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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.

How can I help an alcoholic?

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.

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’?

These are all signs of alcoholism.

It’s important to understand that everyone experiences addiction differently, so not everyone will display all these symptoms. In addition, some people are able to mask the signs and function in a relatively stable way.

How to start the conversation with an alcoholic

If you’re worried that someone is an alcoholic, try to have an open and honest discussion with them about their drinking problem. Here are some tips for the conversation:

  • Choose the right time and place. Try and pick somewhere private, where the person feels comfortable. You could suggest going for a walk or a drive together, or instead, you could just have a cup of tea in your own home at a time when you’re unlikely to be interrupted
  • Don’t be judgemental or accusatory and try not to become frustrated. If you’ve never experienced addiction before, it can be hard to put yourself in their shoes, but listen and respond with compassion and patience. Remember, they are likely feeling defensive or ashamed so if you’re gentle and non-judgemental, they’ll be more likely to open up. To help, try to say things that focus on you rather than them, such as “I’m worried about you” and “I’m concerned that you seem to be drinking more than usual”. This way, they’re less likely to feel ‘attacked’, criticised or blamed
  • Prepare specific examples of their behaviour and times when you think they have drunk too much. You can then gently remind them of these instances if you are met with denial
  • Try to avoid negative language or labels. Words such as ‘addict’ and ‘alcoholic’ may be viewed as overly critical and judgemental, whereas more positive or neutral language such as ‘concerns’ and ‘challenges’ sound a lot more sympathetic and gentle. This will help to demonstrate that you are coming from a good place and have their best interests at heart
  • Ultimately, try to make it clear that you want to help them and are always there to support and listen to them if they ever want to talk to you

By having an open and non-confrontational conversation, not only will this give you the chance to get your concerns across, but it also opens up the lines of communication and helps the person to realise that they can always come to you with their problems.

Keep the home a substance-free zone

One of the most important and practical ways in which you can help an alcoholic is to make sure that you keep your home a substance-free zone. Remove all alcohol from the house and be conscious of items that contain ‘hidden’ alcohol such as hand wash, cleaning products and certain foods or sauces. It’s also important that you don’t drink in front of the person. By removing the temptation to drink, and ensuring that the home is a ‘safe haven’, you can help them take the first steps towards abstinence.

Avoid ‘enabling’

When it comes to addiction, ‘enabling’ refers to behaviours that allow the alcoholic to continue their destructive drinking habits. Examples include agreeing to call in sick on their behalf when they are hungover or making excuses for their drunken behaviour. In both of these examples, you are taking away all the responsibility that the person should have for their own drinking, and making it easier for them to get away with it in the future. It may feel difficult for you to withdraw this support and practise ‘tough love’, but it’s so important for their recovery. Ultimately, you can’t recover for them – it’s something they need to do on their own.  

Look after yourself

It’s so important to take the time to look after yourself too.

Make sure that you set time aside to do things you enjoy or find relaxing, whether that’s going for a walk, reading a book, or having a hot bath. Also, eat healthily and get enough exercise so that you’re feeling as well as possible.

You may also wish to share how you’re feeling with another trusted friend or relative, so that they can support you emotionally. You could also make use of the many support groups available for people who are living with or are close to an alcoholic, including Families Anonymous and Al Anon.

Help the person to seek professional support

When it comes to helping an alcoholic, it’s important to understand that addiction often needs professional help, delivered within a specialist addiction rehab centre.

One of the most important things you can do to help is to support the person in reaching out for this professional treatment. Offer to go with them to an appointment with their GP where they'll be able to discuss their concerns and worries. Alternatively, you can contact Manor Clinic directly to enquire about the treatment that we offer and to discuss your loved one’s needs.

Our evidence-based alcohol Addiction Treatment Programme at Manor Clinic consists of:

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

We are also able to provide advice and support on staging an intervention to help people enter treatment.

When someone is in treatment for alcohol addiction

At Manor Clinic, you can continue to help someone when they are in treatment. You can:

  • Attend family sessions and learn as much as you can about the treatment and recovery process
  • Keep in touch with them and let them know that you’re thinking of them and wishing them all the best for their treatment and recovery

When someone first enters treatment at Manor Clinic, visiting times are limited initially in order to give the person the time and space they need to detox and focus on their recovery. It also allows the family time for respite and reflection. However, following this initial time in treatment and with agreement from the patient and our multidisciplinary team, family members are allowed to visit; this is another way that you can help your loved one while they are in treatment.

With your help, as well as specialist alcohol treatment within a dedicated centre, the person can take steps towards abstinence, 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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