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How to Help Someone With Alcohol Addiction

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In the United States, alcohol use is highly prevalent. According to the 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, around 138 million people, or 50% of those people aged 12 and older, reported prior month use of alcohol.1 You may be concerned that a loved one is losing control of their alcohol consumption and drinking too much. Your next steps may be unclear, and you may want to learn how to help someone with an alcohol problem.

This article can help you identify the signs of problem drinking. In addition, you can find out more about how to help someone with alcohol addiction, including how to talk to your loved one about getting help. You can also learn how to find treatment for alcohol misuse, as well as ways to support a loved one while they are in alcohol treatment and recovery.

Signs Your Loved One Has a Drinking Problem

It can be difficult to express concern toward someone with a drinking problem. A 2020 study indicated that most participants who characterized themselves as light to moderate drinkers also described life events that met the criteria for alcohol use disorder (AUD) and admitted to consuming amounts of alcohol that significantly exceeded healthy limits.2

This type of denial is an issue for individuals who have AUD, and many may minimize or dismiss problems related to alcohol use that are apparent to others.2 People can also justify their drinking and alcohol misuse as socially acceptable and peer groups can make drinking seem less problematic than it is.3, 4

Regardless of whether your loved one thinks they have a problem with alcohol misuse, there are signs of AUD. These signs can indicate that your loved one may need further assessment. It is critical to note that only a trained professional can determine if someone has AUD and that symptoms will vary from one person to another. Some signs of an AUD include:5, 6

  • Do you drink more alcohol than you originally intended, or drink for a longer time than you originally planned?
  • Do you have strong cravings for alcohol?
  • Do you have a persistent desire to stop drinking or cut back but find you can’t stop on your own?
  • Do you spend a good deal of time looking for alcohol, using alcohol, and recovering from using it?
  • Do you keep drinking, even though you are aware that your alcohol use causes problems with your loved ones?
  • Do you keep drinking, despite being aware that alcohol either causes or worsens a medical or mental health condition?
  • Does your use of alcohol prevent you from fulfilling your obligations at home, work, or school?
  • Do you give up things that used to be of importance to you, such as hobbies or work, to drink?
  • Do you use alcohol in high-risk situations, such as driving while under the influence of alcohol?
  • Do you show signs of alcohol tolerance, which means that you either require more alcohol to get the same effects it used to give you, or you drink your usual amount and feel less intense effects than you used to feel?
  • Do you experience physical withdrawal symptoms when you cut back on drinking? Or do you drink to stop the physical symptoms of withdrawal from occurring?

You may wonder why your loved one can’t just quit drinking, especially if they say they want to stop. The explanation is that addiction is a complex brain disease that is characterized by compulsive use of the substance, despite the potential consequences that a person experiences from its use.7

Addiction leads to changes in the functioning of the brain, particularly in the brain circuits that are involved with self-control and reward.8 So, while choosing to drink initially is a choice, continued use impacts a person’s judgment and the ability to control their drinking.8

Tolerance can also play a role in the development of AUD.9 Tolerance is the adaptation of the body to the effects of alcohol, which leads to the person using more alcohol to achieve the same effects as before.9

As a person keeps consuming more alcohol, they may also become physically dependent on it, as they have adapted to the presence of alcohol.9 When a person with dependence on alcohol stops drinking suddenly, the body can go into withdrawal, which is a series of symptoms triggered by the absence of alcohol.9 People may continue drinking to stop these symptoms of withdrawal from occurring.10

How to Help Someone With a Drinking Problem

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to helping someone with a drinking problem. However, there are some suggestions that can help you support a friend or family member. The most critical thing is that if you are concerned, act now rather than later. You can:11

  • Offer your help to them, perhaps by suggesting activities that don’t involve drinking.
  • Provide them with information and resources about drinking.
  • Offer to see a counselor or attend a self-help or mutual help meeting with them, such as Alcoholic Anonymous or SMART Recovery.
  • Talk to other people, such as family members or friends, to get support.
  • Find counseling for yourself to cope with the stress and look into attending groups like Al-Anon, which provides support meetings for loved ones of people with AUD.

How to Talk to Someone About Their Drinking

When you approach your friend or family member, there are some tips to help make the process go more smoothly. Some things that you want to do include:11, 12

  • State your concerns calmly and directly.
  • Listen to them without judging them.
  • Ask if you can share information about alcohol misuse and treatment with them.
  • Offer to take them for treatment with a doctor or counselor.
  • Be patient.

