How to Help an Alcoholic

The effects of alcoholism are devastating to the person who has an alcohol use disorder and to the people who care about them. Research shows that with the right support and compassion from a loved one, people can recover physically, mentally and emotionally from alcoholism. In this article, we outline how to approach and help an alcoholic start the process of recovery.

Understanding Alcohol Addiction

It’s extremely challenging to see someone you care about struggle with alcoholism. You want to help but you may not be sure that your loved ones want your help. An alcohol use disorder causes physiological and psychological dependence and can interfere with a person’s professional and social obligations as well as their health.

Alcoholism is not defined exclusively by the amount of alcohol consumed but also by the effects it has on a person’s life. Your efforts at reaching out to assist a loved one in getting help early can impact positively on their treatment.

Some of the signs and symptoms that someone close to you is experiencing an alcohol addiction include

  • Neglecting their responsibilities on a regular basis
  • Binge drinking or drinking more than intended
  • Covering up or not disclosing their drinking habits
  • Blacking out or not remembering what was said or done during drinking sessions
  • Continuing to drink even though it is causing problems
  • Self medicating mental health disorders like bipolar disorder, depression and anxiety.

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Help them Recognise the Impact of Alcohol Abuse

You can help a loved one understand that their drinking habits are impacting negatively on their life and the lives of others by being informed. Do your research and equip yourself with information and resources to stay objective but compassionate.

When you are informed, speak to the person tactfully and without judgement in a well-planned intervention. It is best if this is done with the person who is sober. Encourage the person to take a self-assessment so they can see the impact their drinking is having.

Make it easy for your loved one to get treatment by researching the different options and be prepared to discuss the pros and cons of each option. Offer your unconditional support. This could mean being present when they call a helpline or going along to the GP, 12-step meetings or counselling appointments. Let the person see they are not alone.

Help Your Alcoholic Parent

Children who grow up in addicted households experience physical, emotional and financial abuse and neglect. They are forced to grow up too fast and adopt an adult role in the home. They often blame themselves for the stressors when they live with an alcoholic parent.
If the person you care about is a parent, you can draw their attention to your concern about their wellbeing. Research the facts about how alcoholism affects a family unit and the embarrassing and stressful impact it has on children. This conversation is usually best handled in a one-on-one scenario that allows for two-way communication.

Is Your Child Drinking?

Addressing alcohol abuse in children and teens is a sensitive topic that should be approached with patience, compassion and understanding so the child does not feel alienated or judged. Maintaining open communication is essential, but sometimes seeking professional help is a safer option. It’s important to stay calm and explain that your concern comes from a place of care and love. Make it clear that you want to be supportive and that with the appropriate intervention you can help them cope with underlying issues like their mental health, dealing with major life events and social stress.

At Work – Worried about Your Colleague?

When a work colleague has a problem with alcoholism it can affect the whole team. Stick to the facts so that your colleague doesn’t feel judged. After you highlight your areas of concern, also offer potential solutions. Explain how alcoholism reduces their productivity and could jeopardise their financial security. Suggest taking time off from work so they can prioritise their health and that in order to be an asset to the team, they need to restore their health. Offering constructive input should be considered over filing a complaint or alerting management to the problem. Encourage your colleague to address their problem and then return to work.

How to Approach an Alcoholic about their Drinking Habits

The words you say in intervention could help a loved one to turn their life around. For this reason, you need to make sure that you plan carefully and anticipate any resistance so you can manage the situation. You have to stay calm throughout the conversation and make it clear that you respect and will support the person throughout their recovery.


Acceptance of a problem with alcohol dependence is the first step toward recovery. Tell the person you care about that they don’t have to hit rock bottom before they reach out for help. The earlier they seek treatment, the more likely their treatment is to succeed.

Support (With Boundaries)

You can’t force someone to get treatment if they are not ready. Treatment will only be effective when they choose and want it. What you can do is offer unconditional support and care, but you still have to maintain your own boundaries. You can’t live their life and you can’t neglect yourself. Looking after yourself must take priority as you can’t help anyone if your own cup is empty.


Your encouragement at helping your loved one get treatment may take time. Sometimes it takes months or years for a person to understand they need to get help and take the first steps to recovery. They will probably relapse at some point too. If you are committed to helping that person, you need to practice patience. If you get angry or frustrated, you will push them away and possibly push them further from treatment.

Options for Treatment

In the UK, there are free and paid treatment options available for alcohol use disorders. Not everyone can afford private treatment, but if cost is a barrier, you are encouraged to seek help from the free services available through the NHS or various charity organisations. There are well-established support groups and peer networks that have been operating for many years with great success.

Residential programs

Residential or inpatient treatment for alcoholism usually lasts for three to six months but can extend to a year in duration. Each client is assessed and given a personalised treatment plan to follow. Residential programs usually offer a combination of individual and group therapy and round the clock monitoring. They offer the most comprehensive approach to treating alcohol addiction. The costs may be covered by some private health insurance.

Private counselling

You can consult with a counsellor, psychologist or social worker through a process of cognitive behavioural therapy to address alcoholism. This is a valuable resource to help you understand how your thoughts and emotions affect your behaviour. Private counselling enables you to continue with your work and family responsibilities, but it should be considered as part of a long term strategy to be effective.

Private home detox

In cases where it is deemed safe, a private home detox can be arranged under the guidance of your GP. The advantage of home detox is that you can go through detox and withdrawal in the comfort of your home, with your loved ones’ support. Private home detox is not suitable for everyone and doesn’t work in all home circumstances. It should be undertaken in conjunction with counselling or professional therapy. Going through an alcohol detox breaks physical dependence on alcohol, and therapeutic interventions are required to address underlying psychological dependence.

NHS services

All UK residents are entitled to access the substance treatment programs offered by the NHS, however these differ slightly by area. Visiting your GP for a consultation can help you to navigate the treatment options that are available to you.

Support groups

There is an extensive support network available to help with alcohol use disorders. Drinkline, the free, national support hotline can be contacted on 0300 123 1110 . Alcoholics Anonymous is a free support group offering assistance through the 12-step model. Al-Anon offers support groups for friends and family members of alcoholics. Alateen is a support network for teens between the ages of 12 and 17 whose families are affected by alcoholism.

Charity based programmes

Adfam is a national charity that assists families affected by alcoholism. Alcohol Change UK offers resources and support.

Helping the individual Avoid Relapse

Alcohol addiction is a chronic and relapsing disease that requires comprehensive treatment and a committed approach. For this reason, relapse is part of the process of long term recovery and if you are supporting someone in recovery, it is something you may need to deal with in the future. It’s important that the person you are supporting can talk to you when relapse happens, so you need to support them through their shame and guilt.

Relapse doesn’t mean the person will rebound back into alcohol addiction. The triggers for relapse need to be identified and worked through so that they do not cause future relapses. Then the treatment program needs to be updated with these triggers. It’s important the person understands they have your unconditional support. Your acceptance and understanding of the relapse can lessen the blow of the experience and help the person to get back on track.

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    Author / Jason Shiers / Dip.Psych MBACP

    Jason Shiers is a Certified Transformative Coach & Certified Psychotherapist who is a specialist in addiction, trauma and eating disorders. He has been working in the field of addiction for 25 years now.

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