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Updated on September 27, 2022

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). Alcoholics are 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 does not just affect the person drinking. It also affects people around them.

Whether it is your friend, family, or spouse struggling with alcoholism — dealing with an alcoholic is not easy. But there are many ways you can help them overcome their alcohol problem.

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How to Help an Alcoholic — Most Important Things to Do & Avoid

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 is not the fault of your loved one

Most people think that alcoholics cannot control their drinking because they lack willpower. But in reality, alcoholism is not a moral failing but a complex disorder caused by numerous factors.1

Alcohol use disorders are caused by genetics, environment, society, and long-term exposure to alcohol. These factors lead to changes in the brain, making it difficult to stop drinking.

Knowing that AUD is a treatable medical condition is key to helping them.

2. Never blame yourself for their drinking problems

Alcoholics may blame their alcohol use 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 are not responsible for their actions.

3. Create realistic expectations

In an attempt to help, you may try to control their drinking and make demands. Examples include asking them to quit drinking if they love you, or telling them they cannot see their children unless they stop.

Unfortunately, having unrealistic expectations sends the wrong signal to your loved one. They may think you do not care about them or that you do not understand what they are going through.

Remember that they are struggling with a chronic disease. Alcoholism requires long-term recovery, so it will take time for them to get better. The least you can do is be patient and help them set recovery goals that are realistic and achievable.

4. Avoid fixing their problems

Alcoholism is a medical condition that requires professional treatment. You can provide them support and access to resources that can help them recover.

Learn to accept that you will not be able to treat them or whatever triggered their alcoholism. Instead of trying to solve their problems on your own, look for a treatment provider in your area.

Explore the treatment options they offer and lay them out to your loved one.

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 who specialize 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 (AUD).

6. Do not delay treatment

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), people with substance abuse issues tend to be uncertain with addiction treatment.

With that said, it is best to help your loved one get treatment as soon as they are ready for it. The earlier they start treating the alcohol problem, the better the recovery outcome.2

7. Take care of yourself

You must have the same amount of care for yourself as your alcoholic loved one. The lack or absence 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: You do not deserve the harmful effects of your loved one's behavior.
  • Spend time on yourself: Do not dedicate your whole life to their recovery. Find other things you can do that give meaning to your life — such as learning skills and hobbies.
  • Keep yourself healthy: Eat nutritious food, get adequate rest, and exercise regularly.
  • Take time to reflect: Caring for an alcoholic can be physically, mentally, and emotionally draining. Reflect on your experiences so you can pick up lessons that will help you move forward.

How to Talk to Someone About Their Drinking

Alcoholics are often in denial. They may not realize how much alcohol affects their lives and those around them.4 Talking to someone who does not recognize they have a problem can be stressful and frustrating.

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

1. Wait for the right time to talk

Do not talk to them when they are drunk. Intoxication can make a person irritable, aggressive, and irrational. It is best to wait until they are sober.

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 people around them. Use statements that begin with "I," "our," and "we" instead of "you" so they do not feel they are being attacked or criticized. For example:

  • "I was worried last night when you came home late and drunk"
  • "Our children told me they are scared of you when you drink"
  • "I am 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 are willing to support them if they decide to seek addiction treatment. If you plan ahead, you can provide resources on nearby rehab facilities and their treatment options.

Besides getting them help, you should assure them that you will continue supporting them throughout the treatment process.

8. Practice what you are going to say

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

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

Ongoing support from family members is linked to higher recovery rates among people struggling with addiction.5

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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. Get couples rehab

Couples can undergo rehab when one or both partners have an alcohol use disorder. It is essentially addiction treatment for couples who want to recover and work through their issues.

Apart from treating alcoholism, couples rehab reduces its negative effects on relationships and families. It equips you with the coping skills you need to prevent relapse and have a healthy and happy relationship.

Couples rehab is offered in some treatment facilities. Before joining the program, a couple must be equally committed to their recovery and want to stay together after rehab.

