Substance Use

How to Help an Alcoholic: Aiding Loved Ones Through Alcohol Addiction

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If a loved one or family member appears to be struggling with a drinking problem and the effects of alcohol, you might be nervous about approaching them about it. You might feel as if you have no idea how to start the conversation, how to help them find professional help, or how to support them through their alcohol addiction and recovery journey. If any of this sounds familiar, you’re in the right place. (1)

In this post, we will go over various expert tips for how to help loved ones struggling with alcohol abuse and mental disorders due to drug abuse.

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Step 1: Understand Alcohol Use Disorder

Distinguishing between social drinking and a potential alcohol use disorder can indeed be challenging. Accusing a loved one of alcoholism based on occasional social drinking isn’t productive or compassionate.

Instead, it’s essential to be mindful of certain signs that may indicate an underlying struggle with alcohol dependence: (2)

  1. Binge Drinking Patterns: Watch for a consistent pattern of excessive drinking. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines binge drinking as consuming alcohol rapidly, resulting in a blood alcohol level of 0.08 or higher within two hours. (3)(4)
  2. Failed Attempts to Quit: Notice if your loved one has made unsuccessful attempts to stop drinking but has been unable to do so.
  3. Continued Alcohol Use Despite Consequences: If they persist in using alcohol despite its detrimental impact on their personal life, relationships, or employment, it may be an indicator of an issue.
  4. Secrecy and Deception: Be alert to any signs of secrecy, such as sneaking alcohol or concealing their drinking habits, which may indicate a hidden problem.
  5. Dishonesty About Drinking: Your loved one might be untruthful about the extent of their alcohol consumption, especially if they downplay it or deny it.
  6. Persistent Alcohol Odor: A constant smell of alcohol on their breath or clothing could be a red flag.
  7. Risk-Taking Behaviors: Observe if they consume alcohol during unsafe situations, like while operating a vehicle or when responsible for their children’s safety.
  8. Drinking at Any Opportunity: Drinking alcohol during any available moment, such as during a lunch break, before work in the morning, or immediately upon returning home in the evening may be concerning.
  9. Increased Family Conflicts: Heightened family tensions stemming from their alcohol use can be a sign that their drinking is causing distress.
  10. Cravings for Alcohol: If they experience intense cravings for alcohol, this might be indicative of dependence. (5)
  11. Excessive Time Devoted to Alcohol: Pay attention to whether they spend significant amounts of time seeking, using, or recovering from alcohol.

Recognizing the signs of alcohol use disorder is the first step toward providing your loved one with the support they need. It’s key to approach this matter with empathy and a willingness to help rather than to accuse or judge.

Step 2: Educate Yourself about Alcohol Abuse and Recovery

Helping a loved one with any substance use disorder is an arduous and ongoing process. For this reason, it’s important that you are as prepared as possible and that you also make time for your well-being. This is why the first step in helping someone with alcohol problems starts with you, not them.

Start by educating yourself about alcohol abuse, the reasons behind it, common triggers, how it impacts mental health, and the different alcohol addiction treatment programs and support groups available. You can find this information online, at your local library, or ask a health professional to help guide you to resources on alcoholism.

Step 3: Seek Personal Support for Your Well-being

Watching a loved one in the grips of alcohol addiction is heartbreaking and devastating. It’s also hard to be the one to put your relationship on the line to encourage them to seek professional help. Ensuring you are well supported is key to keeping yourself strong throughout the process.

Ask other family members and friends for support, join a support group for family and friends of people with alcohol problems (like Al-Anon), and even seek therapy and counseling for yourself. (6)

Step 4: Initiate a Conversation About Their Drinking Problem

Once you feel supported, it’s time to approach your loved one with your concerns. Although Intervention was a popular TV show, we don’t necessarily recommend staging an impromptu intervention to bombard your loved one with family and friends who are concerned about them.

This can seem out of left field and as if everyone is ganging up on them, causing them to feel embarrassed and become angry. Instead, approach them alone or with one or two trusted family members or friends. Make sure when you approach your loved one that they are not drinking.

