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How Do I Help Someone with an Alcohol Addiction?

Watching a loved one struggle with alcohol can be painful. It’s not always easy to know when it’s crossed the line into addiction and how you can help—or whether you should help your loved one at all.

If you suspect your friend or family member is dealing with an alcohol use disorder (AUD), it can be challenging to discuss it with them. You must approach the topic delicately and prepare in advance for the conversation.

As complicated as it might seem, offering support for a loved one with an AUD can be a positive step for both of you. This guide will help you navigate the process to achieve a successful outcome.

When is Alcohol Use a Problem?

Alcohol is a standard part of regular life for many people. Enjoying alcoholic beverages doesn’t always point to an AUD. 

It’s not always clear when alcohol use is problematic or becomes a full-blown addiction. Knowing the signs and symptoms of AUD can help you determine whether your loved one has entered dangerous territory.

Signs of an Alcohol Use Disorder

The common signs of AUD include:

  • Difficulty limiting alcohol intake
  • Binge drinking
  • Neglecting responsibilities 
  • Lying or deflecting about alcohol use
  • Cravings and symptoms of withdrawal when going without alcohol
  • Continued alcohol use even when it’s causing problems
  • Using alcohol to cope with stressful situations or emotional issues

If you recognize these signs in your loved one, they may be dealing with an AUD. 

Learn About Alcohol Use and Abuse

If you want to help your loved one, your first step is to educate yourself about alcohol use and treatment. It’s essential to learn as much as possible before speaking with an alcoholic. 

The internet has many resources you can explore to learn more about alcohol use and addiction. Some of the most reliable sources of education include:

These resources can help you better recognize AUD and understand what your loved one is going through. It can also better prepare you to discuss the issue with them and know what treatments they can seek.

How to Talk to Someone With an Alcohol Problem

When you’re getting ready to approach your loved one, you must understand why you want to talk to them about their alcohol use. It must come from compassion and care for the other person, and you’ll need to convey that in your discussion.

Always practice what you’re going to say. Don’t initiate a conversation spontaneously. You’ll need to come prepared to respond to your loved one’s reaction and show honesty and empathy.

What to Do

Here are our top tips on what to focus on when you approach your loved one with an alcohol problem:

  • Choose your time wisely – Approach your loved one when they’re sober and calm. Never confront them about their alcohol use when they’re drinking. Ensure that you do so in a private place where you won’t be interrupted or overheard when you talk to them.
  • Show compassion and concern – It’s okay to be honest about why their alcohol use scares you. However, you should also be gentle with your loved one and stay as neutral as possible, keeping judgment out of the conversation.
  • Use “I” statements – Express your observations from your point of view. Start your sentences with phrases like “I’m concerned about” or “I’ve noticed that.”
  • Encourage them to open up – Let your loved one know it’s safe to share what they might be dealing with that’s causing the alcohol abuse. Talk about what’s going on in their life and what stressors they’re currently experiencing.
  • Offer your support – Make it clear that you’re willing to help your loved one seek treatment or support. If they know you’re there for them, they’ll be more likely to explore treatment options.

What Not to Do

Here’s what you shouldn’t do when you’re talking to a loved one about alcohol addiction:

  • Don’t cast judgment or blame – Guilt and shame won’t help your loved one open up to you or trust you. Try not to accuse them of harmful actions and instead express your own concern for their well-being.
  • Don’t make demands or ultimatums – Saying “You have to get help” or proposing a negative consequence (such as leaving them) if they don’t seek treatment is unproductive. Instead, offer options of how they can move forward to get help. Reassure them that you’ll be there every step of the way.
  • Don’t take responsibility – Don’t blame them, but don’t blame yourself, either. You can’t make your loved one change, but you can offer your support.
  • Don’t cover up for them – Never fall into the trap of covering up or making justifications for your loved one’s behavior. Enabling them won’t help them.
  • Don’t take it personally – If you approach a loved one and they don’t react well, it’s not your fault. It may take time for them to come to grips with what they’re dealing with, so be patient.

What If an Alcoholic Doesn’t Want Help?

An alcoholic may push back against the idea that they have a problem at first. It can take a couple of tries to get them to understand and accept that their alcohol use is hurting them and/or others.

However, some people may never get to the point of believing they have an issue—or they may simply not want help. If this is the case with your loved one, there are a few things you can do:

  • Recruit other people they trust to talk to them
  • Suggest a low-stakes first step, such as consulting a doctor or attending a support group meeting
  • Help them research AUD and treatment options
  • Stage an intervention if necessary

Always remember, you can’t do the work for your loved one. In the end, they have to be willing to accept that something needs to change and make it happen. You can assist them, but you can’t do it for them.

How to Support Your Loved One in Recovery

Accepting that they have a problem is only the first step for your loved one. Recovery from any substance use disorder (SUD) is a lifelong journey. Once they are ready to seek treatment, you might wonder how best to support them along the way. 

There are many ways you can show your support for their efforts. You can offer to accompany them to difficult treatment sessions, such as driving them to therapy or to the rehabilitation center. You can help out with errands or household chores so they have the time they need to pursue treatment.

You’ll also be able to support your loved one in social situations beyond treatment settings. They’ll likely encounter alcohol frequently when they’re out and about. You can help them avoid temptation and stay focused on their sobriety.

Getting Support for Yourself

Most important of all, don’t forget to take care of yourself throughout the process. You can’t help your loved one if you aren’t looking after yourself.

Put your needs first. Don’t sacrifice your well-being for your loved one’s. Be gentle with your thoughts and remember that their healing journey won’t be a smooth, upward trajectory—and that’s okay.

You don’t have to do this alone. If you need support, don’t hesitate to reach out to mental health professionals like those at Jackson House who can advise you on treatment options or support. What you’re doing to help your loved one is incredible, but remember you deserve equal amounts of compassion.

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