How To Help Someone With a Drinking Problem

Last Updated: December 29, 2023

Editorial Policy | Research Policy

Having a friend or a family member who lives with an alcohol addiction is challenging. You may watch as their physical and mental health deteriorates and wish that you could step in to help. Sometimes, despite your best efforts, a person with an alcohol addiction may be unwilling or unable to stop drinking.

When Does Drinking Alcohol Become a Problem?

Drinking excessive amounts is indicative of an alcohol problem, especially if someone is unable to cut back on their drinking. However, having an occasional drink with friends or enjoying a glass of wine after dinner is rarely a problem.

Drinking is a part of the weekend social scene for many people. In fact, 69.5% of American adults reported they had consumed alcohol at some point within the last year, and 54.9% reported drinking alcohol within a given month.

If you drink within moderation, defined as up to one drink daily for women and two drinks for men, your levels of alcohol consumption are considered safe, according to government guidelines. However, excessively drinking puts a person at risk of alcohol addiction and other consequences from alcohol misuse, such as high blood pressure and cancer. Excessive drinking means consuming eight or more drinks weekly for women and 15 or more for men. 

Signs of a Drinking Problem

When someone has a drinking problem, it may progress to an alcohol use disorder, the clinical term for alcohol addiction. Some early warning signs of alcohol use disorder include being unable to control alcohol use, and continuing to drink, despite interpersonal problems resulting from alcohol. For example, someone who continues to drink heavily despite conflict with their spouse may have a drinking problem.

Other indicators of a drinking problem, which are also signs of an alcohol use disorder, include:

  • Drinking more alcohol than intended
  • Experiencing strong alcohol cravings
  • Consuming alcohol in dangerous situations, such as driving while under the influence
  • Continuing to drink, even when it interferes with working or caring for one’s family
  • Drinking alcohol, even when it makes a health problem worse
  • Giving up hobbies and other activities in favor of drinking
  • Developing a high tolerance for alcohol so that large amounts are needed to achieve the desired effects
  • Showing signs of withdrawal, such as shakiness, sweating and nausea, when not drinking

Ways You Can Help Someone With a Drinking Problem

If someone in your life shows signs of alcohol misuse, you can help. Knowing how to approach someone with a drinking problem is important when looking to intervene. Tips for helping someone with a drinking problem include:

  • Avoid enabling behaviors: Buying drinks for someone with alcohol addiction or offering them money for alcohol only allows them to continue drinking. They may beg and plead or become angry if you say no, but it’s important not to enable them.
  • Don’t drink around them: Being around others who are drinking can be very triggering for someone who struggles with alcohol misuse. When you’re in the presence of someone with a drinking problem, you can show respect by not drinking. You may be able to have just one drink, but being exposed to others consuming alcohol can lead to binge drinking for someone who cannot control their alcohol consumption.
  • Avoid passing judgment: Making critical comments or shaming someone with a drinking problem is never helpful. Judgmental comments will destroy any trust this person has in you, and they won’t feel safe coming to you for help.
  • Talk to them about treatment: You can support someone with alcohol addiction by encouraging them to get help. Remind them that an alcohol use disorder is a legitimate medical condition, and treatment can help. You can offer information about local treatment programs or even drive them to an appointment with an addiction treatment professional.

How To Confront Someone About Their Drinking

Knowing how to confront someone with a drinking problem isn’t always easy. Picking an appropriate time for conversation and carefully choosing your words can be helpful. It may be time to intervene when a loved one’s drinking is causing significant harm.

How To Start the Conversation

Before discussing a loved one’s drinking, it’s important to prepare. You might consider practicing what you’ll say to stay on track during the conversation. Then, approach your loved one when you’re both calm and begin by stating that you’re concerned about their health and safety and are reaching out to offer support.

What To Say (Or Not Say)

When conversing with your loved one, avoid blaming them for their problems, telling them what they must do or lecturing about their behavior. Instead, focus on stating specific concerns, such as your worry that they’ve stopped spending time with the kids or going to work since they’ve been drinking more.

Remind your loved one that you’re there to support them and want to see them healthy and happy. You can also offer encouragement by stating that they’re not alone and plenty of people have sought help for a drinking problem.

Encouraging Them To Get Help

The goal of your conversation should be to encourage your loved one to seek treatment. Inform your loved one that counseling and other services can help them to overcome alcohol addiction. You can offer information about a local treatment center or even call a facility on their behalf, with their permission.

Supporting Your Loved One’s Recovery

Your loved one will benefit from having the support of caring friends and family members during their recovery. You can show your support by offering a listening ear when they are struggling with the challenges of recovering from alcohol misuse. Knowing they can call you under stress or when experiencing triggers can help your loved one stay committed to treatment.

Another way to offer support includes not drinking when your loved one is around. If you’re going to spend time together, suggest activities that do not involve alcohol consumption, and help them to avoid places that can be triggering, such as bars or taverns. You can help your loved one develop new hobbies, such as gardening, working out or crafting.

Taking Care of Yourself

Offering support to your loved one can help them during their recovery journey, but it’s also important to care for yourself. Having a friend or family member with an alcohol addiction can create stress, and you deserve to protect your health and well-being. After all, you won’t be able to support your loved one effectively if you are not caring for yourself.

Setting boundaries with your loved one is critical, meaning you may have to distance yourself from them if they refuse treatment. Have a conversation about behavior that you will not accept. For instance, if they are intoxicated in your presence, yelling at you or engaging in hostile behavior, you can choose not to interact with them. If unacceptable behavior continues, you have a right to tell your loved one that you will not communicate with them unless it is to discuss getting treatment.

For those in the New Jersey area, The Recovery Village Cherry Hill at Cooper offers a full continuum of alcohol addiction treatment services, including medical detoxinpatient services and intensive outpatient care. Our state-of-the-art inpatient facility features 55,000 square feet of space, a yoga room, multiple entertainment lounges and a fully-equipped fitness facility. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help your loved one to overcome a drinking problem.

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