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How to help an alcoholic

Seeing someone you know and love struggle with alcohol addiction is difficult. As much as you want to help them drink less, you may not know what to say, how to act or be able to empathise with what they’re experiencing. 

It’s important to remember that you can’t force anyone to get help, even if you think they need it. That said, you can certainly try to encourage them and in this article, we’ll share some ways to do this carefully. 

How do you know if someone is an alcoholic? 

First of all, you might be reading this with an inkling that someone you know is an alcoholic but you’re not quite sure. If you question someone about their relationship with alcohol, they could become quite hostile and defensive when confronted. Equally, they may not realise they even have a problem with alcohol misuse, especially because alcohol can affect the part of the brain which is responsible for logical thinking and decision making. Here’s some common signs and symptoms to look out for:

  • They might appear unwell or get irritated more easily
  • They seem to be under the influence of alcohol more often
  • They might not be interested in joining in with the activities they normally would
  • They could be acting more suspiciously, keeping secrets or lying
  • They may be struggling with mental health issues, such as depression or anxiety
  • They won’t say no to drinking alcohol 
  • They may be drinking more to feel the same effects as others (in other words, this indicates that they have built up a tolerance to alcohol) 

If you notice any of the above and you become concerned for this person’s welfare, it is likely that they are struggling with alcoholism and it could be time to step in to offer your help.

Here’s some advice on how to help an alcoholic:

Consider what you will say as well as when and where you will say it

When thinking about or rehearsing what you want to say to your loved one, try to keep the conversation positive and avoid making comments that could be hurtful or make the situation worse. Simply phrasing what you’re saying in a way that avoids coming across as accusatory will make a big difference. Here’s two examples:

  1. ‘You’re an alcoholic and you need help.’
  2. ‘I care about you and I'm worried about how much you’ve been drinking and the effects it could have on your health. I want you to know I’m here for support.’

In the first example, it feels as though the person is being personally attacked and judged for their drinking. It is likely that they will respond negatively to this and may become defensive. The second example however, includes yourself and feels as though it is coming from a place of love and understanding rather than making the person feel as though you are telling them they have something wrong with them. 

In terms of when you will talk to them, it’s best to wait until they are sober and not showing any emotional distress. Of course, this can prove to be challenging, particularly when there might be a psychological reason behind their excessive drinking. Finally, consider the best place for you to have this conversation, after all, it is a very sensitive and personal subject. Aim for a location that is quiet and private, minimising the risk of them feeling uncomfortable or being interrupted. 

Being well prepared for your conversation could really help you to avoid becoming angry or saying something you will later regret. Remember to be both honest and compassionate so that they feel at ease to speak with you.

Put yourself in their shoes and be empathetic

It can be hard to understand why someone might be struggling with alcoholism, particularly if you cannot relate to their situation. That said, it’s important for you to keep an open mind and be willing to listen, thinking about how you would feel and what you would want to hear. Reassure them that you are there to help and they are not being judged for their actions. We all struggle with something at some point in our lives for different reasons and even those of us who appear to be coping well are facing our own internal battles silently.  

Let them know you’re there for support

As mentioned earlier, you can’t force someone to get help but you can offer a helping hand. Encourage them to get professional help and reassure them that you will be there each step of the way too - whether that involves driving them to support sessions, catching up with them to hear about their progress or arranging some activities for you to do together. 

Stop drinking alcohol yourself 

Alcohol can have negative effects on anyone’s health, so, why not join your friend or family member in drinking less? Not only will that help the person you are reaching out to as you’ll be on the same journey with them, but it will also have benefits for you. Cutting down on alcohol can help you by:

  • Improving your mental health
  • Reducing the risks of you developing artery disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers
  • Allowing you to think more clearly
  • Giving you more energy
  • Enabling you to handle stress better

Point them to support groups

As well as letting your friend or relative know that you’re there for them, point them to other helpful resources and support groups. Here at LiveWell Dorset, we offer a professional service, with coaches and health advisors guiding those struggling with alcoholism to help get them back on track. 

Intervene if necessary

If you have tried everything you can think of and they are refusing to get help, it may be time for an intervention. This is a more involved process where yourself and others will plan the best course of action, present a treatment option and give the person an ultimatum. This is the last resort but may be necessary if the person is a threat to themselves or others. 

Don’t forget to take care of yourself

Worrying over someone you care about can take its toll on your own mental health and wellbeing. Make sure that throughout your efforts to help others, you’re not neglecting your own feelings and self-care. A common response for a close friend or relative might be to become codependent and too involved, leading to strong emotional reactions, obsessive behaviour, a sense of responsibility and a less objective viewpoint. The majority of us are not trained in dealing with someone with alcoholism and therefore, we should learn to accept what we can and can’t realistically do ourselves to help. 

So, now you know what signs to look out for to determine if someone you know is struggling with alcohol misuse and how you can approach the situation. Remember to listen, empathise and take care of yourself throughout the process. 

Looking to find support for someone struggling with alcoholism?

Here at LiveWell Dorset, we can support people living in Dorset who want to drink less. If you or someone you know is an alcoholic, our team of professional advisors and coaches are on hand to guide you all the way, so nobody has to struggle on their own. 

We’ve helped many people in Dorset cut down on their alcohol intake and we would love to help you and your loved ones too. You can register for our services or get in touch today to find out more.


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