Tips for How to Help an Alcoholic

Edited by Beth Durling

Last updated August 3, 2020

Alcoholism (often referred to as alcohol use disorder or AUD) is a chronic and progressive disease that severely impacts a person’s physical and psychological well-being. Sadly, the effects of alcoholism aren’t only experienced by alcoholics. Family members, close friends, and romantic partners often suffer emotionally, financially, and sometimes even physically as a result of an individual’s AUD1.

Though these ramifications can cause immense distress to those closest to alcoholics, it’s important to remember that the traits brought out by the disease don’t represent their true personality. With that said, if your loved one’s drinking is getting out of hand, you might be wondering how to help an alcoholic.

Here at Northbound Treatment, we offer fully integrated alcohol treatment for people from all walks of life. We’re committed to providing addicts and their families with the information they need to overcome a severe drinking problem. Read on to find advice on helping an alcoholic start the journey to recovery.

How to Get an Alcoholic Help

If you’re concerned about your spouse, partner, child, parent, sibling, or dear friend and aren’t sure what steps to take, you’ve come to the right place. When it comes to substance use and addiction, it can be extremely difficult to approach the subject, let alone get someone to admit they have a drinking problem or convince them to get treatment. However, with tact and compassion, it can be done. Find useful tips on how to get an alcoholic help below.

Talk First

Whether you suspect your loved one is hiding an addiction to alcohol or their substance abuse has already been established, it’s best to try to talk to them before taking any other actions. Keeping your suspicions, emotions, and anger bottled up is unhealthy for you, and it can make your loved one withdraw even further from the relationship. 

Of course, alcoholics are responsible for their addictions and actions. And yet, if you want to help them, verbal communication is key. When you broach the topic of alcohol dependency, try not to let your emotions take over. Stay calm, avoid raising your voice, and try not to shame them for their actions.

Be Clear but Compassionate

When addressing your loved one’s alcohol use disorder, it’s also crucial to be very clear. This means avoiding vague language and explicitly communicating that their behavior is unacceptable. Remember that you can be clear about your boundaries and expectations without making them feel attacked or guilty for binge drinking or constant heavy drinking.

It’s all about approaching the topic from a place of understanding. Express that your goal isn’t to make them feel bad about their substance abuse but rather to help them get the addiction treatment they need to overcome AUD. It might be beneficial to acknowledge that alcoholism is a disease they have very little control over. Reiterating that you love them can also help as you explain what is or isn’t acceptable behavior and what the consequences might be if they don’t make a change.

Consult an Expert

In some instances, a one-on-one confrontation or family intervention is the first step in getting someone the help they need. However, it can be risky if you don’t plan ahead. Before having a talk about alcohol abuse, consult with an expert who knows the ins and outs of the disease.

The alcohol recovery programs from Northbound Treatment often begin with an email or phone call from a family member telling us they think their loved one has a problem. When you contact us, an experienced drug and alcohol counselor can provide guidance on how to talk to someone about starting a treatment program and the best ways to go about intervening. We even have a live chat feature on our website.

Know How to Identify Alcohol Use Disorder

Alcoholism affects everyone differently. Not only that, but depending on the stage of the disease, it can be difficult to detect an alcohol dependence. However, knowing the signs and symptoms can help you identify AUD1.

The early signs and behaviors of alcohol use disorder include:

  • Compulsive alcohol consumption
  • Drinking to cope with stress or mental health issues
  • Inability to socialize without alcohol
  • Hiding alcohol use
  • High liquor tolerance
  • Recklessness
  • Uncontrolled drinking

As alcohol dependence progresses to the problematic, severe, and obsessive stages, the signs are much more apparent. Without alcohol in their system, an individual will begin to experience withdrawal symptoms. You may notice secretive behaviors or that they’re isolating themselves from friends and family.

Due to liver damage and a lack of hygiene, they may also start to have medical problems. Additionally, many alcoholics begin to struggle at school or work, have a hard time paying their bills, or experience legal troubles. With end-stage alcoholism, the physical and mental symptoms become more obvious. This may include cirrhosis of the liver, skin discoloration, muscle deterioration, respiratory issues, or even brain damage. If you have wondered “is alcoholism a mental illness?”, it’s important to understand that depending on the severity of the drinking problem, alcoholism can be connected to a mental disorder.

