Guidelines For Giving Ultimatums To Alcoholic Addicts

I’m going to make this really short and sweet. Don’t ever give an ultimatum unless you are really serious about following through. An alcoholic or drug addict will walk all over you if you back down from the conditions  you have set before them. This must be a planned event.  It shouldn’t  be done out of anger or spontaneously.  It will take self-discipline to deliver your thoughts or rules with a clear consequence. Be ready  to act in accordance with your guidelines that you’ve delivered.

It takes having tough love with an alcoholic to stand firm in your choice once you have laid down the options within the situation you are faced with. If you wither and allow them to manipulate you through excuses and lies, then they will never believe that you mean what you say.

We cannot just use an ultimatum as a control tactic. We must only offer them when we are willing to act fully on what we have decided to do in response to how the alcoholic/addict responds.

What you present has to be solid and immovable. This is all apart of setting boundaries with an alcoholic.

If you have a substance abuser that is paying you rent and has been late or is falling behind, set the standard and then stick to your guns. If you tell them they have to have the money by a certain date and they only delivery you excuses, serve them with the eviction notice. If they play on your sympathy and play the role of a victim, give them the boot. An ultimatum basically says, “I’m not giving you anymore changes. It’s my way or the highway. I’ve given you plenty of slack. This is the last word.”

29 comments to Guidelines For Giving Ultimatums To Alcoholic Addicts

  • Bill

    Thanks for the great tip. I’ve said things in anger on many occasions and not followed through with the threats that I’ve made. I have much to learn. I’ll keep this tip in mind.

  • Sandy

    WOW Bill me too . . and boy has it bitten me in the butt later . . my AH is a great manipulator and button pusher . . he usese things I’ve said against me all the time ugggg I’m very careful what I say now . .

  • Tawni

    This tip is very true. I did not gain back the control in my life until I followed through on my threats. I told him I would throw him out if he drank one more beer. He tested me and pushed and I threw him out. He said later that he didn’t think I would follow through because I didn’t before. That was a real eye opener.

    But that is not where the story ends. You don’t just make one ultimatum, follow through with it, and then things get better. I still have to struggle everyday to stay strong against his promises, excuses, and lies. Just yesterday he called me to ask if he could come back home so he could find a job and start school. I told him again, like I have done repeatedly since July, the only way he is coming home is if he gets his own place, gets a job, and learns what it’s like on his own for at least 6 months. We can date during the 6 months that he is back on his feet but he’s not even trying to get on his feet.

    I want him in my life, I love him very much. But I am not willing to deal with the alcoholic/drug addict ways anymore. He says that we need to work it out to save our marriage but I feel that the marriage is already gone. I don’t think he will ever change. Hopefully he will one day, but in the mean time I have to stick to my guns and walk away. His family is doing the same thing to him so hopefully he will see that time is up, he needs to grow up and take responsibility for his actions now. He knows that until he does I will not take him back, no matter how much he begs, lies, or manipulates me. I am standing firm this time.

  • JC

    Tawni, you are doing the right thing. As I read your comment I thought of this article: Reinforcing Boundaries With An Alcoholic.

    Your 6 month trial period is a great idea. It allows for the beginning of reestablishing trust in the relationship. I would encourage you to reassure him of your love in various ways as you hold your ground. Detaching with love is always the ultimate goal. It takes some effort to express love to an alcoholic while having tough love with an alcoholic. Live by your morals and no matter how things turn out, you can hold your head high knowing you were dedicated to doing the right thing.

  • Ross

    After being married for 23 yrs(knowing my husband for 25), and about 12 years of active disease of alcohlism, when asked to come home, I’d mentioned rehab—or a effort of committed recovery. Today he’d asked if he went to AA and quit drinking, if that I would consider, and even mentioned he’d wait for an answer.I’d mentioned, id like to think about thinks, but did share how id waited for many years for him to be able to get to a place to work with me.(he never seemed to be able to compromise).I mentioned the rehab we’d both looked at together(he’d mentioned he’d go several times-but never followed though.), seemed to address issues that sounded like what he had problems with our whole marriage. He left a little upset.I dont know when, if he’ll get around to anything. Should i just said, go ahead and we can see after a period of time? (which has been said before as well.)???
    I would love some feedback.
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  • Dee

