Updated on April 3, 2024
12 min read

How to Deal with an Alcoholic

Helping Someone with a Drinking Problem

People who struggle to control their alcohol consumption have alcoholism, or alcohol use disorder (AUD). They’re often preoccupied with drinking and let alcohol take over their lives.

Some binge drink even if it poses risks to their safety and health. Others continue to drink excessively despite the negative consequences. Unfortunately, AUD also affects the people around them.

Dealing with an alcoholic isn’t easy, even for friends or family members. Fortunately, there are ways for you to help them overcome their addiction.

Things You Should Know About Helping an Alcoholic

Every person deals with alcoholism in their own way. What matters is that you have a healthy approach that benefits you and your loved one.

Here are a few things to keep in mind if you seek help:

1. Understand that it’s Not Their Fault

Alcohol use disorder is a disease and should be treated as such. Various factors affect an addicted person’s brain, making it difficult to stop drinking. 

These factors include:

  • Genetics or a family history of alcohol use disorder
  • Environment
  • Societal pressures and stress
  • Early exposure to alcohol
  • Psychological factors, such as depression and anxiety
  • Alcohol dependence and withdrawal

Knowing that AUD is a treatable medical condition is the key to helping your loved one.

2. Don’t Blame Yourself

Alcoholics may blame their drinking on the people around them. This usually happens because they feel guilty and ashamed of their actions.

Denial prevents them from recognizing their problem and causes them to blame others. But it doesn't mean that you should take the blame. You’re not responsible for their actions.

3. Create Realistic Expectations

You may want to control their drinking or make ultimatums to help them. However, setting unrealistic expectations can put pressure on your loved one.

They might get stressed or overwhelmed, which can worsen their drinking problem. Alcoholism requires long-term recovery, so it’ll take time for them to get better. It’s better to set realistic and achievable goals to help them stop drinking. 

4. Don’t Fix Their Problems

Alcohol use disorder is a medical condition that requires professional treatment. You can’t solve their drinking problem on your own; however, there are ways you can help.

You can provide support and access to resources that can help them recover. Consider researching different treatment methods and treatment providers in your area. 

5. Educate Yourself on Alcohol Use Disorders

The more you learn about alcoholism, the better you can support an alcoholic loved one. Start by speaking to a counselor or a healthcare professional specializing in substance misuse.

Get tips on what you can do to help the person you care about. You can also search for online resources on alcohol use disorder.

6. Don’t Delay Treatment

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), people with substance abuse issues or substance use disorders (SUD) tend to be uncertain about addiction treatment. That said, it’s best to help your loved one get treatment as soon as they’re ready. The earlier they start treating the alcohol problem, the better the recovery outcome.2

7. Take Care of Yourself

Make sure you’re not neglecting your own health and well-being. Living with an alcoholic can be stressful, and the lack of self-care puts you at risk of caregiver burnout.3

Here are some ways you can love and take care of yourself:

  • Acknowledge your self-worth
  • Spend time on yourself and your hobbies
  • Keep yourself healthy
  • Take time to reflect on your experiences

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How to Talk to Someone About Their Drinking

Alcoholics may not realize how much alcohol affects their lives and those around them.4 Talking to someone who doesn’t know they have a problem can be stressful and frustrating.

Here are the dos and don'ts of talking to an alcoholic loved one:

1. Don’t Talk to Them When They’re Drunk

It’s important to wait for your loved one to get sober before you talk to them. Intoxication can change their behavior, making them more:

  • Irritable
  • Aggressive
  • Irrational

Talk to them privately so they don't feel embarrassed. You don't want to stir negative feelings, which might cause them to retreat further into alcohol addiction.

2. Be Honest About the Impact of Alcohol

Tell them how their drinking affects you and the people around them. Use statements that begin with "I," "our," and "we" instead of "you" so they don’t feel they’re being attacked or criticized. For example:

  • I was worried last night when you came home late and drunk.
  • Our children told me they’re scared of you when you drink.
  • I’m concerned with your drinking. It may be harming your health.

Focus on your partner's drinking and its effects rather than the person drinking.