However, don’t:11, 13

  • Use labels like “alcoholic.”
  • Take a critical, confrontational, or aggressive approach.
  • Enable the person (e.g., making excuses for their alcohol use).

An approach called Community Reinforcement and Family Training (CRAFT) offers help to families.14 CRAFT can be taught to family members of people with AUD to help them learn communication skills and the use of reinforcement to encourage getting a loved one into treatment.14

How to Get a Loved One With Alcohol Addiction the Help They Need

It is important to note that your loved one may be open to the idea of treatment but may not be sure of what to do about their drinking problem. People who have an addiction may be in different stages of change, with some being ready to take action but not sure what to do next.13 However, others may still be in precontemplation, where they may disagree with your perception of the problem and deny that their alcohol use negatively impacts their life.13

Regardless of where your loved one is in their readiness to change, there are some steps you can take to start your search for rehab. You can begin by speaking with your family doctor or researching treatment programs on your own.15 When trying to choose a rehab program, there are options to consider, such as:15

  • What kind of treatment is offered? For example, if your loved one needs treatment for both AUD and depression, does the program provide treatment for both conditions? Does the program offer medication if that is something you are interested in?
  • Does the program offer individualized treatment? How adaptive is the program to your loved one’s needs as they change?
  • What expectations are there of a person in the program?
  • How is success measured? Can the program show you information that indicates treatment outcomes?
  • How is relapse handled? What is the program’s approach to this issue?
  • Do you feel respected and heard by the people that you are speaking with about the program?
  • Does the program offer different levels of care, such as inpatient, outpatient, and detox?
  • What is the cost of the alcohol rehab program?

When a person enters treatment for AUD, there are typically 3 stages of treatment that include:16

  • Detoxification, which is a process that helps a person clear alcohol out of their system and prepares them for treatment.
  • Treatment, which can take place either in an inpatient or outpatient rehab center.
  • Aftercare, which provides ongoing support after formal treatment to help people stay in recovery. Self-help, or mutual help groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and SMART Recovery, are two of the best known of these ongoing support programs.

The most critical thing to know is that treatment works for many people. In fact, about half of those who complete treatment for the first time remain in recovery.16 Staying in treatment for an adequate length of time is critical to long-term recovery, with longer stays in treatment associated with better outcomes.9

How to Support a Loved One in Alcohol Treatment or Recovery

As alcohol use disorder or any type of addiction impacts a person’s family, addressing family issues can be a helpful component of your loved one’s treatment and recovery.17 When your loved one has AUD, codependent behaviors can enable the person’s AUD, such as helping them make excuses for their drinking.18 Utilizing a support program, such as Al-Anon, can help you better understand how to support a loved one in recovery, as well as how to take care of your own needs. You can also encourage your friend or family member to continue their aftercare through a program like AA.

You must take care of yourself throughout this process.11 The stress of caring for someone with AUD is real. You will need to make sure that you are not becoming overly stressed. Caregiver stress can often result in depression or anxiety, as well as physical symptoms, so learning to manage this stress is vital to your well-being.19

If you are seeking help with an alcohol problem for yourself or a loved one, call today to find out more about your treatment options. You can search for an alcohol rehab center or easily check the coverage offered by your loved one’s health insurance to see if their health insurance provider will cover the cost of rehab. To speak with an American Addiction Centers admissions navigator, call .

How to Help Someone With Alcohol or Illicit Drug Addiction

The following resources can help you better understand drug and alcohol addiction and its effects:

Help for Prescription Drug Abuse

The following resources can help you better understand what prescription drug addiction is and its effects:


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NREMT
Ryan Kelley is a nationally registered Emergency Medical Technician and the former managing editor of the Journal of Emergency Medical Services (JEMS). During his time at JEMS, Ryan developed Mobile Integrated Healthcare in Action, a series of in-depth articles on Community Paramedicine programs across the country that go beyond transporting patients to emergency rooms and connects specific patients, such as repeat system users, the homeless and others with behavioral health issues and substance use disorders, to definitive long-term care and treatment. In his current capacity as Medical Editor for American Addiction Centers, Ryan works to provide accurate, authoritative information to those seeking help for substance abuse and behavioral health issues.
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