How to help someone addicted to alcohol

It’s estimated that 9% of men and 4% of women in the UK have a problem with alcohol. The effects of dealing with alcohol dependence are felt not just by the person directly, but also those around them, their friends and family.

Whether it is a partner, sibling, friend or colleague, there are many ways in which a person can offer help and support. It is also crucial to recognise the signs, the earlier the intervention the better.

How to spot the signs of alcohol addiction

It’s not always easy to spot the signs of alcohol abuse without being around a person all or most of the time. Then the issue of distinguishing when a person has crossed the line from being a moderate or social drinker to a problem drinker arises.

Signs that a person may have a drinking problem include:

  • Feeling guilty or ashamed about their drinking
  • Lying about or trying to hide their drinking habits
  • Friends and family are worried about their drinking
  • Inability to function without having a drink
  • Work or family life is suffering (taking time off work, being unproductive or neglecting responsibilities at home)
  • Encountering legal problems (drink driving, fighting etc)
  • Continuing to drink despite the problems it causes
  • Physical signs of alcoholism such as overt anxiety, shaking, sweating, nausea, vomiting, insomnia, depression, irritability, fatigue, loss of appetite and headaches.

How to support an alcoholic

An addiction of any kind brings with it a number of painful emotions including shame, fear, guilt or anger and self-blame, which is why it’s often easier to ignore.

This can lead to denial. A significant step to beginning the recovery process is overcoming denial and accepting the problem. This is a struggle that those around the person need to accept too.

Overcoming an addiction is not quick or easy and it’s advantageous if the person voluntarily looks for help. Rehabilitation is more likely if the addict has realised the problem themselves and is ready to accept the challenge. Don’t force it upon someone.

Another consideration for those supporting a recovering alcoholic is that relapses are common. Prepare for this and don’t assume that entering a rehabilitation facility is the final step. An addiction is something a person will struggle with for their whole life and certain things can cause a relapse. The rehabilitation process should help an alcoholic to identify these triggers and know to avoid them, and all the people around them can do is offer their support in this.

The strain of supporting an alcoholic in their recovery weighs heavily on a person. Don’t underestimate the importance of talking about it and seeking support for your support.

Steps to help an alcoholic

Be honest - intervene calmly and explain to the person they have a drinking problem

Enlist others - the help and support of friends and family is crucial, and may help if the person sees how many people are there and want to help

Stay calm - don’t be drawn into an argument and be prepared for them to be in denial

Make a commitment - few addicts recover by themselves – professional help will be needed. Don’t accept empty claims to slow down or stop altogether. Offer to visit the GP with them or have some names of therapy options ready

Be in it for the duration - offer to be there every step of the way, attend meetings with them or help them around the house or with childcare so they can focus on getting better

Educate yourself - the greater a person’s understanding of alcoholism is, the greater help they can be

Don’t:

  • Preach, punish or bribe the person, it could make things worse
  • Make emotional appeals that could increase feelings of guilt (child’s school work is suffering, bills unpaid, house a mess etc)
  • Shield them from the consequences of alcohol addiction; this will decrease the likelihood of facing the problem.

Understand the impact alcohol can have

There is no such thing as a ‘functioning alcoholic’. Although there are those who can appear fine outwardly, the problem is still in there, gnawing away, which is why the person will continue to drink damaging amounts of alcohol.

Alcoholism increases the likelihood of divorce, domestic violence and struggles with unemployment and poverty. Each alcoholic’s experience will be different, not all will become abusive and some manage to maintain their jobs. However, the impact encroaches gradually on all aspects of life, including family. Children are liable to repeat behaviours, so it is crucial an alcoholic seeks the required help and support to recover.

If you think that you or someone you know could have a problem with alcohol, please feel free to visit our Alcohol Addiction Treatment and Rehabilitation page for more information about the signs, symptoms and treatments available.

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