How can I Help an Alcoholic?

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. Their behaviour is likely having a destructive impact on themselves and on the people around them.

There are a number of things that you can do to help. Here, we outline the practical steps to follow in your day-to-day life, and we also look at how to encourage the person to get the professional treatment they need for their alcohol addiction.

Tips for Helping an Alcoholic

Learn about alcoholism and its symptoms

A really useful first step for helping an alcoholic is to learn as much as you can about the symptoms of alcohol addiction. This can help you to start understanding why they behave the way they do.

Do you ever find that the person:

  • Lies about the amount and frequency of their drinking habit?
  • Is irritable and angry when they haven’t had a drink?
  • Continues to drink despite the negative effects that it has on their life?
  • Misses special occasions and important events because of their drinking?
  • Drinks heavily when they’re on their own?
  • Drinks to the point of passing out?
  • Drinks alcohol first thing in the morning?
  • Seems to need to drink more to feel ‘drunk’?:

Talk to the person about their alcohol problem

It’s important that you try to have an open and honest conversation with the person about their alcohol problem. This will give you the chance to talk about your concerns and worries, and will also help the person to realise that you’re there for them and that they can open up to you about what they’re going through.

There are a number of things to consider before you have this conversation:

A time and a place - try to choose a time and a place that is private, where the person feels relaxed, comfortable and safe. You could go for a walk or a drive together, or have a cup of tea at home at a time when you won’t be disturbed

Place the focus on you instead of them - try to use phrases that start with “I” rather than “you”. For example, you could say things like: “I’m worried about you”, or “I’m concerned about the amount you’re drinking”. By placing the initial focus of the conversation on you instead of them, they’re less likely to feel ‘attacked’ or criticised and will be more likely to open up to you

Use positive language and be gentle - it’s a good idea to use language that’s positive or neutral (such as “challenges” and “difficulties”) as opposed to negative language or labels (such as “addict” or “alcoholic”). If you’re overly negative, the person may feel attacked which could make them even more defensive and less likely to want to talk to you. Also, it’s important that you don’t become frustrated, critical or judgemental during the conversation. Even if you don’t fully understand what they are experiencing, it’s important to tackle the issue in a sensitive, gentle and caring way

Let them know you’re there for them - it’s really important that you let the person know that you care about them and ultimately, have their best interests at heart. Battling an alcohol problem can be very lonely, so reassuring them that you’ll always be there to listen if they ever want to talk can help them to feel stronger and supported

It’s important to understand that you may be met with denial when you try and talk to the person about what they’re going through and this is entirely normal. The above steps may help but if your loved one doesn’t want to talk about their drinking problem, they can contact an addiction rehab centre, such as Manor Clinic, directly to discuss how they can get back on track.

Avoid enabling their behaviours

When you care about someone who’s struggling with an alcohol problem, it can be easy to fall into the trap of enabling their behaviours. Enabling refers to the things we do that help the person to continue drinking, even if we have the best intentions in the world. Examples may include:

  • Offering to call in sick to work on their behalf when they have a hangover
  • Defending or downplaying their drunken behaviour to other people

By enabling the person’s destructive behaviours, you’re not helping them to take any responsibility for their actions, which can lead to their addiction becoming worse. This ‘tough love’ can feel hard to practise but ultimately, it’s the best thing you can do to help someone with an alcohol problem address their issues and take steps towards getting better.

Look after yourself

Helping someone with an alcohol problem can be draining. That’s why it’s so important to look after your own health and wellbeing too.

Don’t neglect your needs - take some time out every day to do something you enjoy or find relaxing. That might be listening to some music, reading a book or having a hot bath. Also, don’t forget the basics – eat healthily, exercise when you can and try to get enough sleep.

It can also be really useful for you to share how you’re feeling with someone who you trust. Opening up to a relative or friend means they can support you, just as you are supporting the person with the alcohol problem. You could even reach out to groups such as Families Anonymous and Al Anon where you will have the opportunity to meet people going through similar experiences, and open up to people who can truly empathise with your situation.

Helping a Loved One Seek Professional Support

While the above tips can support you when you’re helping someone with an alcohol problem, it’s important to understand that alcohol addiction is a serious condition and it often needs professional support within an addiction rehab centre.

That’s why a crucial step is to help the person seek the alcohol addiction treatment they need. You could offer to contact Manor Clinic on your loved one’s behalf to discuss their needs and find out how we can support them.

Our high quality Addiction Treatment Programme at Manor Clinic offers:

  • A free, no obligation addiction assessment
  • Medically assisted alcohol withdrawal detoxification, if this is needed
  • Structured group therapy
  • A high quality family programme
  • Access to 12-Step support groups
  • Free aftercare for life
  • Free family support for life

With your help, as well as professional alcohol addiction treatment within a specialist centre, the person can work towards overcoming their alcohol problem and taking steps towards recovery and wellbeing.

This blog was reviewed by Angie Cullen, (Federation of Drug and Alcohol Professionals (FDAP), National Association of Drugs and Alcohol Counsellors (NAADAC), Registered Mental Nurse (RMN)), Addiction Therapist at Manor Clinic.

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