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Helping A Loved One With A Drinking Problem

by Landmark Recovery

March 21, 2019
A man and woman talking about a drinking problem in a therapy session

It is natural to want to help a close friend or loved one when they are in a predicament, especially if that predicament is a drinking problem. However, the problem can become more complicated if your loved one doesn’t notice that there is one. One example of this is alcoholism. If you believe that a loved one has a drinking problem, you may notice it but not know exactly how to help. You may not even know if it even is a drinking problem. Moreover, you might be worried to even bring it up as you don’t want them to get angry or you don’t want to offend them.

With that said, it is better to bring it up and talk about it if you do believe that there is a serious problem. If you are concerned about a loved one’s health when it comes to drinking, or substance abuse in general, do not wait to bring it up. The problem will most likely get worse, not better, if you wait to talk about it.

But, again, what do you say? How do you say it? When you notice that there is a problem, how do you proceed? All of these are important questions and ones that you need to learn about and address, but, first you need to examine the situation and understand if there is a actually a problem or not.


What is Considered A Drinking Problem?

A woman looking out a window and thinking about what qualifies as a drinking problem


While you can look at how many drinks a person has to determine if a person may be overindulging in alcohol, it is better to look at how the drinking is affecting someone’s day-to-day life. For example, if they are missing commitments and social activities, or are having trouble with relationships because of drinking those can be signs that they have a drinking problem.

The recommended amount of drinks that a person should consume without too much health risks is 14 drinks per week for men and 7 drinks per week for women. But again, the more important thing to look at when it comes to drinking problems is how the alcohol affects someone’s social and professional life.

“A good indicator is that something is out of whack. Is your personal life deteriorating because of your drinking? Are people starting to shun you? If you’re feeling generally miserable, that’s a warning sign,” said Dr. George Koob, director of the NIH’s National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.


To determine is someone has an alcohol use disorder, you can ask these questions:

In the past year has the person

  • Drank more or longer than they planned on drinking?
  • Tried or wanted to cut down or stop drinking but couldn’t?
  • Had withdrawal symptoms when the alcohol was wearing off? Symptoms include shakiness, irritability, anxiety, depression, nausea, and more.

A full list of questions to ask can be found here.

Excessive drinking can lead to a number of health issues and negative effects on the body. For one, drinking too much can interfere with brain communication pathways and lead to short-term disruptions in mood and cognitive and motor abilities. However, in the long term, over drinking can cause many heart and liver problems. For example, drinking a lot over time can cause irregular heartbeat, stroke, and high blood pressure, all of which can be detrimental to your health. Furthermore, heavy drinking takes a major toll on the liver, causing liver scarring and, if the situation gets bad enough, can lead to cirrhosis of the liver.

Along with these organ problems, drinking is also known to increase the risk of a number of different types of cancers including oral, colon, liver, and breast cancers.

Because of this, helping a loved one with an alcohol use disorder should not be put off. Get help for your loved one immediately if they are struggling with substance abuse.


How To Help

A man reaching out his hand. He is reaching out to his friend who has a drinking problem

Once you determine if your loved one has a drinking problem, it may be hard to know what to do next. To help understand what do next, it may be best to focus on what you should not do:

  • Don’t make excuses for your loved one’s drinking if there is a problem
  • Don’t take on responsibilities, it will make it easier for your loved one to avoid the consequences of their actions
  • Avoid arguing when your loved one has been drinking, it will likely lead to nothing productive
  • Do not feel guilty, their problem is not your fault. You can’t control it, but you may be able to help

It is not an easy thing to do to talk with a loved one about about their drinking. The best way to go about this is, as mentioned before, find a time to talk when the person is not drinking.

When you are talking about a loved one about a drinking problem that you believe they have, the NIAAA recommends focusing on three major therapeutic principles: empathy, goals, and choice.



Previous approaches to alcohol treatment have taken confrontational styles in which they are supposed to “break through” the denial. However, the NIAAA says that research does not support this approach. Instead, it is best to communicate a sense of understanding and support and encourage your loved one to discuss their drinking and help them look at the problems that are associated with it.



It can also be helpful to lay out a set of goals for your loved one when discussing their drinking habits. For example, it can be beneficial to bring up their children or friends when talking about their problem, as motivation to help them get sober.



Providing clients who have drinking problems with choices about which treatment options they can decide from. Instead of assuming full control over the situation, providing them with a course of action that they can choose from allows them to maintain power while still doing what they need to do to get sober.


Staging An Intervention

A man leading an intervention for an individual with a drinking problem

An intervention is one of the many tools that people will use to help their loved ones become aware of their problematic behavior and help motivate them to seek help for their substance abuse issue.