2. Join a couples support group

Recovering Couples Anonymous (RCA) is a support group for partners struggling with alcohol and drug addiction. Its goal is to help couples save their relationship from the consequences of substance abuse.

RCA is based on the 12-step recovery model of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). It encourages people to seek help from a higher power. The group also holds weekly meetings to share 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 if you set personal boundaries and do not cover up for their behavior.6

When Your Friend Has a Drinking Problem

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 do not involve alcohol. Make sure that you schedule your plans ahead of time. Let your friend know that drinking is not allowed.

Some things that you can do together are:

  • Outdoor activities: Hiking, picnics, and camping
  • Exercise: Going to the gym or yoga
  • Classes: Art or cooking lessons
  • Get-togethers: Netflix binging and sports night
  • Volunteer work: Serving at a soup kitchen

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. Let them know you care

If you observed changes in their drinking and behavior, tell them how you feel about it. You can also ask them how they are feeling to show concern. Here are some examples of what you can say to them:

  • "You have been drinking more lately. It is starting to make me feel worried."
  • "I noticed that you always show up at work drunk. Are you okay?"

3. Offer help and emotional support

Sometimes all a person needs is someone to talk to. If your friend is going through a rough time, consider spending time with them. But if your friend is struggling with more severe substance use, they may need professional care.

Help them explore alcohol treatment programs in your area. Provide emotional support not just at the beginning but 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. Detach with love

Preventing your child from experiencing the consequences of their drinking only enables them to repeat their behavior. As a parent, you have to detach yourself from the situation.

Show them you care but allow them to suffer the effects of their alcohol consumption. You do not have to feel responsible for all of their actions.

For example, if they come home drunk and pass out in the kitchen, you can cover them with a blanket to keep them warm. However, you should not help them go to their room or move them to a more comfortable spot.

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.

The best way to influence your child to avoid drinking is to have a strong, trusting relationship with him or her.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

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

Teenagers who have a good relationship with their parents are more likely to delay drinking. If they start to drink, this relationship can help protect them from developing alcohol-related problems.8

Children who have good ties with their parents are more likely to feel good about themselves. Hence, they are less likely to give in to peer pressure. It also encourages them to live up to their parents' expectations since they will want to maintain this relationship.

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

Addiction Treatment Options for Alcoholics and Loved Ones

Alcoholics and the people who care for them need the care and support of peers and medical professionals.

Treatments for Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)

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: Treatment facility that requires you to stay for 28 to 30 days or until you complete rehab in 90 days. This is the treatment of choice for more severe substance use problems.
  • Outpatient rehab: A treatment program that lets you keep up with your daily responsibilities. It is great for people who require less intensive treatment.
  • Behavioral treatments: Individual and group therapies that are guided by licensed therapists. These sessions can help you uncover the cause of your alcoholism. It also equips you with skills so you can reduce or control your drinking and avoid relapse in the future.
  • Relapse prevention: These programs teach you different ways to prevent relapse and stay sober.
  • Sober living home: A safe and structured home environment that prepares you for a life after rehab.

Resources for Loved Ones Dealing With Alcoholics

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.
  • Recovering Couples Anonymous: Helps couples battling alcohol use disorder.
  • Individual therapy: Can help you overcome codependency and enabling.
  • Family therapy: Helps the whole family resolve issues and understand their role in helping the person with AUD.
  • Alcohol education: Learn more about alcoholism and how it affects your loved one.

When to Walk Away from an Alcoholic Loved One

If you care for someone with AUD, you might reach a point where the only option is to walk away. This does not mean you are selfishly leaving them behind or that you do not love them.

To walk away is to detach yourself from the situation. It comes with the knowledge that you may not be able to fully help your loved one despite your efforts.

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

If there is abuse, your safety is more valuable than your loved one's recovery. In these cases, walking away may be your only option.

Whichever you decide, you can still seek support and therapy after you walk away.

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