How can you help someone stop drinking?
Drinking too much on a regular basis can cause significant issues not only for the drinker but also for members of their family from health problems to financial worries, relationship breakdown and parenting difficulties. If your loved one is partaking in Dry January, a month during which participants abstain from drinking alcohol, you might want to help them understand the effect it will have on their body.
If you suspect a loved one has a problem with drinking, you may want to reach out and offer support. Although it’s the individuals choice to quit drinking, close family members and friends can help. In this article we discuss the ways how can you help someone stop drinking.
What is alcoholism?
According to the charity, Drink Aware, alcoholism is a serious form of problem drinking and describes a strong desire to drink. Individuals with a drinking problem will often place drinking above all other commitments, including work and relationships, and may build up a physical tolerance or experience withdrawal symptoms if they stop.
Alcoholism can also be referred to as alcohol addiction or alcohol dependence. It’s slightly different to ‘harmful drinking’ which is an occasional pattern of drinking which can cause damage to your health.
An example of harmful drinking is drinking too much in the evening and risking a fall or argument with a loved one. This pattern may develop into alcoholism if that kind of harmful drinking becomes a habit and happens regularly.
Signs of a drinking problem
It can be tricky to spot the signs of alcoholism as alcoholics can be secretive about it. Some can become angry if confronted.
However, if someone close to you is showing any of the following signs, it may be that they’re suffering from alcohol misuse:
- Frequently drinking large amounts of alcohol
- Unable to stop drinking despite negative health consequences, such as liver damage
- Spending a large period drinking and dealing with the after-effects
- A lack of interest in previously normal activities
- Appearing intoxicated more regularly
- Needing to drink more to achieve the same effects
- Appearing tired, unwell or irritable
- An inability to say no to alcohol
- Anxiety, depression or other mental health problems
- Becoming secretive or dishonest
- Alcohol withdrawal symptoms when alcohol effects subside
- Possible weight loss if not eating well
- Isolation from friends and family
- Poor personal hygiene
If you think you may be drinking too much, or that your drinking is beginning to have a damaging effect on your life then consider asking for help. There are lots of support services that can help you or a loved one to cut down, stop completely and maintain any improvement you make.
Your GP may suggest different types of assessment and support options available to you including local community alcohol services.
You can also ask about any free local support groups and other alcohol counselling that may suit you.
The NHS Better Health campaign can help you drink less by using some of their simple tips and tools.
10 ways to help someone stop drinking
1. Get educated
The first step for family members and loved ones of a problem drinker is to learn more about what alcohol misuse and alcoholism actually is. It will help you to understand their behaviour and avoid the temptation to lay any blame at their door.
The charity, Alcohol Change UK, has lots of practical information for family and friends.
Above all, getting informed helps you see that your loved one is having a hard time, not trying to hurt you.
2. Talk about it
If a loved one has a chronic drinking problem, it is likely to be affecting your relationship. However, it’s important not to blame them, but to consider how you might talk to them with empathy about their drinking and the effect that this behaviour is having on you.
It's a good idea to:
Plan what you are going to say beforehand
Pick a time when your loved one is sober and able to communicate effectively
Avoid arguments – if it doesn’t feel the right time, try again on another occasion
3. Manage stress
Making a major life change by giving up or cutting down on alcohol may create stress. Similarly, heavy alcohol use is often an unhealthy means of managing stress. You can help your loved ones find healthier ways to reduce their stress level by encouraging them to exercise, speak to others, try meditation, or try other relaxation practices, such as yoga.
4. Get distracted
While it may be hard for you to completely remove situations where alcohol is present, you can avoid drinking with or around the person. When you spend time together, try to suggest activities that don’t involve alcohol. Examples can include; walks in nature, bowling, and going to the cinema.
5. Avoid triggering
Drinking around an alcoholic encourages their desire to drink. Additionally, if you’ve already approached them about their drinking problem, consuming alcohol around them will not encourage them to stop. In fact, it will affect the trust they have in you and discourage them from seeking your advice.
6. Approach with care
Bringing up a loved one's drinking problem can be a difficult conversation. Try not to confront the person without a plan. More importantly, do not try to discuss the issue when your loved one is still intoxicated or in an emotionally vulnerable position.
