How To Help An Alcoholic: A Guide to Recovery Aid


Having a friend or family member who’s struggling with alcohol addiction can be a difficult situation.

You might want to help them, but you’re uncertain how or whether they even want your help. You need to be careful of what you say and do, especially when confronting them, so as not to alienate or force them further down the spiral.

Let’s take a look at the best ways you can get through to an alcoholic and make sure they get the support they need.

Steps To Helping An Alcoholic

Step One – Learn About Alcohol Use Disorders

The first thing you need to do is research alcohol use disorder. Find out things like:

  • What leads to alcohol misuse?
  • What’s considered excessive drinking, and what’s moderate?
  • How do other people cope with addiction, and how do they stay sober?

When you have a solid understanding of alcohol use disorder, you can start recognizing the associated triggers, types, underlying causes, and coping mechanisms.  

The SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) and the NIAAA are excellent sources of information.

Step Two – Practice Your Words

Before you talk to your loved one about their alcohol use, prepare everything you’re going to say and run through it a few times in your head to make sure it’s positive and supportive. Avoid words that can be hurtful or presumptuous.

You want to approach your loved one’s drinking problem as a concern rather than an accusation.

Using “I” and “we” statements can help them feel supported rather than “you” statements, which primes them to become defensive.

For example, instead of saying, “You’re an alcoholic, and you need to stop drinking now,” try saying, “I care about you, and I’m worried about your drinking habits.”

The idea is to make them feel included in the conversation so they’re open to suggestions.

Make sure you’re ready for any response. Remember to stay calm and collected no matter how they react, whether they lash out or agree with you completely.

Step Three – Choose The Right Time and Place

Alcoholism can be a sensitive subject. Make sure you have quiet and privacy before you confront your loved one. You might not get many chances to speak with them, so ensure you don’t get interruptions or distractions.

Turn off your phone and encourage them to do the same. Make sure they’re sober and willing to listen.

It’s incredibly important to consider your loved one’s mental and emotional state before having the talk. If they’re preoccupied with something, upset, or drunk, postponing your conversation is better.

Step Four – Be Honest and Listen Closely

If your family member or loved one does have an alcohol problem, don’t try to sugarcoat it. Be honest and direct with them, stating that you’ve noticed the issue and are there to help.

They might react negatively, especially if they’re in denial, but brush it off and listen to everything they say. You can usually deduce what’s fueling their addiction by listening carefully to their outbursts.

For example, if they deny the problem and say that they only drink on rough work days, it could be an indication that they use alcohol for stress relief and escapism.

You can use this information later on to help them stay sober by removing stressful triggers from their environments. You can involve co-workers in their recovery journey and relieve them of excessive responsibilities.

Step Five – Offer Support

It’s difficult to help someone who doesn’t want your help. You can’t force them to undergo treatment or join a support group, and even if you do, they’ll usually relapse afterward because they lack inner motivation to stay on track. The best you can do is offer your sincere, nonjudgemental support and hope they accept.

Invite other family members or friends to join the conversation if you feel it will make them more comfortable or likely to listen. It doesn’t have to be a full-on intervention, though.

Once the person accepts your help, make sure to get some kind of concrete commitment from them. Promising to cut back or stop drinking isn’t enough.

Ideally, they should join an alcohol addiction rehab program to make sure they go through with it.  

Step Six – Intervention

An intervention is different from simply talking about an alcohol or drug abuse problem. It’s much more hands-on with planning, showing treatment options, and getting a person to commit to a program and start their recovery process.

Interventions are usually a last resort if the first five steps fail. It’s for people who are too resistant to the idea of getting better. You’ll likely need the help of friends and family members to confront the person and guide them to a treatment center.

You can also have a professional addiction counselor or a therapist present to facilitate the process.    

Don’ts – Things To Avoid When Dealing With An Alcoholic

  • Avoid drinking alcohol when you’re with someone suffering from alcohol use disorder, even if it’s a social gathering.
  • Don’t enable them by taking on their responsibilities for them.
  • Don’t provide them with any kind of financial support unless it’s going to cover addiction treatment.
  • Avoid giving them orders or telling them what’s best for them.
  • Don’t take it personally if they get angry or react negatively to your support.

