How To Help Someone With Alcohol Addiction

If you suspect that someone is struggling with alcohol addiction, you may be tempted to mind your own business. But that’s not going to help them. If you have a close relationship with them, addressing the problem in a loving and supportive way may help them break free from addiction.

Before you do anything, you should prepare yourself so you have the best chance of getting through to them. Here are a few ways to help someone with alcohol addiction.

Recognize The Signs Of Alcohol Addiction

First, you need to be reasonably sure there’s a problem. Many people drink alcohol without becoming addicted to it, even if they occasionally have a few more drinks than they should. 

Alcohol use becomes a problem when you don’t have control over it. If the person you’re worried about regularly has more than one or two drinks at a time, drinks every day, or engages in binge drinking, they could be addicted.

Other signs of alcohol addiction include:

  • drinking alcohol at inappropriate times, such as at work or first thing in the morning
  • needing alcohol to get through the day
  • lying about whether they’ve been drinking
  • hiding alcohol bottles around the house
  • regularly drinking more than intended
  • promising to cut back but not being able to
  • turning to alcohol at the first sign of stress

Money problems, strained relationships, and alcohol-related health issues are also signs of an alcohol use disorder. But these signs can be harder to see and harder to tell if they’re related to alcohol abuse or something else.

Educate Yourself On Substance Abuse & Addiction

Trying to help someone with alcohol addiction without preparing can lead to blaming, shaming, and other destructive approaches. Educate yourself on how alcohol affects the brain and why some people abuse it. 

Alcohol abuse is a form of alcohol use disorder (AUD). People often drink alcohol because it makes them feel good, relieves stress, and helps them relax. A person with AUD doesn’t stop heavy drinking when they should.

Alcohol addiction is a severe form of AUD that develops with consistent alcohol abuse. Addiction is a mental disease in which you lose control over alcohol consumption. Even if you want to cut back or stop drinking, it’s challenging to do so without help.

If you have an idea of what the other person is going through, you’re more likely to approach them with empathy and support.

Talk To Them About Their Alcohol Abuse

Ignoring addiction doesn’t help anyone. Talk to your loved one calmly about your concerns and listen more than you talk. 

Rather than attacking them as a person, talk about what alcohol does to their behavior. Gently point out times when their drinking has put them or others at risk. Be careful to use “I” instead of “you”—saying things like “I am afraid when…” rather than “you scare me when…”

Avoid Common Mistakes

When you’re talking to someone about alcohol abuse, avoid these common mistakes:

  • blaming
  • shaming
  • preaching
  • lecturing
  • reacting in anger
  • behaving with hostility

You want them to see how their behavior is unacceptable, dangerous, and harming others. But blaming, shaming, and telling them how they should be acting causes resentment. It makes the person feel worse about themselves and they deal with that by drinking more.

Talk To Them When They’re Sober

Don’t talk to the person while they’re drinking or drunk. It will likely be ineffective and even harmful to your goal to help.

When someone is under the influence of alcohol, they can’t think clearly. They’re not in the best frame of mind to make wise decisions. Even if they agree to get help, they may change their mind when they sober up. They might not even remember talking about it.

If alcohol makes them feel good, trying to convince them to stop drinking while they’re feeling the positive effects is a losing battle.

Encourage Them To Ask For Help

Your loved one may realize they need help with their alcohol dependence or they may think they can stop drinking whenever they want. 

Let them know it’s safe to admit they have an alcohol problem and to ask for help. The first step toward recovery is admitting that they’ve lost control.

Sharing success stories of people who’ve recovered from alcohol addiction can give hope to what seems like a desperate situation. 

Research Alcohol Addiction Treatment Programs

Before trying to convince a loved one to get help for addiction, research treatment facilities and evidence-based treatment options. Addiction treatment can be overwhelming and scary. Knowing what to expect helps alleviate fear. 

Both inpatient rehab and outpatient programs are available for alcohol. Most of them use behavioral therapy as part of a personalized treatment plan, and treatment providers may suggest the patient begins with an alcohol detox program to address alcohol withdrawal symptoms

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) may be an option as well. MAT programs use medication like naltrexone or acamprosate to reduce cravings so a person can focus on recovery.

Someone who’s addicted may not believe that substance abuse treatment will make a difference. You can show them that it has saved many people.

Consider Co-Occurring Disorders

If the addicted person suffers from other mental health issues (depression, anxiety, etc.), these are often the cause of substance use disorder. Alcohol abuse can make symptoms of co-occurring disorders worse. 

When you’re learning about addiction and treatment, consider how complicated it is for someone with a drinking problem and poor mental health. They may need dual diagnosis treatment that addresses both issues at once.

Stage An Intervention

If you’re having trouble getting through to your loved ones or need support in approaching them, you may want to stage an intervention

An intervention is a gathering of friends and family with the goal of convincing someone to enter addiction treatment. Everyone should be on the same page about this. 

To hold a successful intervention, don’t invite anyone the addicted person doesn’t like or respect. And be prepared for opposition—they may say they can stop drinking anytime they want. It’s your responsibility to convince them that they’ve lost control.

Intervention specialists are available to guide you if you’re unsure where to start or how to organize an intervention.

Support Their Recovery Journey

Your loved one needs your support before, during, and after treatment. Addiction recovery doesn’t happen overnight. The addicted person needs you to recognize their progress toward a healthier life.

One way you can help their recovery journey is to stop enabling them. You may think you’re being supportive, but it’s easy to cross the line. Anything that makes it easier for them to keep drinking is enabling, even if it’s giving them money or a place to live.

Take Care Of Yourself

You cannot help anyone if you don’t take care of yourself. You need to be strong and healthy to take care of someone else. Eating healthy foods, sleeping well, setting boundaries, and resting from the stress of caregiving is essential. 

Many people with addicted loved ones become co-dependent. Signs of codependency are:

  • intense fear of abandonment
  • putting the other person first no matter what
  • taking responsibility for wrong the other does
  • not setting personal boundaries
  • avoiding talking about problems
  • having trouble expressing emotions

Codependency can damage your relationship with your addicted loved one by putting too much pressure on them as the center of your world. 

The fear of abandonment can lead to the reality of it and can destroy the other person’s respect for you. If they don’t respect you, how can you help them?

Helping someone with alcohol addiction is a heavy burden that you don’t have to carry alone. 

Support groups like Al-Anon bring together family members of addicted individuals and allow you to share your struggles with others who understand. Some alcohol rehab programs offer family therapy that encourages a positive relationship between family members.

To learn more about how to help someone with addiction or to explore alcohol treatment options, speak with a mental health specialist at Northeast Addictions Treatment Center today. 


Mayo Clinic — Intervention: Help a loved one overcome addiction

Mental Health America — Co-Dependency

Written by
Northeast Addition Editorial Team

©2023 Northeast Addition Center | All Rights Reserved

This page does not provide medical advice.