Remember, you don’t want to make them feel attacked, judged, or shamed. So, avoid harsh or accusatory language. When you make your approach, be honest about your concerns.
7. Offer practical support
Taking an active role in your loved one’s recovery can be a positive demonstration of your support and love, providing them with the courage and determination to overcome their alcohol issues.
You can offer practical support by:
- Encouraging them to get a check-up from their GP. If they are taking any medication, make sure that they are aware of any potential impact of their drinking on their medication
- Encouraging them to drink plenty of water so that they don’t become dehydrated
- Encouraging them to eat regularly, especially before they start to drink. Good nutrition is important in keeping them healthy
- Making sure that they are not putting themselves and others at risk by drinking under the influence
- Remaining positive about their ability to change and offer praise for any small changes they can make
8. Be supportive
When discussing recovery, show your loved ones that you’re willing to support them through recovery. This will encourage them to pursue the recovery journey without relapsing. Set goals with them and even come up with rewards for achievements made.
Remember, recovery is a continuous process, and it continues beyond treatment. Having knowledge of both treatment and aftercare programs will help you prepare for the process.
9. Accept them
A person’s relationship with alcohol can be complex and tied to a number of emotions, like depression, social acceptance or coping. It’s not easy for a person to acknowledge, admit or accept that their drinking could be harmful to their health and their relationships. They may not want to, and they may not be ready.
But acceptance is a big step in someone’s journey toward change. That’s why it’s important to be patient, keep your conversations open and avoid judgement.
10. Get professional support
Do not give up if you’re not confident about your ability to help. If you know someone who has successfully quit alcohol, you can learn a few things about their experiences. Then, see how it applies to your loved one.
If they’re okay with it, have them talk to your loved one about recovery. Other family members can also help by encouraging or funding treatment.
Alcohol addiction treatment
Cutting down or completely stopping can be a huge challenge for some. Most people will need some degree of help or a long-term plan to stay in control or completely alcohol-free. Thankfully help is out there!
Getting the right support can be crucial to maintaining control in the future. Relying on family, friends or carers sometimes isn’t enough. If you suspect a loved one has a problem with alcohol then first speak to them about it. You could also offer to go with them to see their GP who can signpost to helpful support services.
A GP will diagnose alcohol misuse when three or more of the following have been present together in the past year:
- An overwhelming desire to drink
- An inability to stop or to control harmful drinking
- Withdrawal symptoms when stopping drinking
- Evidence of alcohol tolerance
- Pursuing the consumption of alcohol to the exclusion of alternative pleasures
- Continuing to drink despite clear evidence of harmful consequences
Ask a GP or your alcohol service about what longer-term support is available in your area.
Get help for alcoholism
For more information, talk to your GP or pharmacist. Are you caring for an alcoholic? You don’t have to do this alone, find out where you can get support.
You may also want to share the following links with the individual you’re concerned about:
- Drinkline is the national alcohol helpline. If you're worried about your own or someone else's drinking, you can call this free helpline in complete confidence. Call 0300 123 1110 (weekdays 9 am to 8 pm, weekends 11 am to 4 pm).
- Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is a free self-help group. They hold a "12-step" programme that involves getting sober with the help of regular support groups.
- Al-Anon Family Groups offers support and understanding to the families and friends of problem drinkers, whether they're still drinking or not. Alateen is part of Al-Anon and can be attended by 12- to 17-year-olds who are affected by another person's drinking, usually a parent.
- We Are With You is a UK-wide treatment agency that helps individuals, families and communities manage the effects of drug and alcohol misuse. If you are over 50 and worried about your drinking, call 0808 8010 750
- Adfam is a national charity working with families affected by drugs and alcohol. Adfam operates an online message board and a database of local support groups.
- The National Association for Children of Alcoholics (Nacoa) provides a free, confidential telephone and email helpline for children of alcohol-dependent parents and others concerned about their welfare. Call 0800 358 3456 for the Nacoa helpline.
- SMART Recovery groups help people decide whether they have a problem, build up their motivation to change, and offer a set of proven tools and techniques to support recovery.