How To Help Someone With A Drinking Problem

Man with a drink
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Alcohol use disorder (AUD) affects both the individual with the condition as well as others in their life, including their loved ones and families. Alcohol use can take a toll on the family's dynamic, mental and physical health, finances, and overall stability.

It can be difficult to know how to help someone with a drinking problem. But knowing how to talk to someone about their drinking is often a good 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. It also covers how to start the conversation and how to 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, it's likely that your loved one has gotten to the point that they continue to drink in spite of obvious 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 to this is that many people with an alcohol use disorder are in denial 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 actively seek sobriety 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. There are several things you can do 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 helps you stop blaming them.

While a person with an alcohol use disorder needs to take responsibility for their actions in order 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 the person with an alcohol use disorder. This can help you better determine whether or not your actions may actually be enabling them to continue in their behavior without you realizing it.

Recap

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 own coping skills.

How to Talk to Someone About Their Drinking

This is a difficult conversation. Plan what you're going to say ahead of time. Wait until your loved one is sober and relatively emotionally stable. Make sure you are also feeling calm, as it is important that your loved one doesn't feel attacked. Avoid accusatory language such as, "You'd better get help or else."

During this first discussion, it's important to show how much you care about your loved one. Be genuine and honest about your concerns, including how their drinking is affecting their health and the family as a whole. You can mention a particular problem that is 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 to take over some of their responsibilities at home while they are taking time out for recovery. 

Recap

Denial and pushback are common. While they might still resist getting treatment, you might discuss a timeframe and when you can expect changed behavior.

Consider the CRAFT Method

Don't be surprised if your first attempt to talk to your loved one about their drinking is not effective. Even when your loved one is committed to changing, it can take several rounds of treatment before they truly stop. After the first attempt, the next step you might take is an intervention.

Rather than a traditional confrontational intervention as depicted in movies, many addiction experts are now recommending community reinforcement and family training (CRAFT) as the preferred way to get a loved one help.

Studies show that CRAFT interventions have a success rate ranging from 64% to 74% when it comes to getting a loved one with a substance use disorder into treatment.

CRAFT provides concerned significant others with tools to:

  • Identify substance use triggers
  • Break patterns that enable drinking or using
  • Develop and improve communication skills
  • Practice self-care and reconnect with their values
  • Identify triggers for violence
  • Develop a plan to keep themselves (and their children) safe

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Codependency 

After you've taken all these measures, remember that you cannot force your loved one into treatment. 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, which takes the focus off your own life. This is defined as co-dependency, and it is destructive to your own 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. 

A Word From Verywell

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 rise to the 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, to learn to differentiate between your issues and your loved one's issues, 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 the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do you deal with a problem drinker?

    The National Institute of Health suggests that you should start by talking to them about your concerns, but be careful to avoid using accusations or threats. Offer to help them talk to a doctor or find a support group. You might also help by suggesting activities that don't involve drinking.

  • How do you help someone who can't stop drinking?

    Encourage them to talk to a professional about their drinking. Alcohol use disorder is a complex condition and quitting can be difficult, but effective treatments are available that can help, including medications. Offer to help them find a doctor, therapist, or treatment center so they can talk to someone about their treatment options.

  • Are there support groups for family members of an alcoholic?

    Al-Anon is one of the best-known support groups that helps people who are affected by their loved one's alcohol use. Other support groups include Alateen, NAMI Family Support Groups, and SMART Recovery Family & Friends.

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6 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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