3. Approach Them with Love and Compassion

Your loved one may be dealing with a lot of guilt and self-blame. So you should avoid shouting at them or judging their behavior. Be mindful of your tone of voice.

It can be difficult, considering the pain you went through. But acting this way will only make them defensive, angry, and unwilling to receive help.

5. Have Them Talk Openly About Their Struggles

Ask your loved one what has been causing them to drink. Let them know you are willing to understand what they are going through.

If they start to open up, listen and do not interrupt them. You do not have to agree with their behavior or try to fix their problems. Just acknowledge their situation and how it makes them feel.

6. Do Not Engage with Negative Behavior

If your loved one reacts to you in a threatening way (e.g., screaming), do not engage with them in the same manner. Calmly redirect the subject so you can de-escalate the situation.

7. Encourage Your Loved One to Get Help

Let them know you will support them if they seek addiction treatment. If you plan, you can provide resources on nearby rehab facilities and their treatment options.

Besides getting them help, you should assure them that you’ll continue to support them throughout the treatment process. Ongoing support from family members is linked to higher recovery rates among people struggling with addiction.5

8. Practice What You’re Going to Say

Before you approach your loved one, prepare positive and supportive statements. The goal is to convince them to get professional treatment for their alcohol addiction.

You should also prepare for any questions they might want to ask. Anticipating their replies and reactions will help you stay calm. 

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How to Cope with an Alcoholic Spouse

Alcoholism poses different challenges for people with alcoholic partners. If you are living with an alcoholic partner, here are some ways you can deal with the situation:

1. Go to Couples Rehab

Couples rehab provides treatment for alcoholism and reduces its negative effects on relationships and families. It also provides coping skills to prevent relapse and promote a healthy relationship. 

Couples rehab is offered in some treatment facilities. You and your partner must be equally committed to rehab if you want to stay together.

2. Join a Couples Support Group

You can also join a couples support group like Recovering Couples Anonymous. These groups help partners struggling with alcohol and drug addiction. 

They’re similar to other 12-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). It provides a community where you can share your experiences and learn from other recovering couples.

3. Set Personal Boundaries

Codependency can develop in relationships where one person is addicted. The codependent person may "enable" an alcoholic partner by:

  • Making excuses for their alcohol use
  • Hiding and/or lying about their drinking
  • Protecting their partner from the consequences of drinking
  • Taking over their spouse's responsibilities
  • Lending them money or buying them alcohol

Enabling your spouse will prevent them from realizing they have a problem. You can avoid this by setting personal boundaries and not covering up their behavior.6

What to Do If Your Friend Has an Alcohol Addiction

Talking to a friend about their alcohol problem can be challenging since your relationship is different from their family.

However, there are a few things you can do to help an alcoholic friend:

1. Invite Them to Sober Activities

Spend your free time doing activities that don’t involve drinking. Some things that you can do together are:

  • Outdoor activities like hiking, picnics, and camping
  • Exercise
  • Classes like art or cooking lessons
  • Watching movies or tv
  • Volunteer work

Hanging out will help them take their mind off of drinking. It also introduces them to activities they can do to manage stress and stay sober.

2. Empathize with Them

Tell them how you feel about their drinking in an honest and sincere way. Show your concern and empathize with their struggle. You can also ask them how they’re feeling to show concern.

3. Offer Help and Emotional Support

If your friend is using alcohol to get through a tough time, consider spending time with them. However, if they’re struggling with more severe substance use, they may need professional support. 

You can help them explore different treatment programs or local rehab centers. It’s also important to provide emotional support throughout their treatment.

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How to Deal with an Alcoholic Son or Daughter

Having a son or daughter struggle with alcoholism can be painful and difficult for any parent. Below are some tips for parents with an alcoholic child:

1. Don’t Enable Their Behavior

If you prevent your child from experiencing the consequences of their drinking, you’re only enabling them. This includes:

  • Giving them money to spend on alcohol
  • Covering for them when they make mistakes while intoxicated
  • Defending their behavior

While it’s important to show care and concern, you shouldn’t be responsible for all their behavior. Instead, you should detach yourself from the situation and allow them to understand the consequences of their actions.

