Helping a loved one with an alcohol addiction

Helping a loved one with an alcohol addiction

Seeing a loved one suffering with a drinking problem can be emotionally draining, and trying to help them can be even harder.

Approximately 7.7 million U.S. adults are currently married to or living with a partner with an alcohol use disorder, according to a study from the University at Buffalo Research Institute. The research highlights the considerable psychological distress that can be caused by living with an alcoholic partner.

“Alcoholism can be one of the most challenging psychiatric and social diseases to treat because of the broad availability of alcohol and the social acceptance of drinking,” says Dr. Aaron Malina, neuropsychologist at Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital in Barrington, Ill. “Alcoholism very much impacts not only the person drinking, but everyone in his or her social circle.”

Family and general social support is a key ingredient in establishing and maintaining sobriety with a loved one.

People need to take care of themselves to help others, and a loving, nonjudgmental stance goes a long way in helping the person to establish and maintain his or her sobriety, Dr. Malina says.

“Although others may not experience the direct effects of the alcohol, they can struggle with the psychological and social consequences of the person’s alcohol use at times as much, if not more than the person actively drinking,” Dr. Malina says. “If you or a loved one is struggling with alcoholism, reach out to your primary care physician, behavioral health provider or a support group.”

The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence offers these tips on their website:

  • Learn All You Can About Alcoholism and Drug Dependence
  • Speak Up and Offer Your Support – Talk to the person about your concerns, including your willingness to go with them and get help. Like other chronic diseases, the earlier addiction is treated, the better.
  • Express Love and Concern – Don’t wait for your loved one to “hit bottom.” You may be met with excuses, denial or anger, but be prepared to respond with specific examples of behavior that has you worried.
  • Don’t Expect the Person to Stop Without Help – You have heard it before, promises to cut down or stop, but it doesn’t work. Treatment, support and new coping skills are needed to overcome addiction to alcohol and drugs.
  • Support Recovery as an Ongoing Process – Once your friend or family member is receiving treatment or going to meetings, remain involved. While maintaining your own commitment to getting help, continue to support their participation in continuing care, meetings and recovery support groups. Continue to show that you are concerned about their successful long-term recovery.

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  1. Rose Henderson May 5, 2015 at 11:24 am · Reply

    This really would be something incredibly difficult to handle. There is help readily available though whether it be from a counselor, friends, or just people you can relate to. I’m sure it is difficult for the person suffering from the addiction to even realize there is a problem a lot of the time. I wouldn’t know what to do in this situation.

    • awseome read thanks for sharing. IM a recovering heroin addict and my loved ones and family tried for years to help me. I hope to one day give back to them for everything they gave me

  2. I like your point about treatment being like other diseases and being easier to treat the earlier it is detected. I think that sometimes people see their partner as a “functioning alcoholic,” so they don’t want to to bring up the problem and start a fight. However, as you said, the sooner it is identified and a treatment course is taken, the easier it will be to treat.

  3. Delores Lyon May 5, 2015 at 2:38 pm · Reply

    Thanks for sharing this advice when it comes to helping a loved one with an alcohol addiction. It really is true that recovery is an ongoing process- you can’t expect the problem to be solved overnight! That is why I think long term programs are a great way to help ensure that the person is able to make a strong recovery. And you can make those programs even better by being there for that person every step of the way, like you said.

  4. I think you make a really good point about expecting the person to stop without help. I think that promises to “cut down,” are the worst thing to tolerate. If you are loving an alcoholic, it is important to know that they can’t just “cut down,” or have the occasional drink. They probably have no control over their drinking, and they will need help to stop.

  5. Thanks for sharing this article, Lisa. Like you, I think it’s incredibly important that we’re offering our love and support to people who are struggling with addiction. It isn’t easy being strapped down, but it’s much easier when you have support from people who care about you. My sister is struggling with alcohol dependence, and I’m trying to help her recover. I have to take it one step at a time!

    Alex Jennings |

  6. It’s definitely heartbreaking to see a loved one become an alcoholic. It’s important to not stop loving them, and to voice your concerns. Be prepared to be met with denial or anger, because it’s bound to happen. It’s a long journey, but very much worth the patience.

  7. Jamarcus Dantley July 1, 2015 at 12:56 pm · Reply

    You’re right, living with or seeing a love one suffer with a drinking problem can be tough. I’m not quite sure how to help them overcome it. I think it’s a good idea to just let them know you’re there for them and you care for them no matter what. Being supportive and patient is sometimes all you can do.

  8. Thanks for the information. For the last four years, my son has been a major alcoholic. It’s been really hard trying to help him without pushing him away. I’m going to follow your tip about expressing love rather than hate. Do you think that’ll really help?

  9. Great article! I agree, I think alcoholism can be just as hard, if not harder, on the people you love than on yourself. It is so important to talk to someone else about it though. If you get advice from a spouse, family member, or friend then it is tough to really take all of it in the way they mean it. Hearing it from a third party that you have never met before can be life changing. There are ways to get out of this, just don’t be lazy and people are willing to help! Do you have any other tips for making sure you, or a loved one, can receive the care that they deserve?

  10. Deanna R. Jones January 5, 2016 at 1:59 pm · Reply

    You made a good point about how helping a loved one with a drug addiction can help them recover. It seems like it would be more difficult when trying to become sober alone. Having a support group could help hold someone accountable to make sure that they remember why they’re trying to get over their addiction and live a happier and healthier life.

  11. My brother-in-law has just finished his substance abuse treatment program and I am really proud of him for taking that step to get better. However, I am still reluctant to trust him, because alcoholism is something that you do not just get over so quickly as it is an ongoing process. It is my hope to approach him with love and concern, but can our family be prepared to help him if he relapses? Of course, I am not saying that that is my expectation, but it is very common for addicts to relapse.

  12. Lauren Woodley May 20, 2016 at 11:25 am · Reply

    I think your insight about taking care of people in a nonjudgmental way was very, very insightful. Not to mention important! When you’re able to reach out to your friends and family who are struggling in a loving way, you’ll be able to reach them. You’ll be able to be honest with them, and you’ll be able to help them make the changes necessary for them to succeed and be happy. Thanks for sharing!

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health enews Staff
health enews Staff

health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.