Helping an Alcoholic: Proven Strategies for Helping a Loved One
When someone you love is struggling with alcohol abuse, it can be very difficult to approach them about their issues. Even if the problem is extremely apparent to you, reaching out to someone in active addiction can be tricky, and there are things you can avoid when trying to talk with them.
It’s important to realize that even though alcoholism directly impacts your loved one, it also impacts you and your emotions. Because of this, your initial reaction is to show an outpouring of love and worry, but that can be overwhelming for someone struggling.
Certain strategies and steps have been proven to be helpful for people trying to help out a loved one with alcoholism, so it’s worth trying out some covered below. Keep reading to learn how to better approach, talk to, and help someone struggling with alcohol addiction.
What Is Alcoholism?
Alcoholism describes a person struggling with an alcohol use disorder (AUD). Alcoholism impacts both their physical and mental health, creating a dependency on the substance so that it feels they can’t function without alcohol in their system.
Alcohol use disorder is a spectrum that can range from mild to severe. Alcoholism is considered the most severe form of alcohol use disorder, with a person being unable to control their drinking habits. Alcoholism will make maintaining your mental, physical, and social health nearly impossible, and intervention is necessary to enter recovery.
Signs of Alcohol Use Disorder
When trying to figure out if a loved one is struggling with alcohol use disorder or drug addiction, you should watch for certain symptoms. Of course, if your gut tells you something is wrong with your loved ones' alcohol usage, trust it and tune into their behaviors.
Some signs of AUD to look out for are:
Using alcohol every day, or multiple times a day, and being sick when they are not able to consume alcohol
Showing increased agitation, aggressiveness, and irritability
Pulling away from friends and family; increased conflict as a result of drinking
Putting themselves into risky situations
Experiencing an inability to maintain any responsibilities
Experiencing turmoil at their jobs or in school
Having unhealthy levels of alcohol consumption; frequent binge drinking
Asking for money to buy alcohol
Going through withdrawal symptoms
Using alcohol, even though the mental, physical, and social decline seems obvious
Someone struggling with alcoholism may not see these signs as a problem, so you can’t always just confront them about their problems.
How Do I Help Someone With Alcoholism?
When you are looking to support someone with alcoholism, you have to be very strategic and specific about how you go about helping them. Everyone is different and experiences the effects of alcohol use disorder in a unique way. This means some strategies might have to be altered to help that specific person.
Not everyone heals linearly. Be mindful that a person with alcoholism might push back quite a bit before they agree to get help. Don’t give up! Recovery takes time, but showing a person struggling that you are there to support them can make the process seem less daunting.
1. Recognizing the Problem
Alcohol problems and alcohol dependence are very common in today’s society. We are conditioned to accept drinking alcohol, especially in social settings, which can make recognizing the problem half the battle. If you are worried about someone’s usage, you should begin to take note of how and when they are drinking.
Do they use drinking as a way to escape from stress or negative feelings? Are they drinking more than everyone else in a group setting? Are they always the last person to stop drinking — often due to being cut off? Are they always finding a way to make drinking a part of the plan?
While these might not appear problematic at first, you might begin to recognize these patterns more and more as they worsen. While you might feel guilty about scrutinizing their behaviors, know that deep down they are hoping someone is noticing!
2. Knowing How To Approach Them
You know your loved one best. When you approach them, you don’t want to create more issues or have them feel like you’re attacking them. In many cases, you have to be very careful about how to talk to them about their alcoholism.
Are they at risk of becoming highly irritated and potentially destructive if you approach them about their issues? Is there a right time and place for the conversation? Are there certain topics you should avoid? How can you remain strong without becoming too worked up?
Being honest about your thoughts and concerns is important, but you cannot force someone to see what you see. You cannot force someone to get help if they don’t want to. This can discourage you, but don’t let it set you back. Instead, keep showing up for them when it’s necessary.
3. Knowing What Not To Say
Just as much as you should practice what you’re going to say, you need to be mindful of what not to say to someone struggling with alcoholism. The goal is to show compassion and concern lovingly — not to come off as aggressive or disappointed in your loved one.
While they might not want to admit they have a problem, there’s likely a lot of shame stopping them from accepting the truth.
Don’t corner your loved one, especially when they have been drinking. Talking to someone while they are under the influence never results in a positive conversation. Approach your loved one when sober to have a more clear conversation.
Avoid putting blame or guilt onto your loved one, and don’t shame them for using alcohol. You don’t need to make them feel bad about their alcoholism, as they probably are already dealing with similar feelings. Instead, express your concerns, feelings, and thoughts about the situation to show compassion and love for them.
4. Showing Encouragement
Know that getting help on your own for addiction is almost impossible. Showing up for your loved ones can make all the difference. When people struggling with alcoholism can see that they have people supporting them, they are more likely to do well in recovery.
Ways that you can show encouragement and support for your loved one could look like:
Attending doctor appointments, therapy sessions, and AA meetings with them
Helping to clean out their home of all alcohol and alcohol-related items
Coming up with a plan of action with them
Sitting or talking with them when they are going through hard times and considering relapsing
Coming up with fun sober activities to do together
5. Avoid Enabling Them
While you want to support and show up for your loved one, it’s important that you avoid enabling their negative behaviors. This means you don’t entertain them when they have been drinking by fighting with them or arguing about their problems.
You shouldn’t be giving them any money, even though that can be hard to do when you know they aren’t taking care of themselves properly. You don’t want to offer them rides if they get too drunk because soon they’ll be getting drunk more as they know they have someone to bring them safely home.
You may not want to purchase alcohol for them at any point, even when they withdraw. It’s hard to watch your loved one put themselves in danger, but you have to take care of your own well-being in the process.
6. Find Them Treatment
One of the best ways you can help your loved one struggling with alcoholism is by doing a lot of the heavy lifting for them. Researching clinics and treatment centers can help them overcome their addiction.
Present them with a list of options they could try out, including Alcoholics Anonymous or Al-Anon meetings, group therapy, mindfulness activities, and sober groups.
Addiction treatment can include detox treatment programs, inpatient or outpatient, that help those in the first stages of sobriety get through alcohol withdrawal symptoms and cravings.
Even before that, you can connect your loved one with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) national helpline to help them recognize that alcohol misuse is a health condition. Various treatment facilities and professional help options are available to support them.
While your loved one will benefit from having you to support them, finding them a sober community where they can relate to others going through the same struggles is extremely useful in the recovery journey. A support network can include family members, health professionals, and loved ones.
Additionally, peer support groups such as AA, full of others who have quit drinking and are in long-term recovery, can be a great treatment option for people with substance abuse or drinking problems. Surrounding yourself with other sober individuals can make the process of recovering from a substance use disorder less scary and overall easier to tackle.
Community Is Key
Not everyone has the time or energy to seek out sober groups in their areas, but you don’t have to do that with Sober Sidekick. With this app, you gain access to a community of other sober individuals that you can chat with at any time. You can track your sobriety journey and support others taking the same path.
With an iPhone or an Android, you can join online AA meetings whenever you need to and talk with addiction professionals 24/7. If your loved one is looking for an easy way to find this kind of support, download the app onto their phone and help get them started.
What Are Symptoms Of An Alcohol Use Disorder? - Rethinking Drinking | NIAAA
The Influence of Alcohol-specific Communication on Adolescent Alcohol Use and Alcohol-related Consequences | NCBI
Relationship Of Hope, Sense Of Community, And Quality Of Life | NCBI