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Alcoholic behaviour – recognising the signs and managing its impact

Alcoholism can cause a person to behave in a way that is erratic, dangerous and damaging to both themselves and those around them. These behaviours can, understandably, be challenging for family members and friends, often leaving them angry, upset and worried.

If you are close to someone who is an alcoholic and their behaviour is becoming a problem, we have outlined ways to deal with the addicted person and importantly, keep yourself well and safe.

Common behaviours of an alcoholic

If you are close to someone with alcoholism, you may have seen or dealt with the person behaving in the following ways:

  • Drinking in secret
  • Going missing or spending long periods of time away which aren’t accounted for
  • Neglecting responsibilities, such as missing work and forgetting childcare duties
  • Neglecting their personal appearance and hygiene
  • Engaging in actions that are irresponsible, unsafe or illegal
  • Finding excuses to drink, which can range from being stressed to wanting to celebrate
  • Acting defensively when their alcohol consumption is brought up in conversation

Alcohol can negatively impact how a person behaves, even when they don’t have a problem. For someone with alcoholism, these risky behaviours can become a daily occurrence and have a serious impact on their health and wellbeing, as well as the health and wellbeing of those closest to them.

Ways to cope with alcoholic behaviour

If you are regularly dealing with the behaviour of an alcoholic, remember that you cannot force a person to turn their back on alcohol, no matter how much you would like to see them get sober.

Instead, it is crucial for you to focus your time and energy on yourself so that you are able to regain control of your own life once again.

Set clear boundaries

Setting boundaries can help you to take back this control over your own life. When doing so, create a list of the alcoholic’s behaviours that you find unacceptable, which may include calling you names, driving while intoxicated, stealing from you or going missing for hours.

Then think about what you will do if they cross these boundaries. This could include leaving conversations with the person, calling the police or hanging up the phone when they call. There may be times when you need to enlist the support of emergency services if certain boundaries aren’t maintained.

Setting these boundaries can be frightening as you may worry about whether it will cause the addicted person to ‘punish’ you, withhold their love or decline further into their addiction. However, it is important to persist; don’t allow your boundaries to slowly be chipped away over time, along with your self-esteem.

Look after your own health and wellbeing

By investing time in you, you can learn to place value on yourself once again, and see that you are more than the friend, family member or spouse of an alcoholic.

Restart previously abandoned projects or activities, and connect or reconnect with friends or family members. This can help you to grow in confidence, strengthen your self-esteem, and recognise that you can enjoy and improve your own life.

If your focus wavers and shifts towards the addicted person, bring it back to yourself. You are important and deserve this attention.

Go to support groups and seek professional support

Family support programmes such as Families Anonymous  and Al Anon can give you the opportunity to meet with other people dealing with a loved one who has an addiction. You have a chance to tell your story, vent and talk about your fears, while working through troubles and rough patches with the advice of others who have had similar experiences. 

One-to-one therapy may also be a beneficial way to help you recover and rebuild yourself after dealing with the repercussions of an alcoholic and their behaviour.

Talking to the person about their alcoholism and behaviours

You may be desperate for your loved one to stop drinking and while it is ultimately their decision, there are ways you can help them towards their recovery journey.

Firstly, make sure you look after yourself and are well-supported, as this will put you in a stronger position to help the person. Learn as much as possible about alcohol and alcoholism so that when you do speak to them, they can’t manipulate you or play on your fears. Also, find out about the treatment services available in your area so you have all the information to hand when they are ready to get support.

If you want to talk to the person about their drinking, make sure you don’t have the conversation when they are drunk. Instead, have the discussion in a moment when they recognise they need to change. Reinforce that you are genuinely concerned about them, and as you do, avoid being judgemental, making accusations and placing blame. While these conversations are tough to have, remain positive. Let your loved one know that you are ready to support them through their recovery. If the person becomes angry, walk away and have the discussion at a different time.

If you are thinking about carrying out an intervention, read our addiction intervention guide to find out about the different ways you can go about doing so.

Alcoholism treatment available at Priory

At Priory, your loved one can come in for a free initial assessment.* During the session, we will endeavour to find out about their circumstances and the severity of their addiction, while answering any questions that you both have. From this discussion, we will be able to recommend a treatment programme that will help them get on their path to recovery.

Within Priory addiction treatment centres, we can provide detoxification to help a person rid their body of alcohol as safely as possible. Our residential stays then give people the opportunity to address the underlying causes and triggers for their addiction, and learn strategies to help them fully embrace an alcohol-free life.

Our day care therapy programmes and outpatient therapy packages then act as beneficial ‘step down’ services, where a person is able to continue receiving support from their Priory team as they   pick back up their professional and personal responsibilities.

As the first 12 months in addiction recovery requires a lot of strength and courage, we also offer free aftercare for a year so that the people we help continue to be supported throughout their journey. Those who receive treatment at The Manor Clinic and Priory Hospital Roehampton receive free aftercare for life.

*Individuals with dual diagnosis may need to be assessed by a Consultant Psychiatrist which is a chargeable appointment.


Blog reviewed by Pamela Roberts (BSc (Hons), Fd Systemic/Family, Dip.Addictions Therapy, Dip.Sex Addiction, PG Dip.Group Facilitation, PG Dip.Trauma Therapy), Addictions Programme Manager at Priory Hospital Woking

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