How to help an alcoholic

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This page was clinically reviewed by Rupert Turner, Lead Addiction Therapist at Priory Hospital Woking, in March 2024.

If you live with, or are close to an alcoholic, it can be difficult to know where to turn or what to do for the best. It’s likely that their behaviour is having a negative impact not only on themselves, but on the people around them.

However, there are a number of things you can do to help them. Here, we outline some steps you can take to help an alcoholic, and also provide advice on how to encourage the person to get the professional treatment for alcohol addiction they need.

Spotting the signs of a drinking problem

A really useful first step is to make sure you know how to spot the signs of a drinking problem. If you learn how to spot the signs, you’ll be better able to recognise the person’s unhealthy drinking and begin to develop an understanding of why they behave the way they do.

Some symptoms of alcohol addiction to look out for include:

  • Continuing to drink alcohol, even when it’s had a negative effect on their life
  • Not being able to moderate their drinking once they start to drink
  • Needing to drink more in order to feel ‘drunk’, due to building a tolerance to alcohol
  • Drinking at a regular time each day, which may have been getting earlier over time. For some, this could involve drinking alcohol first thing in the morning
  • For some, drinking in binges but not being able to control when these happen or how long they go on for
  • Drinking heavily on their own, even to the point of passing out
  • Lying or being deceptive about their drinking habits
  • Getting angry and irritable when they haven’t had a drink
  • Missing special occasions and important events because of their drinking
  • Neglecting their responsibilities
  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • Only wanting to socialise with other people who drink and only wanting to take part in activities or events where there will be alcohol
  • Showing signs of mental health problems, like depression and anxiety

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We recognise that reaching out for help can be daunting. That’s why we offer a free assessment with a Priory expert at your nearest Priory hospital. Call our dedicated team today to arrange an assessment.

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How to help an alcoholic

Start the conversation

It’s important that you try to have an open and honest conversation with your loved one about their drinking. This will give you the chance to voice your concerns and also let the person know that you’re there for them and want to help. It might also help the person to recognise their drinking is having an impact on other people around them, acting as a kick-start to getting help.

There are a few things to consider before having this conversation:

  • Choose a time and place that’s private and where the person feels relaxed. Make sure you speak to them when they’re sober (or at their least drunk) and when you’re unlikely to be interrupted
  • Practise what you want to say and try to remain positive and supportive
  • Place the focus on you rather than them so they don’t feel attacked or ambushed. For example, you could say things like “I’m worried about you” or “I’m concerned about the amount you’re drinking” – this will make it more likely they’ll be able to open up to you
  • Listen compassionately, then express your concerns with kindness
  • Prepare for a negative reaction but don’t respond in a hostile way. Keep the conversation calm
  • Let them know that you care about them and want to support them to get better
  • Give them the space and time needed for them to make a decision for the next step

Don’t ‘enable’ them

When you care about someone with an alcohol problem, it can be easy to get into the habit of enabling their behaviours. Enabling refers to the things that we do that enable the person to continue with their unhealthy drinking habits. Examples might include making excuses for their behaviour to other people, and calling in sick to work on their behalf because they’re hungover.

Even if you have the best intentions, enabling an alcoholic means that they aren’t given the chance to take any responsibility for their actions, which can cause their alcohol abuse to become worse. Practising ‘tough love’ can be hard, but it’s really important that the person addresses their issues and takes steps in the right direction.

Be kind to yourself

It can be draining when you’re worried about someone’s drinking, especially if you're living with a functioning alcoholic or someone with an alcohol addiction. That’s why it’s also really important to look after yourself during this time. Make sure you set some time aside for yourself each day, to do something relaxing or that you enjoy. That might be listening to your favourite music, taking a hot bath or doing some exercise. Also, try to make sure that you’re getting enough sleep and eating healthily. Remember – you can’t pour from an empty cup.

You might also find it helpful to speak to someone you trust about what you’re going through. They might be able to offer you words of advice and can support you to support the person with the drinking problem. Having a network of people around you that you can rely on will be incredibly important for your wellbeing and theirs.

You could also reach out to support group such as Al-Anon or Families Anonymous (Famanon).This will give you the chance to connect with people who are going through the same thing as you, and offer mutual advice, support and empathy.

Family members sometimes find it helpful to get some therapy for themselves, to help them make sense of the situation.

Getting an alcoholic help

Even though the above steps can help, it might be that your loved one will need specialist alcohol treatment to help them to overcome their drinking. That’s why it’s so important to support your loved one to reach out for help. Make sure they know you’re there for them and will be as involved in their recovery process as they want you to be.

A first port of call may be for them to make an appointment to see their GP. You could offer to make the appointment for them, or suggest that you go along with them as moral support. Their GP will be able to assess their symptoms and drinking habits, and make recommendations for next steps.

Treatment for alcohol addiction at Priory

Priory offers the best in private treatment for people struggling with addiction. We can give your loved one a free addiction assessment, helping them to come to terms with their alcoholism and learn about the steps they could be taking towards recovery. Our world class addiction treatment programmes, led by our experienced addiction specialists, consist of round-the-clock care, medically assisted alcohol detox, intensive group and individual therapy, and free aftercare. We also offer flexible treatment options like day care and outpatient support, which fit in with your life and other commitments.

Recovery can be a lengthy process, but with your help and the support of a specialist rehab centre, your loved one will be able to overcome their drinking and resume the healthy and fulfilling life they deserve.

Contact us to make an enquiry or for more information

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