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Sam Hickey

Page medically reviewed by Sam Hickey (BA (Hons) in Counselling), Addiction Treatment Programme Manager at Priory Hospital Woking.

Can you help an alcoholic?

Watching your friend, partner or family member struggle with their alcohol use is incredibly difficult for everyone involved. As a concerned loved one, you’re doing the right thing by seeking advice on how you can help.

You’ll no doubt have a lot of questions about the impact you can have on someone’s drinking, what the right thing to do is, and whether that person even wants your help. While it’s ultimately up to that person to seek sobriety, there are things you can do to lessen the burden on them and be a beacon of support.

This article will outline the steps you need to take to help an alcohol addict.

How to approach a conversation about alcoholism

Before you make any strides towards broaching a sensitive issue like alcoholism, you need to be as knowledgeable as possible on the topic of alcohol use disorder.

Learn all about alcoholism

It’s not always easy to spot the signs of alcohol abuse, without being around a person all or most of the time. It can also be tricky to spot when a person has crossed the line from being a moderate or social drinker to having a mental or physical dependency on alcohol – which brings them under definition of alcoholism.

However, there are common signs that a person has a drinking problem, that you can look out for. Some of the most notable include:

  • Appearing to feel guilty or ashamed about their drinking
  • Lying about or trying to hide their drinking habits
  • Friends and family are worried about their drinking, but they don’t seem to care or make any efforts to cut back
  • Attempting to restrict their drinking and struggling to do so
  • Inability to function without having a drink
  • Their work or family life is suffering as a result of their drinking (taking time off work, being unproductive or neglecting responsibilities at home)

You could also use the CAGE test – which is a set of questions that can provide an indicator that someone has a problem with their drinking. Do they answer 'yes' to any of the following:

  • Have they ever felt they need to Cut down on their drinking?
  • Have people Annoyed them by asking about or criticising their drinking habits?
  • Have they ever felt Guilty about how much they are drinking?
  • Have they ever had an Eye-opener? e.g. a drink first thing in the morning to get rid of a hangover

The concept of learning about addiction applies to you too. Addiction is a disease not a choice, and it will help you in the long run to try and understand what your loved one is going through. Read a book on the subject (like Alcoholics Anonymous’ Big Book) or attend an AA session to get closer to the reality of addiction.

Approach at the right time and in the right way

If you think your friend or loved one is showing some of these keys signs of a drinking problem, it could be time to have an open and honest conversation with them about it. There are a few things to consider, before having this conversation:

  • Pick the right time and place: Make sure it’s quiet and you have privacy, where interruptions aren’t likely. And of course, make sure that your loved one is sober when you decide to talk about their drinking habits
  • Approach the conversation with compassion: An accusatory or negative tone will only push this person further away. Start from a position of being concerned and supportive
  • Allow them time to process everything: After you’ve had an initial chat, leave your friend or loved one to mull everything over. Remain supportive and don’t pressure them into anything, even if at first they are reluctant to accept they have a problem

Things to do to help an alcohol addict

Help them to open up to you

Recovery from addiction is a lifelong pursuit, so you’re likely to have a number of chats about how they’re feeling and how their recovery is going, over time. For this to be effective in helping your loved one, you’ll need to encourage them to open up to you.

Learning more about what they’re going through, as well as their feelings and emotions, puts you in a better position to support them.

Some helpful things to do include:
  1. Let them know that you have their best interests at heart and will always be there to support them. This will encourage them to come to you in future when they’re going through a difficult time and will help them to trust you in helping them on the path to recovery
  2. Consider bringing in support. Are there other members of the family or friends circle that could offer their support too? Sometimes a change of voice or different approach can be what’s needed to get them to open up

Be honest

Many people who suffer from alcohol use disorder struggle to accept and come to terms with it straight away. As someone who has witnessed their addictive behaviours first hand, you play an important role in keeping them accountable and not enabling their destructive behaviour.

It can be useful to highlight an example of the damage that their drinking has done, and challenge them to take responsibility for changing their behaviour for the better. This may be thought of as ‘tough love’, but make sure you maintain a position of empathy, compassion and honesty and approach in a non-confrontational way. If you come across too aggressively, they will likely feel attacked and respond in a defensive manner. 

Tough love is a great way of framing your support. It means that even the most difficult conversations are coming from a place of love and support. It also reinforces the fact that your own feelings are important, and above all, no progress or healing can be made until the alcoholic makes the decision to change. In order for that decision to happen, it’s important that they can clearly see the difficulties they are causing around them.

Set clear boundaries

Setting boundaries can help you gain back control of your life and limit some of the damage caused by alcoholism. Create a list of your loved one’s behaviours that are unacceptable, such as verbal abuse, stealing or driving intoxicated. Make it clear that certain consequences (like phoning the police) will happen if these boundaries are crossed.

Setting these boundaries can help you remain in control and stop the addiction causing so much pain to everyone involved. The core of setting boundaries is not to threaten or manipulate anyone, but rather to keep everyone involved as safe as possible. Most importantly, don’t set a consequence if you won’t be willing to carry it out.

How to get an alcoholic help

If you’re concerned about a loved one’s alcohol addiction, and your support doesn’t seem to be resulting in any progress, you could begin to take steps towards getting them professional help.

Conduct some research into the available addiction treatments, such as alcohol rehab programmes and addiction therapy. You could offer to make a GP appointment on their behalf and go with them to the appointment as moral support, or sit next to them as they call a treatment provider or helpline.

If your friend or loved one is in denial or struggling with the idea that treatment is needed, consider staging an intervention. An addiction intervention is the process by which the family and friends of someone who is struggling with an addiction, are supported to take action to persuade the person to enter treatment.

You can also contact Life Works for a free pre-screening addiction assessment, where we’ll discuss the troubles your loved one is having and outline how our specialist support can help them to overcome it.

FREE Pre-Screening Addiction Assessment

Take the first step towards overcoming your addiction by booking an initial pre-screening assessment with a Life Works specialist.

Call: 01483 745 066
Alternatively, you can enquire online.

Support someone through addiction recovery

Overcoming an addiction is an ongoing process throughout someone’s life. Know that entering rehabilitation isn’t the final step; relapses can happen but it doesn’t mean that you or they have failed. You can prepare so that if there are any slips, you can get them back on their feet as soon as possible.

Throughout the treatment process, there are lots of things you can do that will be of huge benefit to someone in recovery:

  1. Attend relevant sessions: Addiction treatment will often involve a family programme, where you can learn about the treatment and recovery process. You might also be invited to family therapy sessions. Make sure you attend whenever you can to show your support
  2. Keep in touch with the person: Let them know that you’re thinking of them and wishing them all the best for their treatment and recovery
  3. Look after your wellbeing: The strain of supporting an alcoholic in their recovery may weigh heavily on you at times, so don’t underestimate the importance of staying healthy physically and mentally, and talking about your own feelings with other people
  4. Don’t enable their behaviour: Hiding empty bottles, taking on their responsibilities, making excuses for them or taking on their financial burdens might seem helpful, but you need to hold your loved one to account for their actions. This is especially important when dealing with medical professionals. Lying and covering up behaviour will only serve to damage recovery in the long run
  5. Encourage new hobbies and interests: With drinking gone, your loved one is going to need something new to hold their attention. Encourage things like sports, music and volunteering to keep them busy
Contact Life Works Today

To discuss how the Life Works team can help to support individuals and families dealing with addiction and for further information on treatment and rehabilitation programmes, please call: 01483 745 066 or click here to book a FREE PRE-SCREENING ADDICTION ASSESSMENT.

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