It can be challenging to help a loved one struggling with some sort of addiction, the problem can be even more difficult if they can’t see or don’t acknowledge the problem themselves. In these cases, an intervention may be the best path forward.

An intervention is a planned process that can be done by friends and family, in consultation with a medical professional. During the intervention, people will gather to speak to your loved one about the consequences of addiction and ask them to accept treatment.

It should be noted that interventions are high-stress situations and that they can lead to angry outburst, and feelings of resentment or betrayal.


Steps For An Intervention

There is a normal step-by-step process that most interventions go through. The process is as follows:

1. Making a plan — The first step is to figure out how to go about this. Propose an intervention with other family members and friends. This should be done while consulting a counselor, addiction professional, or other medical expert.

2. Gathering information — The second step for setting up an intervention is to learn more about treatment options and facilities that can help your loved one.

3. Bring other people in — It is best to bring in other people for an intervention, close friends and family members are best. Setting up a date and coming up with a cohesive message and plan for how to present that message is important. Some interventions enlist the help of an addiction professional to be there on the day of the intervention.

4. Decide on consequences — It is important to set pre-made boundaries and actions that you will take if your loved one does not want to accept treatment.

5. Know what to say — Each family member and friend should describe specific incidents with your loved one that caused some type of problem. Talking about the toll that their behavior has had can help open their eyes to the impact that their drinking has on others.

6. Hold the intervention — Bring your loved one to the agreed upon location of the intervention and have members of the group go around and express their concerns and feelings about the person’s substance problems. They will be presented with treatment options and asked if they will accept that option then. Remember, giving them control over choosing which treatment option is important.

7. Follow up — Many treatment centers will involve family members and other close people with someone who is in treatment to help avoid relapse. Furthermore, your loved one will need your support to stay strong following rehabilitation

It is important to plan the intervention carefully so that it works as intended. If the intervention is planned poorly, it can make the situation worse.


Interventions For Youth

According to information from the NIAAA, 1.4 million youth aged 12 to 17 meet the criteria for alcohol abuse and dependence. However, not even a quarter million of the youth meeting the criteria received any treatment for these disorders.


Unsuccessful Intervention

Unfortunately, not all interventions end up being successful. In fact, in some cases, your loved one might just flat out refuse the treatment plan. You should prepare yourself for his outcome while still remaining hopeful for a positive change.


Helping After Rehab

A man and woman talking about a drinking problem in a therapy session

Sobriety is not something that is solved after going to a rehabilitation facility, it is a lifelong battle that many will struggle with. It is common for people who have gone through treatment to relapse, but this is not always the case.

One of the factors that can lead to long, successful sobriety following a drinking problem is social support. In fact, according to one study published in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, support from family and friends has been cited as an important factor in recovery, especially long-term recovery.

“As previously discussed, recovery is a dynamic process that makes changing demands over time in terms of coping strategies and can thus be stressful. Social support has several benefits that may contribute to the recovery process over time. For example, social support has been found to buffer stress. Moreover, the support of, particularly recovering peers, provides hope, coping strategies and role models, giving strength in trying times,” the study said.

While family and friends can play an important role in helping someone maintain sobriety, many people not know what to do to help this process. Overall, friends and family are there to help to provide social support and motivation for individuals with substance abuse problems to stay sober and avoid relapse.

The motivation that friends and family provide can be something that might be needed even during rehab to help them stay on the straight path toward sobriety. While there are a lot of factors that determine whether a patient will stay in treatment or not, one big factor is the social support that they can receive from family and friends.

For some treatment centers, counselors may bring in family members to participate in family therapy sessions which can further educate and inform not only the family members but people going through therapy and counselors as well. It should also be noted that there evidence that indicates that substance abuse treatment includes family therapy works better than substance abuse treatments that do not. It can increase engagement, retention, reduces drug and alcohol uses, improves family and social functioning, and discourages relapse.


In Conclusion

Alcohol use disorder is a serious problem that needs to be addressed as soon as possible. Unchecked drinking problems can lead to a number of negative health consequences. If a loved one is dealing with excessive alcohol use, Landmark Recovery can help. At Landmark, our medical professionals use a evidence-based and holistic approach to recovery that can help your loved one achieve sobriety. If you would like more information on a personalized path forward and how Landmark can help, please visit our website here and reach out to our admissions staff at 888-488-0302.


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About the Author

Landmark Recovery

Landmark Recovery

Landmark Recovery was founded with a determination to make addiction treatment accessible for all. Through our integrated treatment programs, we've helped thousands of people choose recovery over addiction and get back to life on their own terms. We're on a mission to save one million lives over the next century. We encourage all those struggling with substance use to seek professional help.