Every “alcoholic” is a person. They’re always a son or a daughter. They’re often a brother or sister. They’re sometimes a mother, father, friend, partner or spouse.
If someone in your life struggles with alcohol, you might have wondered what you can do to help an alcoholic stop drinking. This post explores how friends and family members can support a loved one during their recovery.
How Can I Tell if Someone Is an Alcoholic?
Sometimes it’s clear that a person has a problem with alcohol. The warning signs of being an alcoholic, such as someone getting blackout drunk or trembling when they haven’t had a drink, are hard to miss. But in other cases, it can be much harder to spot.
Some people with alcohol misuse disorder will hide their drinking habits to avoid getting help. In other cases, especially in environments or situations where heavy alcohol misuse is common, it can be hard to tell when a person has crossed the line. After all, when one in five British people admit to binge drinking, it can feel like alcohol misuse is all around us.
But at the end of the day, it boils down to a simple question.
1. Is alcohol use causing problems at work, with relationships, with finances or with health?
If the answer is “yes” then there is an alcohol problem.
This simpler approach to alcohol avoids narrow medical definitions and instead focuses on the harm caused by drinking. If someone you know is in danger of losing their job due to drinking or your marriage is on the brink of collapse because of your partner’s drinking habit, there is a problem that needs dealing with.
How to Help an Alcoholic Who’s in Denial?
Now that you’ve recognised the problem, it’s important to help the person with a drinking problem face the facts too.
This is easier said than done, especially if they’re in denial about the amount that they drink. “I can stop drinking any time I wanted to” is a cliche that’s we’ve heard all too often. It can be even worse for so-called “high-functioning” alcoholics, who seem to behave normally despite drinking heavily. But “high-functioning” alcoholics rarely function well for long — eventually, drinking catches up with everyone.
Pick your time for having the conversation wisely. You’re unlikely to have much luck if you try and have the conversation while your loved one is drinking. It’s a better bet to wait for the inevitable hangover to kick in the next morning and discuss the problem while they’re feeling its effects.
It’s crucial not to be insulting. Having this conversation can sometimes cause the person with a drinking problem to feel attacked — this will only make it more difficult to encourage them to see the consequences of their drinking and will make their denial worse. Talk to the other person about how their drinking has negatively affected friends and family members so that they realise the ramifications of their actions. Keep it personal: “You drink too much” is a statement that can be argued over endlessly. But “it’s very hard for me and your family to watch you drink so much” is a sentence that’s harder to swallow.
Be compassionate, but don’t be too lenient. Problem drinkers always have excuses, ranging from alcohol being a necessary social lubricant to recovering from a tough day at work. It’s important to be fair, but firm, and not accept these excuses.
Where to Find Help for an Alcoholic?
If you need help talking to a loved one about alcohol, you can call Charterhouse Clinic on 0808 123 0222. All of our advice is free, confidential and available 24 hours a day.
How to Help an Alcoholic Who’s in Recovery?
Recovery is a long-term, even life-long process. Someone with alcohol dependence or alcohol misuse disorder will struggle with the temptation to relapse. The support of a loved one can make the key difference.
We’ve listed some of the ways that you can help someone with alcohol dependence:
- Remove all alcohol from the home, as well as other addictive substances
- Avoid social gatherings that include alcohol
- Develop new, exciting hobbies that don’t require alcohol
- Build relationships with people who don’t drink
As well as taking these practical steps, it’s important to realise that the journey to sobriety is one that is long and difficult. Expect problems and temptations to rise and have a plan in place to deal with them if and when they do.
Also, don’t expect sobriety to fix everything. While life might be better without an alcohol problem, many people who drink do so to deal with pre-existing conditions, such as depression, insomnia or post-traumatic stress disorder. There are also often other factors at play. If alcohol has cost your loved one his job, there might still be financial problems to face. If your loved one has been dependent on alcohol for a long period of time, they may develop other health issues. Accept that giving up alcohol may just be one battle in a much larger war.
What Are the Warning Signs of a Relapse?
Those supporting a recovering alcoholic need to understand that a relapse is possible. Fortunately, there are warning signs. As well as the usual signs that someone has been drinking again, watch out for behavioural changes, including:
- Socialising with heavy drinkers again, or going to old drinking haunts
- Skipping counselling or therapy sessions
- Losing interesting in sober activities and hobbies
- Sudden changes in attitude or behaviour
If you spot a warning sign, it’s best to approach your loved one with kind concern. You should remind them of the progress that they’ve made and ask them to get in touch with their counsellor, therapist or support group.
If you’d like to learn more about how rehab can help someone overcome alcohol addiction, you can read the Charterhouse Clinic blog.