Living With an Alcoholic Who Procrastinates


If you live in a household where someone frequently breaks promises, avoids taking responsibility or never finds enough time, there are things you can do for yourself.


The Visible Effects of Procrastination  

Whether they are drinking or not, most alcoholics have a tendency to procrastinate and use other avoidance behaviours. These behaviours are a form of denial. They often “forget” to keep their promises and they “will get around to” them eventually. Then, exasperatingly, they get impatient with others! They seem oblivious to the irony of this situation. Here are some tips to help you cope with this kind of crazy behaviour.


Understand Why Alcoholics Procrastinate

Bill Wilson, the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, once wrote that procrastination was “sloth in five syllables”. This is a clue to the main reason alcoholics tend to avoid important things – they are emotionally lazy and don’t want other people interrupting their tendency for self-gratification. This is a mental disorder and only one element in the many-faceted disease called alcoholism. They are not at fault.

Other reasons alcoholics procrastinate are fear of failure (I’m afraid I won’t do it right), arrogance (don’t tell me what I have to do) and childish fantasy (someone else will do it for me if I stall long enough). Where emotionally healthy people will avoid unpleasant tasks once in a while, alcoholics get compulsive with their need to escape the present moment.


What Can Family Members Do About Procrastination?

Al-Anon Family Groups is a fellowship of relatives and friends of alcoholics. Meetings are held daily all over the world, and within these rooms families and friends can learn to solve this very common problem. There are several things to remember about procrastination and/or compulsive avoidance as you work the Al-Anon program.


You Didn’t Cause It, You Can’t Cure it and You Can’t Control It

Since alcoholism is a family disease, it is important for family members to realize that they didn’t cause the alcoholic to behave this way. The only cure for any addictive behaviour must originate from the addict himself. And of course, any attempt to control any alcoholic behaviour will usually be met with outright defiance or belligerence. Let that idea go – stop trying to manipulate the alcoholic and force solutions to the problem.

What can you do? You can accept the situation as a fact of your life and grieve that you are living with a person who doesn’t keep promises and who compulsively avoids certain things. It is part of his disease.


Don’t Play the “Magic Fairy” Role for an Alcoholic

Immediately stop all manner of enabling behaviour, such as “giving in” and doing the task yourself. Allow him, as much as possible, to experience the natural consequences of his behaviour. Don’t be a watchdog. Don’t make threats you won’t carry out. Don’t use guilt to motivate a procrastinator. Don’t use bribes or promises of your own as leverage.

Al-Anon calls this process “detaching with love”. Ask your Higher Power to help you see your situation differently and take it one day at a time. Your alcoholic will test your boundaries and your resolve many times. If he procrastinates on his promise to take out the garbage, for example, be prepared to let it pile up for weeks on end. Do not take it out. Likewise, if he promises to take the Christmas tree lights down, be prepared to live with them until July or even longer. Keep your sense of humour, and remember the neighbours will be judging him, not you.


Decide What Your Limits are and Stick to Them

Learn to ask yourself “at what point in time would a reasonable person decide that this thing (whatever is being procrastinated) just simply didn’t happen?” Set your own boundary about how long you are willing to wait for certain behaviours, but do not share your intent out loud. Make decisions about what is negotiable in your relationship and what isn’t. If you just can’t live in a house with perpetual Christmas decorations, for example, decide when you will leave. When your boundary is crossed by another person, take steps to protect your own interests. It will be much easier to make your own decisions if you have a clear idea of your own limits ahead of time.


Go To Al-Anon Meetings and Work on Yourself

You can find an Al-Anon meeting in your area by clicking here, and you can learn what happens in a typical meeting here. No matter how bad your situation might be, there are people in Al-Anon who understand, and can help you get started in your own journey of recovery.