How to Help an Alcoholic

If you suspect that your loved one has an alcohol misuse problem, you may be at a loss for what to do to help them. While providing adequate support can be challenging, families of alcoholics can play an essential role in aiding their recovery.1

There are several ways in which you can help a loved one struggling with alcohol abuse.2 Through researching and educating yourself on the nature of alcoholism, you will be better equipped to understand your loved one and their situation and make informed decisions regarding treatment. However, if your loved one continues to be in denial and refuses treatment, you may want to consider hosting an intervention led by a qualified substance abuse counselor, intervention specialist, or physician.2

Keep on reading to learn more about providing alcohol addiction help and supporting lasting recovery.

dealing and living with an alcoholic

What Makes a Person Alcoholic?

Most individuals who drink alcohol do so without developing dependence and addiction.3 Unfortunately, for some, drinking alcohol can lead to alcohol use disorder (AUD).3 How vulnerable one is to developing AUD can depend on several underlying personal, financial, and professional factors unique to the individual. Genetics, environmental factors, family history, and mental health issues can all contribute to one’s vulnerability to alcohol dependence.3

Stages of Alcoholism

The progression of alcohol addiction can be seen as a “vicious circle”, involving obsessive drinking and serious consequences unless treatment is sought.4 This is illustrated in the Jellinek Curve, developed in the 1950s, which shows how the effects of alcoholism can worsen if the cycle isn’t broken as well as how recovery can help.5 The curve describes the following stages of alcoholism:5

  • Pre-alcoholic: During this stage, individuals may start drinking to alleviate pain, feel better about themselves, cope with anxiety, or forget unpleasant events.
  • Early alcoholic: This may involve excessive drinking, blacking out from too much alcohol, lying about alcohol use, and obsessive thoughts.
  • Middle alcoholic: At this stage, loved ones may begin to notice that the person is struggling. An alcoholic may miss important obligations, exhibit irritable behavior when not drinking, and show physical signs of alcoholism.
  • Late alcoholic: At this point, drinking starts to influence every aspect of the individual’s life, impacting their health, personal relationships, and overall well-being. Additionally, the person may experience hallucinations and tremors if they stop drinking.

During the late stage, alcoholics can start getting their life back with appropriate therapy, detoxification, and rehabilitation. Treatment for alcohol abuse also involves aftercare planning that helps the person practice sober living and transcend their alcohol dependence.4

Signs of AUD (Alcohol Use Disorder)

The 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders describes the following signs of an AUD:6

  • Failure to cut down or stop drinking
  • Continuing use despite negative consequences
  • Using alcohol in risky circumstances (e.g. swimming or driving)
  • Heightened conflicts in the family and friend groups
  • Continuing use despite failing to fulfil responsibilities
  • Using increasing amounts of alcohol
  • Experiencing cravings
  • Spending a lot of time seeking, using, and recovering from alcohol
  • Developing tolerance, i.e. having to drink more and more to achieve the same effect
  • Experiencing withdrawal, i.e. exhibiting physical symptoms of alcohol withdrawal when you stop drinking

What to Do if a Person Doesn’t Want Help?

It is hard to watch a loved one struggle with alcohol abuse and be unable to help them. If you are living with an alcoholic who refuses to accept help, there are ways in which you can get them the support they need.2

An individual who refuses to acknowledge the severity of their drinking behavior may not see it as problematic.2 In such a case, families of alcoholics can try to help them understand the consequences of their drinking. They can also educate themselves on alcohol addiction and its effects and learn about available treatment methods and pass the knowledge on to their loved one.2

If you have a loved one who is reluctant to accept help for alcoholism, you can also try setting relationship boundaries.2 As an example, you may try letting them know that you’ll no longer cover for and make up excuses for them. However, it is important that you do not set up consequences if you aren’t ready to follow through with them.2 Finally, organizing an intervention with the help of a qualified substance abuse professional can be an effective way of getting your loved one into rehab.7

Treatment for Alcohol Addiction

Alcoholism treatment is typically tailored to the specific needs of the individual.8 In general, getting help for alcohol abuse may involve several key principles, including safe detox and withdrawal management, research-based medication-assisted treatment, group and individual therapy, and long-term aftercare planning (e.g. peer support groups).8 Effective treatment also aims to address any mental health disorders comorbid with AUD. As for the duration, longer stays in inpatient facilities tend to produce better results, although there is no one-size-fits-all approach to treatment length.8

Get Help for Alcoholism

We know how difficult and scary it can be to begin the process of getting help for an individual struggling with alcohol, but Treatment Solutions and American Addiction Centers are here for you. You can call our alcohol abuse hotline to speak with a compassionate admission navigator about the available treatment and payment options. Our calls are 100% confidential.

You can also find useful information about alcoholism on the following websites:

If, however, you or your loved one is ready to seek treatment, feel free to verify your insurance and start your path to recovery by using the form below.