Forcing An Alcoholic To Quit


Is there a way of forcing an addict to quit that will work? Is it possible an alcoholic will stay sober if they are forced to stop drinking? These are questions that have been asked on many occasions in therapy groups. When family or friends of alcoholics attend group meetings for the first time, they almost always want to know how to make an alcoholic stop drinking.

The standard answer; “we can’t tell you how to force them to stop.”

There are methods that do work with great power in influencing addicts to gravitate closer to recovery. These tactics are less forceful than everything we tried prior to learning we were powerless over the addicts in our lives and yet they have great power.

Alcoholism Shatters LivesBefore entering into Al-anon, I had threatened, used ultimatums, begged, yelled, used sarcasm and sulked for days in hopes that the alcoholic would understand their need to quit. Although much energy was exerted on my part, the results of all my efforts were null and void.

So what can we do?

Well, I can tell you that after years of trying the previous tactics, with no results, I’m NOT doing them anymore.

I discovered that there were behaviors I could change that would have a forceful impact on the alcoholic. The majority of learning came through support meetings and interacting with people who understand alcoholic behaviors. An even greater learning experience happened through practicing the things I’d learned in real life in the relationship with the alcoholic.

The only force that works is when family and friends stop reacting to the alcoholic. There are many elements to this process. Perhaps we will quit paying their bills or watching their children so they can indulge to party. Maybe we refuse to argue with the alcoholic or ignore their continuous disrespect for keeping appointments by not reacting with negativity. At times we might refuse to get them out of trouble. This means we know what to do if the alcoholic gets arrested.

Making changes like these causes pressure to build up inside of the alcoholic.

“When he/she can’t count on your helping him/her, when you won’t assuage his/her guilt by fighting with him/her, and you refuse to get him/her out of trouble then he/she will be compelled to face up to things.” (One Day At A Time pg. 196, Al-anon literature)

Drunks On The CurbThe tactics we learn in alcoholism support groups are not related to forcing the alcoholic to do anything. If anything we learn how to not exert any force over them. We merely make changes in our behavior that send messages to the alcoholic that they are pretty much on their own.

When the alcoholic is left to deal with life’s difficulties on their own, they begin to experience the pain of their poor choices.

-If they get arrested – jail time can be beneficial.
-If they lose a job because they overslept – then perhaps they will see there is a need to change.

If we bail them out of jail, hire an attorney and help them avoid the consequences of their actions, what good will that do in forcing them to quit drinking? If we are always waking them up so they don’t miss work, where is their own sense of responsibility going to be gained from?

The many different facets of forcing an alcoholic to quit without using verbal or physical forces are encompassed in setting boundaries, letting go of them, communicating with an alcoholic differently and not being an enabler. All four of these areas have many methods that can be used that will have an impact on the alcoholic.

Letting Go Of AlcoholicI suppose when people think of forcing an addict to get help they are thinking of having them Baker acted. This method is generally only used when an alcoholic is at great risk of seriously hurting themselves or someone else. For the most part, any time they are registered to be in a recovery program against their will, they rarely quit. Don’t let this discourage you from pursuing this type of forceful approach though. There are those who do find a lifetime of recovery because someone loved them enough to force them into a recovery program.

It’s only when an alcoholic hits bottom that they truly have a chance at staying sober. Who is to say that they are not at their bottom when we attempt forcing them into a treatment center.

The thing is that we must know when we have done all we can and those things aren’t working. This is generally when most people enter into a program to help friends and family members learn how to cope with an alcoholic.

An alcoholic has to really want to change for themselves, not because of someone else. We can aid them in reaching their bottom by not forcing our will on them and letting them live their dysfunctional lives. We learn how to do this from people who know how.


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