2. Establish House Rules

When dealing with an alcoholic teenager or an adult child who lives in your home, you must establish age-appropriate house rules. Here are some examples of rules you can set up:

  • Teenagers are not allowed to drink or hang out with friends to drink
  • Require your child to ask permission and inform you of their plans if they want to go out
  • Set a curfew for your son or daughter (e.g., being home at midnight)
  • Alcoholic drinks should not be allowed at home

Create clear and reasonable expectations of your child's behavior. Create appropriate consequences if they break the rules. Remember to enforce these rules consistently and equally among your children.

3. Maintain an Alcohol-Free Environment

Try not to keep alcoholic beverages at home. Limiting your child's access to alcohol can reduce their risk of drinking.5 If you want to store alcohol, monitor them to ensure that your son or daughter is not drinking them in secret.

4. Talk to Your Child About Alcohol

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) recommends parents discuss alcohol use with their children. Research shows that parents continue to influence their behavior even after their teenage years.7

Talk about the risks associated with excessive alcohol use and drinking at an early age. Explain the benefits of abstinence, drinking within recommended limits, and waiting until adulthood to drink.

5. Join Support Groups for Parents of Alcoholic Children

Al-Anon Family Groups (Al-Anon) was created to support families with alcoholic family members. Here, you can better take care of yourself and learn to set boundaries. Al-Anon can also help you support your child's recovery in a constructive and healthy way.

6. Create a Healthy Parent-Child Relationship

Children with good relationships with their parents are more likely to delay drinking. They also tend to have better self-esteem and are less likely to give in to peer pressure.

If they do start to drink, your relationship with them can help protect them from developing alcohol-related problems.8 It also encourages them to maintain your relationship and trust.

These tips can help you have a healthy relationship with your child:

  • Make it easy for your child to talk with you honestly
  • Regularly spend time with your child
  • Appreciate their efforts and accomplishments
  • Avoid criticizing their failures or teasing them
  • Respect your child's growing need for independence and privacy

When to Walk Away from an Alcoholic Loved One

Caring for someone with AUD can be overwhelming, and you might not be fully equipped to handle it. This doesn’t mean you are selfishly leaving them behind or that you do not love them.

Here are some situations where you need to detach from your loved one:

  • If the alcoholic is physically, emotionally, or sexually abusing you or someone else in the family
  • Your spouse refuses to undergo treatment or stay together after rehab
  • If your safety is constantly threatened by an alcoholic loved one
  • Your loved one's drinking causes severe financial problems

In cases of abuse, walking away may be your only option. Your safety is more valuable than your loved one’s recovery. Whichever you decide, you can still seek support and therapy after you walk away.

Addiction Treatment Options for Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol use disorder can negatively affect your life. It requires medical assistance and support. 

However, people respond to treatment differently. Talk to a doctor to find a treatment program that caters to your own needs.

These are the treatments available for alcoholics:

  • Alcohol detox: Prevents relapse during the early stages of recovery by reducing the effects of withdrawal symptoms
  • Medication-assisted treatment: Prevents relapse in the first few months or years of recovery by reducing cravings
  • Couples rehab: Addiction treatment for couples where one or both have substance abuse
  • Inpatient rehab: Involves checking yourself into a rehab facility for 24-hour medical supervision 
  • Outpatient rehab: A treatment program that lets you keep up with your daily responsibilities; great for people who require less intensive treatment
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): A psychological treatment that explores the link between thought patterns and mental illness
  • Sober living home: A safe and structured home environment that prepares you for life after rehab.

Resources for Dealing With Alcohol Use Disorder

Overcoming addiction is an ongoing process and requires continued support and guidance. Here are resources for people caring for an alcoholic loved one:

  • Al-Anon: Offers peer support for people struggling with an alcoholic family member.
  • Alateen: Support group for teenagers dealing with an alcoholic loved one.
  • Individual therapy: Can help you overcome codependency and enabling.
  • Family therapy: Family therapy sessions can help you resolve issues and understand their role in helping the person with alcohol use disorder.
  • Alcohol education: Learn more about alcohol addiction and how it affects your loved one.

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Updated on April 3, 2024

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