind to yourself is an important form of self-care that will enable you to be a solid support for your loved one, as well as yourself. Many people find journaling a helpful outlet in which they can safely express how they feel and move on from upsetting thoughts and experiences. Allow yourself to feel upset and disappointed, but be kind to yourself and try not to wallow in self-pity.

[1]        (accessed 18/5/2020)
[2]        (accessed 18/5/2020)
[3]                 ibid.
[4]        (accessed 18/5/2020)
[5]        (accessed 18/5/2020)
[6]        (accessed 18/5/2020)
[7]                 ibid

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