    Hi Ross I am sorry you have been through so much it sounds like. You definitely are not alone. Many of us have been through all the wondering…what should I do? What is best for everyone involved. So many years I struggled with those questions. I did learn that I sure can’t make decisions for others and the only way my then alcoholic husband sought treatment 4 times since we’ve been together was to set clear boundaries. I knew that if he was serious about getting help, changing, and serious about our marriage, he would do something about it. I too was once an alcoholic and addict and the only thing that motivated change in my life was pain. I then years later became the enabler. The only thing I found I could do was love my alcoholic husband by detaching and setting clear boundaries and love myself by not letting myself be abused in any way. I started to realize I was a worthy human being that deserved kindness and love and nothing less and I believe he began to realize that. I was not going to allow any more abuse of any nature and if he wanted us to be together he would get the help he needed. He did. It has taken many years, and many tears. His going to treatment was such a blessing because it enables the alcoholic to get into a controlled environment and develop regular sleeping and eating habits and new ways to see themselves in a positive way and that there is hope for them to live a life with us as spouses in a healthy way. Campral helped my husband in an amazing way. He said it took away those powerful cravings he couldn’t overcome before. I give all my newness and happiness in our life today to God. Who helped us, carried us, and taught us so many things. I know I would not be alive today if I myself had never reached that point of surrender. God Bless. Dee

  • Sarah

    Ross,my feeling is tell him that once he starts rehab/aa and working with counselors and a sponsor you will work with their advice on that. . . I thought most programs say they won’t even start counselling couples with alcohol issues until the alcoholic/addict has a year of sobriety behind them. I know of one treatment program in Hawaii that is a long term program that doesn’t let the addict have any contact with the “outside” for at least 6 months . . . Sobriety has to be their main goal. Those who succeed on kicking their addiction protect that sobriety at all costs — it is as important to them as their lives. . .I am not an addict, although I feel addicted to my toxic relationship with one, so I don’t know what it is like to let your life fall apart just to get that substance, but this is my feeling on it. Sobriety has to be for them, not for us, or it comes with too many resentments and opportunities to relapse. . . our job for ourselves is to decide and enforce our own ideas of health and peace, and what we want in our lives. We must protect our health and self esteem at all costs, just as they must put their sobriety and health first. . . .these things are very hard to do.

  • JC

    Dee, thanks for sharing. It’s good to here a happy ending. It reminds us all that there’s always hope for positive change.

    Sarah, I like to see results too. One of the characteristics of an alcoholic is they say things they think we want to hear in order to smooth things over for the moment.

  • Ross

    I’ve been down the road of giving out free trust before getting evidence of the following through that is needed. I have done it many times. I know my husband has financial concerns .

    He’d said he would let me manage all the money and help us out.That needed to be done long ago.That wouldn’t prove continued sobriety-which is one of the issues.

    I feel like because of his off and on use over our long marriage, it has done a lot of damage.
    I think I need to get the courage to tell him what I need—I cant keep doing this. He needs tools to deal with life and us. I cant wait forever. I feel like I’ve already done it. He needs the help they can give in the rehab. Too hard a life..
    Thanks for any and all responses,

  • Debbie

    After 4 years together my bf has finally checked himself into rehab. i stood by him constantly, but one day I told him I just couldn’t keep doing this, my emotional and physical health were being effected by his actions. shortly after this he went on an almost fateful drinking binge and ended up in hospital. I think that and the thought of loosing me made him finally hit rock bottom.
    At some stage we all have to put our needs above that of the alcoholic in our life’s. So Ross stick by your words and you will find the courage. Good luck.

  • John

    Ross, it’s a matter of focus. What we focus on grows. Like is suggested in so many places on this website, we have to take care of ourselves and create a happier life, even while living with the alcoholic.

    I encourage you to pursue your passions and enjoy your days while working through this “small” rough spot. You’ve dedicated your life to marriage and invested much into the life you and your husband share.

    Do you still believe that there’s hope for change on his part?

  • Hello, JC and community of support: I wrote in a couple months ago asking if the alcoholic can control the drinking…..I’ve now since left the alcoholic, blocked all contact with him in every way (phone company, emails, etc) as I found out, not only was he sneaking and lying about not doing it – just as you suggested may happen, but found out the entire 13 months I’ve been with him he’s been lying about other women, cheating on me in person and ON LIVE VIDEO, and continuing to try to convince me I was imagining all of it. Your website and posts helped me get through several months to realize that this person is very sick – both with his disease and mentally and both are mixed poison now. With many thanks and good luck to any of you that are questioning whether you should stay or you should go. You must try to find the strength to know that you deserve more. Get your lives back. Francesca

  • JC

    Francesca, thanks for giving us an update on your situation. I am sorry to hear things have turned out this way. I always hope and pray that the alcoholics/addicts we are all interacting with will hit bottom and find sobriety.

    Some people are able to stay in relationships with substance abusers and others are not. Every situation is different.