Here are some ideas to have a smooth conversation:

  • Don’t start the conversation with accusations or criticisms of their behavior.
  • Start the conversation with a gentle tone and “I” statements. Instead of immediately accusing them of having a problem, leave the door open for them to let you know what’s going on. For example, “I love you so much, and I want you to be happy. I’ve noticed that you seem to be drinking more than usual lately. I want to make sure everything is okay?”
  • Come up with specific examples of behaviors your loved one has displayed that concern you.
  • Explain that you are not mad and not judging them, but that you are genuinely concerned for their health and well-being.
  • Don’t lecture them.
  • Don’t bribe them or give them an ultimatum to stop drinking. Never threaten to end your relationship with them if they don’t immediately stop drinking.
  • Ask if they’d be open to learning about treatment.
  • Offer to go with them to see a healthcare professional or speak to a counselor.
  • Tell them you are willing to be there during every step of the recovery process and that they are not alone.

Step 5: Explore Treatment Options

When it comes to addressing alcohol use disorder, it’s crucial to explore the various treatment options available. Every individual’s journey to recovery is unique, and the most effective approach may vary from person to person.

Here are some key treatment avenues to consider:

  1. Inpatient vs. Outpatient Treatment: Understand the fundamental difference between these two treatment approaches: (7)
    • Inpatient Treatment Centers: This involves staying at a treatment facility, which can provide intensive and structured care. It’s typically recommended for individuals with severe alcohol use disorder. Inpatient programs offer a safe and supportive environment, round-the-clock supervision, and a focus on detoxification and intensive therapies. (8)
    • Outpatient Treatment: Outpatient programs allow individuals to live at home and attend scheduled treatment sessions. They are suitable for those with milder forms of alcohol use disorder or for those who have completed inpatient treatment. Outpatient treatment provides more flexibility and allows individuals to continue their daily responsibilities while receiving necessary support. (9)
  2. Alternative and Holistic Therapies: Beyond traditional treatments, many individuals succeed with alternative and holistic therapies. These may include acupuncture, meditation, yoga, art therapy, and mindfulness practices. These approaches can complement standard treatment methods by promoting overall well-being and aiding in stress management.
  3. Group Therapies: Group therapy sessions can be highly beneficial, as they offer a sense of community and shared experience. Engaging in group discussions and activities helps individuals recognize that they are not alone in their struggles. These sessions often focus on building coping skills, fostering interpersonal relationships, and sharing personal insights.
  4. 12-Step Programs: Programs like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) have been instrumental in aiding individuals on the path to recovery. The structure of these 12-step programs centers around twelve steps that emphasize spiritual principles such as honesty, acceptance, humility, courage, integrity, faithfulness, hope, and love. (10) Regular participation in these meetings can provide a strong support system for maintaining sobriety.
  5. Counseling and Therapy: Professional guidance through individual or group therapy sessions is an essential component of alcohol use disorder treatment. Trained therapists can help individuals address underlying emotional issues, develop coping strategies, and work toward long-term recovery goals.
  6. Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT): For some individuals, medication may be an integral part of their recovery journey. Medications can help manage withdrawal symptoms, reduce cravings, and support overall well-being. (11) The type of medication used depends on individual needs and should always be prescribed and monitored by healthcare professionals.
  7. Dual Diagnosis Treatment: If your loved one is struggling with both alcohol use disorder and a co-occurring mental health condition, it’s essential to find a program that specializes in dual diagnosis treatment. These programs address both issues simultaneously, as one often exacerbates the other.

Selecting the most suitable treatment option depends on factors such as the severity of the alcohol use disorder, the individual’s specific needs, and personal preferences.

Consult with healthcare professionals or addiction specialists to make an informed decision.

Step 6: Get Them to Rehab

Rehabilitation, often referred to as rehab, is a significant step on the path to recovery from alcohol use disorder. Knowing what to expect during rehab and providing continuous support can make a difference for your loved one.

