Alcohol use disorder (AUD) affects the individual with the condition and others in their life, including their loved ones and families. Alcohol use can affect the family's emotional, mental, and physical health, finances, and overall stability.
Knowing how to help someone with a drinking problem can be difficult. But knowing how to talk to someone about their drinking is often an excellent place to start. Learning more about the alcohol addiction help that is available can give you the resources you need to encourage them to seek appropriate treatment for their condition.
This article discusses some of the steps you can take to help someone stop drinking, and it also covers how to start the conversation and avoid enabling their drinking.
How to Help Someone Stop Drinking
If your loved one has an alcohol use disorder, it's natural to wonder how to make them see that they need help. For you to be asking this question, your loved one has likely gotten to the point that they continue to drink despite apparent problems caused by their alcohol use.
Personal, social, and even legal problems that would cause most people to conclude that their drinking should be curtailed or eliminated don't typically affect people with an alcohol use disorder in the same way.
It's important to understand that this is not a weakness. The person with the drinking problem is psychologically and physiologically addicted to alcohol and requires professional help.
The challenge is that many people with an alcohol use disorder deny that there is a problem. No matter how obvious the problem seems to others, the alcohol-dependent person may loudly deny that drinking is the cause of their troubles and may blame the circumstances or people around them instead.
When people ask how to help someone stop drinking, the answer they usually receive is, "Unfortunately, there is not much anyone can do until the person with an alcohol use disorder admits they have a problem."
While it is true that your loved one needs to seek sobriety actively and want to change, you don't have to sit back and watch them self-destruct, hoping and praying that a light bulb goes off in their head. You can do several things to intervene, show your concern and support for your loved one, and protect yourself from getting too wrapped up in their addiction.
Alcohol Addiction Help and Resources
The first step for family members and loved ones of a problem drinker is to inform themselves about AUD. This helps you understand your loved one's behavior, and it enables you to stop blaming them.
While a person with an alcohol use disorder needs to take responsibility for their actions to recover, alcoholism is a chronic disease, has defined symptoms, and is often triggered by genes and life circumstances. Above all, getting informed helps you see that your loved one is sick and suffering, not trying to hurt you.
As a family member, you can attend Al-Anon meetings or join an online group to learn more about the disease of alcoholism as well as the emotional and psychological toll it is taking on you. In Al-Anon, you learn how to detach from the person's problems—not necessarily to detach from the person. You will likely hear your own story in the stories of those who share with the group, creating a sense of solidarity and support.
You will also learn more about the unhealthy roles you may be playing in the life of a person with an alcohol use disorder. This can help you better determine whether or not your actions may be enabling them to continue in their behavior without you realizing it.
By learning more about alcohol use disorder, you can gain greater insight into the factors that play a role in your loved one's drinking. This knowledge can also help you better understand how to encourage them to get help and how to strengthen your coping skills.
How to Talk to Someone About Their Drinking
This is a difficult conversation. Plan what you'll say beforehand, and wait until your loved one is sober and relatively emotionally stable. Ensure you also feel calm, as your loved one mustn't feel attacked. Avoid accusatory language such as, "You'd better get help or else."
During this first discussion, showing how much you care about your loved one is essential. Be genuine and honest about your concerns, including how their drinking affects their health and the family. You can mention a particular problem arising from drinking, such as financial or relationship troubles.
Let your family member know you want to support them in stopping. Offer to help them find a treatment program, such as a 12-step program or a rehab facility, and perhaps take over some of their responsibilities at home while taking time out for recovery.
Denial and pushback are common. While they might resist getting treatment, you might discuss a timeframe and when to expect changed behavior.
After you've taken all these measures, remember that you cannot force your loved one into treatment, and they have to make that decision themselves. All you can do is present options, offer support, and follow through with the consequences you presented. The only person you control in this life is you.
It's common to become overly focused on the drinker's actions and behavior and obsessively worried, taking the focus off your life. This is defined as codependency, which is destructive to your mental and emotional health. A core tenet of Al-Anon is to stop trying to change your loved one and instead turn the focus back on yourself, the only one you can truly change.
Even if your loved one does enter treatment and recovery, there will likely be many bumps along the way. Without alcohol as a coping mechanism, deeper issues tend to surface and must be dealt with.
Your loved one will need to continue practicing sobriety, and the changes they go through will affect you in big and small ways. It's helpful to continue attending Al-Anon meetings, learn to differentiate between your issues and your loved ones, and take responsibility only for your own. And don't forget to practice self-care—your physical and mental health matter, too.
If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, contact Another Solution at 972-669-8395 or go to www.anothersolution.org.
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Updated on February 16, 2022
Medically reviewed by
John C. Umhau, MD, MPH, CPE