How To Recognize Alcoholic Tendencies in Someone You Care About

If you’re unsure whether a person you know is battling alcoholism, it’s better to look for concrete signs before confronting them.

It’s difficult to know for sure if someone has a substance abuse or drinking problem. Many people drink heavily without getting to the point of alcohol abuse, so making the assumption someone has a problem based on volume alone is flawed thinking.

That said, there are signs that can help you determine whether a family member or friend is addicted to alcohol or if they just need to cut back a bit.

  • Loss of interest in activities they used to enjoy
  • Failure to stop or reduce their alcohol intake, no matter how many times they try
  • Consuming alcohol in risky situations, such as driving or swimming
  • Constantly craving alcohol
  • Alcohol tolerance, which means they need to increase the number of drinks they have just to get the same euphoric effect or to get drunk
  • Alcohol withdrawal symptoms appear when they try to quit cold turkey
  • Getting angry or irritated when they haven’t had a drink
  • Signs of depression, anxiety, or other mental health problems when they’re not drinking

Types of Alcoholics

There are five types of alcoholics. Knowing which type your loved one falls under can help you tailor your treatment and support, improving the chances of getting through to them.

Young Adult Alcoholics

Individuals who develop alcohol use disorder in their late teens or early twenties are labeled young adult alcoholics. Their drinking problem can stem from peer pressure, where they’re obligated to drink with their friends or as a way of dealing with stress, anxiety, or depression.

The NIAAA (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism) estimates that about 31.5% of Americans suffering from alcohol addiction fall into this category.  

When approaching a young adult alcoholic, try to encourage healthy coping mechanisms that keep them busy and away from alcohol, such as exercise, hobbies, and socializing that doesn’t involve drinking.

Explain the physical and mental risks of underage drinking and encourage them to be open about their struggles.

Functional Alcoholics

About 19.5% of alcoholics in the US are functioning alcoholics. They’re usually in their mid-thirties to early forties, well-educated, and have decent careers and successful relationships.

Functioning alcoholics are unlikely to hit rock bottom or seek help because they’re good at masking their alcohol addiction.

Many come from a family with a history of alcoholism and struggle with mental health conditions such as bipolar disorder, major depression, or anxiety.

When approaching a functioning alcoholic, be prepared for denial. They usually won’t admit they have a problem and rarely show any signs of emotional distress, so you may need professional help to get through to them.  

Young Antisocial Alcoholics

This type of alcoholic is usually in their mid-twenties, started drinking at a young age (around 15 to 18), and shows signs of antisocial personality disorder. They’re likely to be addicted to other substances such as cigarettes, marijuana, cocaine, or opioids.

Young antisocial alcoholics usually have a lower level of education, poor employment status, and little income.

Taking care of this type of alcoholic can be difficult because of their impulsiveness and tendency to put themselves in dangerous situations that threaten their well-being and that of the people around them.

However, they’re about 35% more likely to seek help and want to make major life changes, which improves their chances of long-term recovery.

Intermediate Familial Alcoholic

This type of alcoholic usually starts drinking at around 17 and becomes alcohol-dependent by 32. They’re quite similar to functioning alcoholics who have a good education and a decent income, and these two types usually overlap.

Intermediate familial alcoholics almost always have an immediate family member with a history of alcoholism.

You can expect high resistance when confronting a loved one of this subtype.

However, if they do agree to seek help, they’ll likely opt for private treatments such as detox programs and self-help groups rather than family therapy sessions or support groups.

It’s better to recommend these options first for the best chances of getting through to them.

Chronic Severe Alcoholics

Chronic severe alcoholics are those who’ve been drinking heavily for many years, usually becoming addicted by 29.

They have the highest divorce or separation rates compared to the other subtypes. They’re also likely to visit the emergency room due to drinking-related incidents such as alcoholic hallucinosis.

About 66% of these alcoholics eventually seek help, so there’s a high possibility your loved one will be open to your support and guidance.

Once you find the right treatment plan for them, make sure to follow up regularly because chronic alcoholics have a high probability of relapse.

Help Your Loved One Beat Alcohol Addiction…

Having the addiction talk isn’t easy, but it’s the first step to getting your loved one the help they need. Curednation’s telemedicine services can guide you along the way and provide expert insights on how to do so.

Book an appointment today and show your loved one they’re not alone.  


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