Here’s what you can anticipate in the stages of rehab:

  1. Assessment and Admission: The journey typically begins with an assessment, where a healthcare team evaluates your loved one’s physical and mental health, addiction severity, and individual needs. Afterward, they are admitted to the rehab facility.
  2. Detoxification (Detox): Detox is often the initial phase during which the body rids itself of alcohol. Your loved one may experience withdrawal symptoms, which can range from mild to severe. Medical professionals will closely monitor and provide the necessary care.
  3. Treatment Planning: Rehab centers create personalized treatment plans for each individual. These plans outline the specific therapies and interventions to address their unique needs.
  4. Therapies and Counseling: Therapy sessions play a central role in rehab. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), individual counseling, and group therapy are common approaches. These sessions help individuals develop coping strategies, identify triggers, and build resilience against relapse.
  5. Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT): In some cases, medication may be prescribed to manage withdrawal symptoms and cravings. The use of medications depends on individual circumstances and should be closely monitored by healthcare professionals.
  6. Family Involvement: Many rehab programs encourage family participation. Family therapy and education can help repair relationships and provide a support system for your loved one’s recovery.
  7. Aftercare Planning: Preparing for life after rehab is vital. Aftercare planning involves providing ongoing support and resources for your loved one, including outpatient treatment, support groups, and counseling.

Throughout rehab, the significance of your continuous support cannot be overstated. Stay engaged in your loved one’s progress, attend family therapy sessions if offered, and be present during visiting hours. 

Your encouragement and involvement can provide the motivation and strength they need to stay on the path to recovery.

Step 7: Focus on Relapse Prevention

Preventing relapse is a critical phase in the recovery journey. It involves identifying and managing triggers that can lead to alcohol cravings, developing healthy coping skills to deal with stress and challenging emotions, and participating in support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous or SMART.

Recovery, maintaining a supportive environment free from alcohol, and embracing a healthy lifestyle with regular exercise, a balanced diet, and adequate sleep. Effective communication with a strong support system and the option to seek professional help during moments of vulnerability also play a vital role in relapse prevention.

Prioritizing relapse prevention empowers individuals in recovery to navigate potential setbacks and maintain their commitment to sobriety.

Step 8: Connect with Professional Help

Professional intervention in the form of counseling and therapy plays a crucial role in the recovery process. It offers specialized guidance and support tailored to each individual’s unique needs. 

Counseling and therapy provide a safe and confidential space for individuals to explore the underlying causes of their alcohol use disorder, address co-occurring mental health issues, and develop effective coping strategies.

The benefits of professional help and a healthcare provider extend beyond addressing the immediate challenges of addiction, as it equips individuals with essential life skills and emotional tools to navigate sobriety successfully.

Counseling can take various forms, such as individual counseling, group therapy, family therapy, and CBT, among others. It helps individuals develop a deeper understanding of their triggers, cravings, and behaviors, empowering them to make healthier choices.

Therapy offers a supportive environment where individuals can discuss their fears, anxieties, and experiences openly. Professional help ensures that those in recovery with health problems and alcohol withdrawal receive expert guidance.

This increases the likelihood of long-term sobriety and mental well-being. It acts as a valuable resource for building resilience and achieving a fulfilling life in the absence of alcohol dependency.

How Zinnia Health Can Support the Recovery

Finding a solid support system and getting help are the first steps in long-term recovery from alcohol dependence. At Zinnia Health, our team of compassionate addiction counselors will work with you and your loved one to help them overcome alcohol misuse. We have several alcohol rehab treatment facilities around the country and offer customized alcoholism treatment for people of all ages.

We offer a wide range of treatment options, including alcohol detox, inpatient alcohol rehab and outpatient alcohol rehab treatment options, family therapy for alcohol addiction, peer support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous, and much more.

Contact us today to learn more about substance abuse treatment at Zinnia Health.


Call us
Ready to get help?
(855) 430-9439
Why call us? Why call us