    The thing about your relationship is that all trust was gone. It takes so long to build trust in a relationship. Alcoholics have a way of destroying months and years of trust within a couple of moments. Once it is broken, it’s a mountain of a hill to regain, especially when the addict is still active in their addiction.

    We all hope you will continue to offer your experience, strength and hope here.

  • Ross

    Thanks for the comments. I had a conversation-if you want to call it that today. Husband noticed I hadn’t responded in a way that made him feel that i was for his plan to quit and go to AA this month, then move home.I mentioned that the last time we’d talked, the time was VERY limited, (by him, his schedule and his agitation.)that he got to talk, limited the talk and told me what he thought.What he was willing to do. I didn’t expect him to say it, again, so i needed time to think. I did tell him i need to see him do it first.

    Today, he kept pressing me to tell him. I’ve been troubled somewhat since he’d brought it up. I’d hoped I’d have clarity by the weekend, when he was to come over for his birthday.

    Tonight he is mad and when he was demanding we talk–really only he was allowed to, he said forget it and everyone thinks he’s a saint for paying the bills at my place for a year.(he’d cheated and stole our retirement/blew it.) Saint huh…

    I am tired of this cycle. I tried to not get into it. But even though I was planning to make my choices, it still seems that a similar scenario keeps playing itself out! So, so tired!

  • Julie

    Ross, you sound like you are experiencing the same situation I have been thru over and over for years. Just remember that you know the truth and it does not matter what the alcoholic says others think of you. Probably it is all lies anyway. Be true to yourself and make him “show” you changes not just say he is making changes. I believed the lies for years and my children and I suffered greatly until I realized what was going on and sought help to make the changes in myself that would lead us all to a better life. Unfortunately my AH became abusive to the point where we had to leave to protect ourselves. He is still playing the mind games and telling me he loves us and cannot live without us. But i see no changes in his behavior and he is still drinking.Where i went wrong in the past was taking his word for it and I will not do that this time. He has been separated from us for a year now and still has not made any positive changes in his life. So stick to your guns and let him know you will not go back just on his word alone. Alcoholics and addicts tend to say what we want to hear to get what they want. I know this is difficult as I am still struggling to do this myself. God Bless!

  • Ross

    thanks for all who have responded. I’m so glad to have gotten some recover under my belt. I feel encouraged and supported.My husband and I had a good talk. He has been quit for a week and plans on going to AA.I shared where i was at. I feel I can walk away anytime.I am not going to count much on anything. I felt disturbed inside earlier this week.I’d seen he appeared to hear what he wanted. I explained this and other things today. He is willing to work on himself and be apart(versus trying to move in at the end of Jan..)for as long as it takes. I am not hanging my hopes on anything.Working on myself and my recovery and crossing each bridge as i come to it. As I can.I know I don’t have to have this relationship anymore.I am staying open to what my recovery and my inner self will have to say(hopefully, by Gods grace)each step of the way.That gives me a lot of hope.Pray for me.
    I so appreciate you all..thanks for being here for me and I hope I can give back to you all, as well.
    Ross “

  • Jim

    I have been dealing with my wife’s problem with alcohol for 25 years. I have gone through programs for spouses of alcoholics and been to therapy. Life has been somewhat tolerable for a number of years until my 37 year got stage 4 melanoma and passed away 10 months ago. Since then, I have been to the emergency room twice getting her head stitched up because she gets so drunk she can’t walk and falls into furniture splitting her head open. Nothing more fun than taking a drunk into the ER and trying to explain what happened. Last night she did it again, this time on her face not the back or side of her head like usual. We have been married for 45 years and I have been codependent for about 25 of those. It is obvious that I don’t know how to set boundaries, or what those boundaries would be. I am 67, retired and live in a condo in a beautiful place. When she drinks, even one drink, she embarrasses everyone around her, family, grandchildren, neighbors and certainly myself. After my daughter died she finally started seeing a therapist, but I haven’t experienced any improvement.
    I am at a loss for where to go from here.

  • Debbi

    Jim: Welcome, and know that I read your post and feel your pain–losing a daughter at such a young age is a horrible thing for you to endure and now it seems your wife is slipping more in the alcohol to dull her pain. Difficult life events will tend to cause addicts to medicate more with alcohol and/or drugs. You have put up with this a long time but by finding this site it means the situation is getting intolerable. Everyone here will reach out to you as you work through this. We are always here to listen. As you read what others go through and things they try you will find things to help you. You can survive in whatever course you decide to take. My prayers are with you.

  • Jim

    Thanks so much Debbi. I am in a difficult situation when she drinks because she is now hurting herself. I can’t really leave when I see it coming on because I know she will end up in a puddle of blood. As much as I try to detach myself from the situation, I can’t leave her alone. I would never forgive myself. So there I sit, waiting for the inevitable.

