How to help an alcoholic friend or family member
By: Lakeview Health
Published: November 7, 2022

Knowing how to help someone who is struggling with alcohol use is a growing concern for Americans with nearly 7% of US adults suffering from alcohol use disorder. Living with a functioning alcoholic can be stressful for everyone in the family, making getting help early on imperative. We have put together this guide to help you to better understand the disease of addiction, what your loved one is likely going through, and steps you can take to help your family member receive the care they need.  

Step 1: Understand the Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol Use Disorder

Before approaching your loved one with hasty accusations, it’s important to understand the signs and symptoms of alcohol use disorder (AUD). Often times those experiencing AUD exhibit: 

    • Signs of irritability and major mood swings, depression, or anxiety 
    • Increased tolerance to alcohol, needing to consume more to receive the desired effects 
    • The tendency to choose alcohol over other responsibilities and obligations 
    • Excessive focus on obtaining and consuming alcohol  
    • Isolation and distance from family members and friends 
    • Feeling constantly tired or hungover without drinking 

If you’re worried about your loved one’s alcohol consumption, it’s never too early to talk to them about your concerns. Many people have the misconception that someone must “hit rock bottom” before receiving help for drug or alcohol use, however, this is not the case. There is growing interest in the idea of pre-addiction, which suggests that early intervention can lead to better outcomes for those struggling with addiction. These improved outcomes can typically be achieved faster and with fewer personal and financial costs when the issue is addressed early on.  

Step 2: Confront Reality   

For many people with AUD, there comes a point in time when those closest to them start to realize the dangerous patterns that they’ve fallen into. It becomes clear that the individual has moved beyond social drinking and is dependent on alcohol as part of their day-to-day routine. While it is difficult to come to terms with the notion that you or your loved one is struggling, acknowledging the issue is a crucial first step to getting help. Once everyone recognizes and acknowledges the impact that alcohol has had on the family, they will be able to focus on finding solutions and a treatment center with programs that meet their loved one’s needs. 

Addiction not only impacts all facets of life for those struggling with addiction, but it also impacts those closest to them negatively. During active addiction, it can be hard for those struggling to meet obligations such as attending important events with their loved ones. In some instances, those with AUD are less emotionally available because of their addiction – this can make it difficult for those around them to feel heard and appreciated. This can cause strain on relationships which may become increasingly apparent as the disease of addiction progresses.  

Step 3: No More Secrets 

If you’ve been keeping your loved one’s addiction a secret, then it’s time to break that silence and reach out. Speak to other family members who are close to you and your loved one; this may include their physician or a trusted religious leader. It’s key to find people who are willing and able to provide legitimate support during this difficult time. This group of people will be an invaluable support network as you and the person struggling map out next steps and a plan for recovery.  

Step 4: Gather Supportive People Together 

Once you have identified and spoken with this supportive group of people, make an agreement to talk to your loved one together about your concerns. It’s usually best to invite friends, family members, and other supportive people who can stay calm during intense, emotional conversations. The person struggling with alcoholism may become resentful or upset when their drinking is brought up, so remember to remain nonjudgmental.  

If you’re concerned that your loved one may not be receptive, you can also seek the help of a trained intervention specialist. An intervention specialist is a social worker who has received specialized training to assess your loved one’s condition and suggest the best type of treatment for them. 

It’s important address co-dependency at this point. If the person struggling with addiction is also in a co-dependent relationship, it’s key to understand and address the needs of both parties. People who are in co-dependent relationships may be concerned about being separated during treatment or be afraid that their loved one will change during their time away. You will need to plan for and proactively address these concerns to help both people accept the need for treatment. 

Step 5: Choose the Proper Time and Place 

It’s always best to avoid trying to engage with a person when they’ve been drinking or if they’re stressed. Stressful situations can often trigger the urge for an alcoholic to have a drink, so it’s best to reach out to them when they’re sober and as receptive as possible. For many with alcohol use issues, this time is typically in the morning, but it can vary from person to person. 

Step 6: Share Your Concerns with Your Loved One  

As mentioned in step 5, if a loved one has been drinking or is in a stressful place in their life, it’s usually best to avoid confronting them about their drinking. However, if they are in the right place, try to speak to them in a calm and compassionate manner. Although it might be difficult, try to steer away from judgment, pointing fingers, or issuing ultimatums as this will only derail the conversation. Share your experiences of being with them while they’re abusing alcohol and let them know how those experiences made you feel. Make sure that you’re specific, but again, try to avoid the blame game. The most important thing is that your friend or loved one is finally seeking help, and this is your opportunity to be as supportive and loving as possible during this challenging transitional period. 

Step 7: What if They Refuse Treatment? 

