How to help someone with a drinking problem

November 01, 2018 | by Aaron Weiner, Ph.D.
Categories: Healthy Driven Minds

Your friend seems to have crossed the line from being a casual drinker to a problem drinker, and you’re not sure what to do. This is an all-too-common situation.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) estimates that 17 million American adults and 855,000 adolescents (ages 12-17) have alcohol use disorder (AUD), previously known as alcohol dependence or alcoholism.

Unfortunately, people who struggle with AUD often hide how much they drink, deny they have a problem, or lie to themselves or others about their alcohol consumption. Some people with a drinking problem aren’t ready to change yet. Others may promise to change, but slip back into drinking.

How do you help someone with a drinking problem? Here are some ways to approach them:

  • Choose a quiet time and a private place to talk.
  • Bring it up only when they are sober and calm.
  • Be honest about your concerns.
  • Be empathetic, nonjudgmental and sincere.
  • Don’t tell them what to do or what’s best for them.
  • Make positive, supportive statements (e.g., “I love you. I’m concerned about how much you’re drinking, and that it may be harming your health”).
  • Let them know you care and that you’re there to suppot them.
  • Be prepared to face a negative reaction. Stay calm and don’t take it personally.
  • Take care of yourself, too. Get your own help through therapy and support groups.

Treating alcohol use disorder isn’t easy, and it doesn’t always work the first time around. Sadly, less than 10 percent of people with AUD receive any treatment.

The most successful treatment happens when a person wants to change. While you can urge your friend or loved one to get into a treatment program, you can’t force them to go. All you can do is offer your help. It’s up to them to decide if they’ll take it.  

Once someone is ready to seek help, there are many treatment options available, including medications to ease withdrawal symptoms, therapy to understand the addiction and change behaviors, and long-term social support to maintain sobriety and avoid relapse.

Don’t consider your part done after your loved one starts treatment. Attend meetings with them if they are open to it. Offer to help out with work, childcare and household tasks. Stay invested in your loved one’s long-term recovery.

If you or a loved one needs help with drug or alcohol addiction, you aren’t alone. Get help at Linden Oaks Behavioral Health.

Parents, talk to your kids about the dangers of alcohol abuse. Get tips for talking to your teen about drugs and alcohol.

Related blogs:

Learn signs your teen may be abusing alcohol

What alcohol does to your body

Binge drinking taken to a new level on college campuses

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