Knowing how to help an alcoholic is a growing concern for Americans with over 15.1 million adults over the age of 18 having suffered from alcohol abuse disorder. This statistic was published in a study by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism in 2015, but every year, the alcoholism rate in America continues to rise. Living with a functioning alcoholic can be stressful – not just for the alcoholic in denial but also for the family and friends of alcoholics.
Before approaching your loved one with hasty accusations, learn all the symptoms and signs of an alcoholic, Some of the signs of when you know it’s time to help an alcoholic is:
After taking these things into consideration, there will inevitably come a time when family support needs to come in to play and they will have to reach out for help, or risk losing their loved one to illness and accidents. We’ve composed this list to provide a helpful guide that will sketch out a path for recovery, not just for the addict, themselves, but also for their friends and family.
The reality is, you are dealing with alcoholism. Confronting the truth of this is one of the first steps of how to help an alcoholic. This is a key factor, not just for the alcoholic themselves, but for friends and family who wish to help the alcoholic regain control of their lives.
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 can include their doctors, priest, co-workers, etc. If those people are willing and able to provide legitimate support during this difficult time, then they could prove an invaluable ally in this instance. Once everyone who’s closest to this person is aware of the circumstances, and everyone is in agreement that this person needs help, then you can proceed forward from there.
Once you’re certain you have pinpointed the most helpful people in this situation, make an agreement to talk to your loved one together, as a group. It’s usually best to invite the friends, family members, and other supportive people who can be calm under intense, emotional conversations. A functioning alcoholic can quickly turn into an angry alcoholic when they’re confronted with the reality of the situation, so cooler heads must prevail if you want to successfully convince your friend or loved one to seek help.
It’s always best to avoid trying to engage with a person when they’ve been drinking or if they’re stressed out. 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 abuse issues, this time is typically sometime during the morning, but it can vary from person to person.
As mentioned in number 3, 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 with as much calm and compassion as you can muster. 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 living as a person in their lives 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.
If your friend or loved one has been drinking for many years, chances are good they will not be able to safely wean themselves off of alcohol alone. Even the most supportive group of friends and family can’t take the place of proper medical intervention in a situation like this one. For friends or family who has only just recently started experiencing issues with drinking, there is the possibility that they could stop drinking on their own – in which case, your support during this time will be invaluable to the recovering alcoholic. We do not advise this as there are major dangers of detox without medical supervision. In nearly every case of alcohol addiction, it’s best to seek a medical detox.
For friends and family members who go the extra mile and 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 scary, for many people – especially if their treatment requires they stay in a treatment facility. Removing someone from their comfort zone physically can be jarring and stressful on its own, so no matter how heartfelt your pleas are, they might reject your suggestion. If that’s the case, then you might have to make the decision to take a step back and allow your loved one to make their own mistakes without intervention from you. This might be considered “tough love,” but many addicts and those with drinking problems usually have to hit the proverbial “rock bottom” before they can ever confront the fact that they have a serious issue with drinking.
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. If you check with organizations in your area, chances are good you’ll be able to find a support group for families of alcoholics. There, you can share your feelings with others who are in a similar situation and, hopefully, make peace with your decision to help your loved one. This type of group can be especially helpful for the wife of an alcoholic as well as children, grandchildren, and other members of the family who are close to them.
If your friend or loved one seems determined to refuse to seek help for their substance abuse issue despite all your efforts, then it might be time to call for reinforcements. If your loved one has a very close friend, relative, manager, or other authority figure they respect, you might try to involve them in this process. If you think it might have a greater impact, invite them to the initial conversation with your loved one and their friends and family. This will add significant weight to the proceedings and let your loved one know that you’re both serious and sincere in asking them to seek help. If all else fails, though, you can always seek the help of a trained intervention specialist. An intervention specialist is a social worker who’s received specialized training to assess your loved one’s condition and suggest the best type of treatment for their problem.
Convincing your loved one to seek help for their drinking problem is a tremendous achievement, however that is just the first baby steps of the process. The next steps are up to your loved one to take, but if they’ve agreed to seek help, that’s the biggest and most important step of all. These next steps usually include detox, one-on-one or even group counseling for alcoholics, and – in more extreme cases – moving into transitional or ‘sober living’ arrangements. These ‘sober homes’ are essentially half-way houses that provide a recovering alcoholic with the support and structure that they need to stay away from alcohol for good. 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.
One of the essential things on how to help an alcoholic friend or family member is to internalize the truth that this person you love is – and always will be – a recovering alcoholic. 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.
Understand that alcoholism has dramatically 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 any of their other friends or family members.
Substance abuse hurts the person struggling with addiction but also everyone close to them in countless ways. Education is an essential tool for helping your friend who’s recovering from a drinking problem. Many treatment facilities offer classes and counseling sessions about how addiction works, and how to cope with the stresses of daily life.
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 during recovery). 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 and dispose of them, so that they can’t just reach for a bottle at the end of a difficult day. Searching the home from top to bottom is often a good plan, as alcoholics will often stash away bottles big and small all throughout their living space.
For those living with anyone with a drinking problem, recovery is a group effort and at times might require you to change your own habits in order to support your friend more effectively. For those with alcohol issues, sometimes just seeing someone crack open a beer can be enough to make them want to reach for one, themselves. That makes it all the more important that you take note of any of your own unhealthy behaviors – especially with regard to alcohol – and address those in your own time. 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. But the most important thing to remember is that while every day is a struggle for just about everyone, for those with drinking problems, the struggle is a long, slow climb out of the hole they’ve dug for themselves. Patience and kindness can go a long way in helping a friend avoid relapsing into alcohol addiction.
It can be quite difficult to figure out how to help an alcoholic, especially if it’s someone that you’re especially close to that happens to be in denial. 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.
We provide a full continuum of care with our substance use disorder treatment options for those who are seeking to free themselves from alcohol addiction. Pick up the phone today and speak with one of our experienced staff members about treatment for you or someone you love today. We can help your friend or family member to achieve sobriety and get their life back. Alcoholism is a devastating illness, but at Lakeview Health, we pride ourselves on our dedication to our patients and their loved ones. Recovery isn’t just for the addict, but for everyone.
Building a Support System During Recovery Recovery from drug or alcohol addiction requires hard work and persistence. Addiction is...
By: Mark S. Gold, MD & Dr. Drew W. Edwards, EdD, MS 1. What Drives the Onset, Progression, and...
Substance misuse and its harms are a pervasive problem in the United States. Not only are individuals and families...
We enjoy staying connected with others who share our belief that recovery is possible. Sign up to stay up-to-date on news, recovery articles, alumni events, and professional trainings.