For friends and family members who reach out to someone with a drinking problem, there is the possibility that the person won’t want to go to treatment. The prospect can be daunting, especially if their treatment requires that they stay in a treatment facility. Removing someone from their comfort zone can be jarring and stressful on its own, so no matter how heartfelt your pleas are, they might reject your suggestion. In these situations, you may have to wait for your loved one to come to understand that they need treatment on their own.  

Step 8: To Detox or Not Detox? 

It is important to have treatment options available for our loved one to choose from if they decide to enter treatment directly after the intervention. When looking at treatment center options, be sure to select those that also offer medically monitored detoxification. At Lakeview Health, we offer round-the-clock medical care at both our men’s and women’s facilities as it is imperative that those suffering with alcohol use disorder are closely monitored during detox. Even the most supportive group of friends and family can’t take the place of proper medical intervention in a situation like this one due to the potentially life-threatening complications that can arise during alcohol withdrawal. 

Step 9: How to Support a Loved One in Treatment  

Convincing your loved one to seek help for their drinking problem is a tremendous achievement, however, that is just the first step. The next steps are up to your loved one to take, but agreeing to get treatment is a critical starting point. As mentioned above, the next steps usually include detox, one-on-one or group counseling, and possibly moving into transitional or sober living arrangements. These sober homes are essentially half-way houses that provide those in recovery the support and structure they need to stay away from alcohol. Once your loved one has reached a good place in their treatment, they often have the option to return to their normal life, minus the alcohol. 

Step 10: Don’t Neglect Your Own Mental and Physical Health 

As tough as it can be to watch a family member or friend struggle with alcoholism, it’s essential to make sure to look after your own well-being during this time too. Many find that joining a support group such as Al-Anon offers a way to connect with others who are facing similar situations. There, you can share your feelings with others and, hopefully, make peace with your decision to help your loved one. This type of group can be especially helpful for the spouse of an alcoholic as well as children, grandchildren, and other members of the family who are close to them. 

Step 11: Recovery is for Life 

One of the best ways to help a friend or family member in early recovery is to understand that this person will always be in recovery. For the rest of their life and your life. It’s a process that goes day by day, and sometimes even minute by minute, and patience, understanding, and compassion are critical to help prevent relapse. 

Step 12: Ripples in a Pond 

Understand that alcoholism has affected this person’s life in countless ways including personally, professionally, financially, physically, mentally, and emotionally. Their bank account might be empty, they might owe legal fees to the court for DUIs, unpaid tickets, or bail. They might have lost their job as a result of their drinking or damaged their relationship with you or other friends and family members. 

Step 13: Knowledge is Power 

Substance abuse hurts the person struggling with addiction, but it also impacts everyone close to them in numerous ways. Education is an essential tool for helping your loved one who is recovering from a drinking problem. At Lakeview Health, we offer virtual and in-person family workshops. These workshops are led by a therapist and are designed to teach family members about the disease of addiction and facilitate communication between patients and their loved ones.  

Step 14: Back at Home 

Another vital way that you can support your friend or family member in recovery is to take part in activities where you can have a fun time without the need for alcohol (learn why to avoid non-alcoholic beer). It might also be helpful to go through your loved one’s home and clean out any bottles of alcohol (or products that contain large amounts of alcohol) you find to eliminate falling back into old habits.  

Step 15: We’re All in This Together 

Recovery is a group effort and at times might require you to change your own habits. For those with alcohol issues, sometimes just seeing someone open a beer can be triggering, especially during early recovery. Another thing to keep in mind is that it is extremely rare for a person with a drinking problem to simply quit drinking and remain sober from then on. Most likely, there will be relapses and it’s best to prepare yourself emotionally for that reality. Patience and kindness can go a long way in helping a friend avoid relapsing into alcohol addiction. 

Lakeview Health Can Help

We are passionate about helping adult men and women who struggle with alcohol use disorder and co-occurring mental illnesses find hope and healing. At Lakeview, expert care is administered by board-certified physicians, psychiatrists, nurses, licensed therapists, certified personal trainers, and certified recovery coaches. We provide individuals with skills and healthy coping strategies to transition from a life in active addiction to a healthy, vibrant life in recovery. At Lakeview, you will also find: 

  • Luxury Facilities 
  • Gender-Specific Treatment 
  • Medical Detox 
  • Inpatient Rehabilitation 
  • Intensive Outpatient 
  • Individualized Programs 
  • Certified Rehab Experts 

It can be difficult to figure out how to help someone with alcohol use disorder, especially if it’s someone that you’re close to. We hope that this guide has been helpful and can act as something of a roadmap to recovery for your friend or family member. Confronting addiction (regardless of what form it takes) can be daunting, but your determination, compassion, and support can provide that person with the second wind they need to finally pursue sobriety.