Familiarize Yourself with AA and Al-Anon

At Northbound, we support organizations like AA (Alcoholics Anonymous 12 Steps) and NA (Narcotics Anonymous). For many suffering from alcoholism, the 12-Step model is a crucial component of overcoming substance abuse and maintaining long-term sobriety.

For families of alcoholics, we recommend familiarizing yourself with the meetings and programs offered by Alcoholics Anonymous. You can find meetings throughout the day at various locations in virtually every city in the United States. Also, the organization offers virtual meetings now in which recovering alcoholics gather via video conferencing.

Al-Anon is an organization that follows a similar 12-Step structure as Alcoholics Anonymous, but the programs are for families of alcoholics3. At meetings, many find comfort in the solidarity of others who’ve experienced similar turmoil. You can also learn from their experiences and get guidance on navigating the ups and downs of a loved one’s alcohol addiction.

Northbound Treatment’s Approach to Alcohol Rehab

The path to sobriety is never easy — not for alcoholics and not for their loved ones. While many feel like they’re in an impossible situation, we want you to know there’s hope. Full recovery from alcohol abuse disorder is possible, and your love and support is an essential piece of the puzzle.

No matter what stage of alcoholism your loved one is in, we encourage you to reach out to Northbound Treatment. We offer both short- and long-term treatment plans and a full continuum of care for alcohol and drug addiction. This includes detox, inpatient rehab, outpatient treatment, and addiction support services.

Alcohol detox can be extremely uncomfortable. The physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms are not only intense but also potentially unsafe without medical supervision. In some cases, the symptoms can become so severe that an alcoholic may lash out physically upon their friends or family members. At our 180 Detox program in Orange County, patients can get clean and overcome their physical dependence on alcohol in a safe, supportive, and comfortable setting.

After completing detox, patients usually transition to a residential rehab program where they’ll have a set schedule consisting of individual therapy sessions, group counseling, psychoeducation, recreational activities, and other evidence-based therapies. The next step for recovering alcoholics is outpatient treatment, during which clients continue their journey while living at home. Outpatient treatment varies, but most of our programs involve between three and 12 participation hours a week. After outpatient rehab, clients can enroll in our addiction support program, which provides ongoing accountability and relapse-prevention techniques.

Family Program

Northbound Treatment offers a variety of services that can be tailored to the unique needs of each client. This includes a family program, which works to address the causes that led to substance abuse. By striking the issue at its core, relationship rifts and other damages can be mended, clearing the way for familial healing.

Our family therapy program involves group therapy sessions with alcoholics and their loved ones and family education activities. The goal is to provide families with the tools and information necessary for combatting alcohol use disorder and improve the relationships of everyone involved.

The team at Northbound recognizes the complexity of AUD and other forms of addiction. The disease is impacted by an individual’s physical health, mental state, history, lifestyle, and genetics. By taking all of these aspects into account, we create personalized and comprehensive recovery plans for our clients.

If you’re not sure how to help an alcoholic in your life, please reach out to us as soon as possible. Call Northbound Treatment at (888) 978-8649.

External sources:

1. https://www.health.harvard.edu/addiction/alcohol-abuse

2. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/alcohol-use-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20369243

3. https://al-anon.org/

Article Reviewed by Beth Durling

Beth DurlingBeth Durling BA, CADCII, ICADC is the Clinical Director of Northbound Treatment Services. She is also the proud owner of The Durling Group, Inc., a national consulting firm, where she worked closely with large scale corporations, healthcare companies, and universities, helping to enhance outcomes.

Beth founded and resided as CEO for The Center for Life Change, a non-profit drug and alcohol treatment center in Riverside County where she gained national recognition for her outcomes as a leader in the field of addiction surrounding patient care, specializing in retention strategies for both staff and patients.

She also founded The Heart Culture Academy, creating a collaborative national community of trained influencers, helping people change their relationships, their work environments and personal lives through her published Model, Heart Culture.

Beth believes individual lives can be enhanced through learned consciousness, utilizing her specialized techniques that offer long-lasting, connection-based relationships. She has toured the country speaking and distributing this message.

Beth has been writing and speaking to assist individuals and organizations through transformative processes for the last 25 years. She is the mother to two adult children, Ridge and Rachel and resides in San Clemente, California.

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