How To Help An Alcoholic

Medically Reviewed by Johnelle Smith, M.D on December 14, 2020

When a loved one is struggling with alcoholism, they may not know how to help themselves. Learning about evidence-based treatments, diagnosis, causes, and risk factors can help.

How To Help An Alcoholic

Getting better informed about the nature of alcoholism and addiction can be the first step towards helping a loved one who is struggling with an alcohol use disorder (AUD). Addiction is a progressive, multifaceted disease with many complications.

People with alcoholism may not be open with the details of their drinking habits. They may hide or lie about how often or how much alcohol they consume, or even refuse to admit they have a problem with alcohol at all.

It may help for you to understand:

  • how a disease like alcoholism develops
  • how an AUD is diagnosed
  • warning signs to look for
  • helping a loved one recognize that they have a problem
  • knowing what quality substance abuse treatment programs should include

AUD, commonly known as alcoholism, is a chronic, lifelong disease, but it is also manageable when effective treatment options are utilized.

A Step-By-Step Guide To Help Someone With An AUD

Step 1: Become Familiar With Alcoholism

It can be difficult to have a conversation with your loved one about their alcohol addiction if you aren’t sure you understand the disease of alcoholism.

People who struggle with alcoholism used to be referred to as alcoholics. The term alcoholic is antiquated and considered unhelpful. It may be useful to take the term alcoholic out of the conversation. Your family member may appreciate it more than you realize

Instead, referring to the disease as alcoholism or an alcohol use disorder, and your loved one as someone who struggles with alcohol abuse or alcohol addiction, can feel more neutral and may help keep the conversation headed in a positive direction.

In 2013, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) published an updated manual that placed alcohol abuse on a spectrum, called an alcohol use disorder.

A person who misuses alcohol and meets specific criteria can be diagnosed with an alcohol use disorder that is mild, moderate, or severe.

The DSM-5 also discusses common factors among individuals who struggle with AUD:

  • Most individuals with an AUD meet criteria by their late 30s, although alcohol abuse has likely been occurring since late teens to mid-20s.
  • Genetics play a factor, as an AUD is three to four times higher in families with close relatives who have an AUD.
  • Long-term, excessive alcohol consumption can lead to significant health risks.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines an AUD as an inability to control or refrain from consuming alcohol, even when drinking alcohol negatively impacts most areas of their life, including work, home, social life, or even health.

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Alcoholism is considered a disease, as well as a disability. While the initial consumption and abuse of alcohol may be voluntary, once a person is addicted their alcohol abuse is out of their control.

Denial is a huge component of alcohol or drug addiction, especially alcohol addiction. Even after a person has lost their job, had failed relationships due to alcohol, experienced alcohol dependence or withdrawal, had health problems or mood swings, they may not see that they have alcohol problems.

Step 2: Find Substance Abuse Treatment Programs

Locating a substance abuse treatment program that uses evidence-based practices and offers treatment options that are best suited for your loved one is important in the recovery process.

Some things to consider when exploring options are:

  • Is your loved one physically dependent on alcohol?
  • Does the treatment provider offer medically supervised detox?
  • How much does your loved one drink?
  • Does your loved one struggle with any additional mental health or physical health issues?

No matter the answers, it can be helpful to speak to addiction treatment specialists to find out more about alcoholism treatment.

That may also be a good time to inquire about what types of insurance the rehab facilities accept, especially if you know your loved one’s health insurance provider.

Step 3: Talk To Your Loved One

Choosing when to talk to your loved one is just as important as what you are going to say to them. Make sure that your loved one is sober, not experiencing withdrawal symptoms, and able to process what you are saying.

Stay calm while you are sharing your concerns about their drinking problems.

They may get upset, they may deny that there is a problem, but if you stay calm and focused, they may be willing to listen.

If your loved one still isn’t willing to acknowledge the problem while talking to you, you may want to consider getting professional help from an intervention specialist. These individuals are experienced in working with addiction and getting people to attend rehab.

Alcohol Use Disorder Risk Factors

The recipe for developing an AUD is not specific and is due to a number of factors. Genetics, mental health issues, environment, and family history are just a few of the believed contributing factors to AUD.

Individual differences also contribute heavily to whether a person develops an AUD, since people can experience a similar history or have other factors in common and do not develop an AUD.

Alcohol Use Disorder Treatment

When a person agrees to enter an addiction treatment facility for alcohol addiction, they are assessed by an intake specialist to determine if they meet the criteria for a substance use disorder. This involves a number of questions that explore their alcohol use and abuse.

After intake, your loved one will discuss treatment plans with an addiction treatment specialist(s).

Together they will make a plan that may include:

Proper treatment will explore more than just addiction. Your loved one will be assessed for any underlying contributing factors and a plan will be made to remedy those issues as well.

Our addiction specialists are currently available to help you and your loved one take the first step toward a sober life. Contact our helpline today to learn which type of treatment and treatment services may be right for you or a family member.

This page does not provide medical advice. See more

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Medically Reviewed by
Johnelle Smith, M.D on December 14, 2020
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