  • Debbi

    I agree you can’t leave her alone but I have a suggestion maybe you can look into. Before she does this again research rehab’s in your area, call them and find out cost, treatment types & time periods and ask them when you find her in this condition the next time can you bring her there instead of the ER. She can check herself out but you can leave word with her that she is not welcome to come home unless she completes the treatment and if she has no where else to go, she might stay. Just a suggestion. I had a niece that did that to her husband & he is now sober.

  • Jim

    Great suggestion. I’ll do some research to see what’s available. Thanks so much.

  • MissT

    It’s almost been 1 week since giving my boyfriend “the Ultimatum”. For a year we’ve been trying to address his drinking [his family, friends and I] and once he admitted himself into a treatment centre-after one day he ran away and said it’s not the place for him. He’s suffered from numerous health problems upon withdrawal and he’s a young one, I fear for his life. At this point I’ve told him I can’t be with him unless he changes, there’s simply no future with a man who cannot take care of himself,let alone a family. He’s not abusive but he does say and do things that he’s unaware of, and i’m always needing to drop what i am doing to “save” him. At this point, we’re apart, I can’t call him or see him-his family is in full support but he comes from an abusive household [as his dad is an alcoholic] so it leaves me very anxious. After our last conversation and his numerous attempts to get me to see him, he then said, you know what, you should find someone better and hung up. since then he’s made no attempts to reach me. That in it’s own breaks my heart, but I’ve also come to know that he’s flirting online with women, perhaps not seriously. He has not been drinking [that’s what I am being told by his family] so maybe that means he wants to change, but then he’s pursuing conversations with other women, and gave up on contacting me. Do I consider him with me still, thus have the right to be jealous and worried about a potential affair? Or is it unfair, to give him the ultimatum-[do a break up] and expect him to be loyal? I’m supposed to attend a family party in 2 weekends, and I am not sure if I should go anymore, as his ties to me are all broken. Thoughts?

  • […] alcoholic is that she is my daughter and she has an 11 year old child. It is difficult to give her ultimatums that would affect her living with me without endangering the well being of my granddaughter. She […]

  • Im wondering how to have tough love for my 27 yr old since he livees six hrs away and has been reclusive for the past seven years. I dont see him except when he visits his friends in the summer. I dont give him money..i just get a phone call every now and then and he just tells me everything is fine..i saw him at thanksgiving and he stunk was dirty and ate just a cup of food at a time and shook, has extremely painful feet and threw up as he was only sober for two days…we had a family intervention and he said he needed hrlp and was ashamed and would get some help..he went back to portland and was sober for ten days and didnt get any help and relpsed on day 12 which is as long as he has gone before sober..i dont know whst detachment efforts to do since he is not in my very concerned. His phone gets cut off cuz he doesnt pay his bill and he just is getting over his second Duii.. he rides a bus and has for five yrs or more.

  • Julie21

    HI Robbie, I am by far no expert but it sounds to me that you are already using tough love. it sounds like you have allowed your son to deal with the consequences of his behavior and he simply has not stayed on a path to recovery. Of course he cannot do this alone, but your intervention gave him the opportunity to get the help he needs. He still has to decide how he wants to live. You need to let the guilt go and i know you feel helpless and do not want to see your son literally kill himself, but the best i can say would be to let him know that you are available to help him only on the road to recovery and that it is his choice and you will not help him with anything that does not involve his recovery and sobriety(i.e. a ride to the rehab facility). And it sounds to me like you are or have already done this. There is nothing more you can do to help him reach sobriety or a better life. He keeps choosing to live this way. Especially since help was already offered in an intervention. I don’t know what else to tell you. I am sorry to hear about this terribly sad situation.

  • Julie21

    Robbie, Check out the empowered recovery web site. I cannot commend that site or the book available from them enough. This is all information and help from a nonalcoholic who has lived with an alcoholic and also who has gotten away. So he completely understands the situation and has a plan for dealing with addicts/alcoholics that is healthy physically,emotionally and mentally speaking.And the forums have many participants who are helpful too.

  • Thank you julie..i will check out that site…He is in Gods hands.thank youfor yr concern and response…god bless

  • Diane

    I have been married for 49 years to a functioning alcoholic. He has developed physical complications from daily drinking and I see signs of dementia. He has become anti-social which has put a strain on our relationship with our son. I have enabled him and regret doing so. Now that I am 69, I fear change , but want peace. Tonight, because I brought him three socks by mistake because they were just purchased and had the plastic connection on them, he blamed me for not following his directions. When I try to explain why he explodes and repentant my input. I am emotionally tired.

  • Diane

    Resents my input

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