Family Ultimatums Often Don’t Work

At Tabor Group, we often get calls from distressed families saying: “we have given our son an ultimatum about his drinking or drug use, and he has not done what we have asked. So what do we do now?”.

It is important to be cautious in the use of ultimatums to loved ones with alcohol, drug, or gambling addiction, as they often result in ‘lose-lose’ outcomes.

The ultimatum may come as a consequence of yet another example of unacceptable behaviour while drunk, another threat from drug dealers about drug debts, or maybe another demand to bail out a gambling debt. We understand how families can get to the end of their tether when faced with the persistent anxiety, stress, anger, fear, and despair of having an addicted family member. However, an ultimatum may not be the best action to take to help your loved one.

Unfortunately, what families often don’t understand is that the addiction will not respond to threats and ultimatums. An ultimatum is based on a misunderstanding of what addiction is. If the addicted family member could have managed their addiction through willpower alone, they would have done so long ago.

Addiction, however, is characterised by obsession and compulsion; obsessively preoccupied with the use of a substance or a behaviour and the compulsive use of the substance or behaviour. The urge and drive to mood alter by using alcohol, drugs, or gambling is overwhelming and out of control. It is instinctive. It is not so much a decision as a necessity. The more stress and pressure the person is under, the stronger the dependency on the substance to mood alter to a calmer state, however temporary this may be. This is the essence of the addiction in action.

Many families attend Tabor Group’s Family Support Programme reporting that they have been told to ‘put him out of the house’. If the family follow through on this ultimatum, they are left very stressed as to what the outcome will be for their loved one. It usually exposes the person to significant vulnerability.

In the same way, an ultimatum to attend treatment at Tabor Group will also not have the desired outcome. For somebody in addiction, the prospect of treatment can seem very frightening and threatening, sometimes even seeming like an impossible demand.

We at Tabor Group, encourage the family to maintain the alliance with their loved one whenever possible. We encourage open expression of concern about the person directly to the person, substantiating the concern with fact-based occurrences, which unfortunately, are usually plentiful. This can be anything from open displays of drunkenness to aggressive, destructive behaviour, other family members being exposed to danger, harm, or risk, as well as the person’s harm to themselves and their health, or financial hardship that is reckless.

At Tabor Group, we understand that in some circumstances, setting the ultimatum that the person will need to leave the family home is the last attempt for a family, and can come from a genuine fear for the family’s safety. In this case, we will encourage the family to suggest treatment for their loved one and the family to join our Family Support Programme to access the support they need.

In keeping with a spirit of collaboration, Tabor Group suggest to the family that they would like their loved one to attend Tabor Group for an ‘initial assessment’. This is a consultation with an experienced practitioner in the field of addiction services. The family will be invited to take part in this consultation. Following the consultation, Tabor Group will give an opinion as to the severity of the situation and make suggestions for possible ‘next steps’. A care plan may be possible that will help alleviate some of the stress and risk associated with managing the person’s addiction that is agreeable to all.

From this initial assessment, a referral can be made to a variety of treatment options that can be provided by Tabor Group and other providers working with a ‘shared care approach’ to the management of the addiction.

This may be a viable alternative to the ultimatum that is often delivered in anger and frustration and often does not bring the desired response due to the strength of the hold addiction has on the family member.

It is certainly worth a try.

Call Tabor Group on 021 4887110 to discuss these options with our addiction counselling and family counselling staff.


Tabor Group provides residential & community-based addiction treatment programmes to men and woman over 18 years of age, who are struggling with addiction to alcohol, drugs, and gambling. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, get help today. We can help you recover in a healthy, friendly environment and beat your addiction. Do not hesitate to contact one of our counsellors today for information by calling +353 (21) 488 7710 for Cork or +353 (1) 639 2962 for Dublin, or alternatively you can email us at info@taborgroup.ie. We can help you.