Helping an Alcoholic Loved One

Table of Contents

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) can be a difficult condition to overcome. Also known as alcoholism, this condition does not simply mean a person drinks too much or too often; people with AUD have a neurological dependence on alcohol, and an uncontrollable compulsion to drink. Approximately 14.4 million American adults suffered from AUD in 2018 alone. 1 If someone you love is exhibiting symptoms of alcoholism, it is important to help them seek treatment and support them on the path to recovery.

What Is Alcoholism?

Alcoholism, or AUD, is a condition characterized by unhealthy drinking patterns. Someone with this condition may be unable to control their drinking, think about alcohol use often, and continue to use alcohol even when it impacts their daily life. 2


Unhealthy drinking patterns refers to any alcohol use that may put a person’s safety, health, or life at risk. AUD may also involve binge drinking, or drinking a large amount of alcohol in a short period of time — 5 or more drinks within 2 hours for men, and 4 or more drinks within 2 hours for women. 3

Symptoms of AUD may include:


  • Experiencing strong cravings and urges for alcohol
  • Being unable to control alcohol use
  • Making unsuccessful attempts to limit alcohol use
  • Spending most of the time drinking, obtaining alcohol, or recovering from a hangover
  • Using alcohol in dangerous situations
  • Reducing social activities and hobbies to drink
  • Being unable to fulfill responsibilities due to alcohol use
  • Developing a high tolerance for alcohol
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms after a period of not drinking
  • Continuing to drink despite social, physical, or relationship issues
Without professional treatment, AUD can lead to serious problems. Liver disease, heart problems, and an increased risk of cancer are common among long-term AUD patients. 4
Alcohol also impairs a person’s judgement skills, and can lead to relationship problems, issues at work or school, accidents, legal issues, and an increased risk for suicide. 4 Seeking professional treatment at a rehab facility can help your loved one stay safe and avoid these dangers.
helping an alcoholic San Diego

Signs Your Loved One Has a Drinking Problem

Alcohol dependence can result in serious life consequences, such as health problems, legal issues, or difficulty with work or school. Seeking treatment for AUD in its early stages can help your loved one avoid these impacts later in life. While individuals will experience AUD in different ways, certain symptoms are more common than others.

High Alcohol Tolerance

A person with AUD drinks often, and over time, they will begin to build a tolerance for alcohol. As a result, they will need to drink larger amounts in order to feel the same effect. They may also drink more frequently. If you notice your loved one drinking large amounts of alcohol to feel a buzz, they may have AUD.

Hidden Alcohol Use

There’s a lot of social stigma surrounding alcoholism. Your loved one may feel shame about their drinking habits, and may take steps to hide it. You may find a bottle of alcohol hidden in an unusual place, like underneath the bathroom sink or buried in a dresser, or your loved one may try to keep you away from certain areas.

Loss of Interest in Activities

As your loved one continues to engage in unhealthy drinking patterns, they may lose interest in the activities they once enjoyed in order to drink more. Your loved one may longer engage in the hobby they’d cultivated for years, or they might stay away from friends, family, and social gatherings.

Mood Swings and Aggression

One of the most dangerous effects of alcohol is the neurological impacts. Alcohol affects your brain chemistry, leading to changes in mood and behavior. 5 Someone suffering from AUD may suddenly exhibit mood swings, aggression, and other negative emotions. These changes can lead to interpersonal issues and difficulty maintaining relationships.

Avoiding Responsibilities

Alcohol addiction often leads to issues at work or school. Someone with AUD may skip work or school to drink, show up late, or have issues keeping up with their responsibilities. They may also attend work or school drunk or hungover. As a result, your loved one may lose their job or be disciplined due to their alcohol use.

Risky Behaviors

Alcohol impairs judgement and inhibition, and chronic alcohol use can lead your loved one to engage in dangerous behaviors. For example, an alcoholic may drive while drunk, increasing their chances of getting into an accident and injuring themselves and others. If your loved one is engaging in risky behavior, alcohol use may be responsible.

Alcohol-Related Financial Problems

Sustaining an unhealthy alcohol addiction can be very expensive, and this may lead a person with AUD to engage in dangerous behaviors to keep purchasing alcohol. They may always be short on money, pawn valuables, or even take money and belongings from loved ones to purchase more alcohol.


If you notice any missing items or your loved one seems to be in financial distress, alcohol addiction may be involved.

Withdrawal Symptoms

One of the most tangible ways to see if someone has an addiction is to observe how they act after they have not had alcohol for a period of time. 

Alcohol dependence can lead to severe withdrawal symptoms, including:


  • Anxiety and nervousness
  • Fast heart rate
  • Shakiness and tremors
  • Disorientation
  • Agitation and irritability
  • Sweating
  • Loss of appetite
  • Insomnia
  • Restlessness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Seizures

These symptoms can occur in as little as two hours to four days after stopping alcohol use. If you notice your loved one going through withdrawal, they may have AUD.

Codependency and Alcoholism

Codependency in a relationship occurs when one person enables another person’s harmful behaviors, such as addiction. Codependency can be very harmful to an alcoholic’s recovery and to the mental health of their loved ones. 6

Signs of a codependent relationship involving AUD include:


  • Recognizing unhealthy behaviors but continuing to remain in the relationship
  • Providing financial and emotional support for the other person despite the potential harm
  • Being unable to find satisfaction outside of receiving the other person’s approval
  • Experiencing anxiety when unable to meet the other person’s desires
  • Making excuses for the other person’s behavior
  • Neglecting responsibilities and other relationships for the other person
  • Being unable to establish independence from the other person without facing conflict

If you are in a codependent relationship with someone suffering from AUD, they may continue to engage in risky activities and you may continue to unintentionally enable their drinking. You may also experience anxiety, burn-out, and undeserved guilt in a codependent relationship.


Ending a codependent relationship does not mean that you have to end the relationship for good. Instead, you can help your loved one seek professional help and visit a mental health professional to discuss your own experiences. These positive changes can help aid your loved one on the path to recovery and help continue your relationship without codependency.

How to Help Someone with Alcohol Use Disorder

Outside of seeking help for codependency, you can take multiple steps to help your loved one recognize their drinking problem and seek professional treatment. It is important to approach your loved one with care, understanding, and knowledge.

Avoid Enablement

When speaking to your loved one, you should avoid enabling behaviors. As discussed earlier, enablement is a common factor in codependent relationships, and it is important to make sure you are not encouraging alcohol addiction.

Avoid these common enabling behaviors when helping your loved one:


  • Making excuses for their behavior
  • Lying to cover up for your loved one’s actions
  • Bailing out your loved one or paying legal fees
  • Paying bills or providing financial support for your loved one
  • Avoiding talking about the alcohol use out of fear
  • Buying alcohol for your loved one or taking your loved one to a bar
  • Drinking with your loved one to strengthen your relationship
  • Finishing tasks for your loved one they were unable to complete

AUD is a difficult condition, and it can be hard to watch your loved one suffer through an addiction. However, enabling an alcohol addiction can prevent your loved one from seeking treatment.

Understand Alcoholism

The first step to helping your loved one is to understand what alcoholism is and how AUD impacts your brain, behavior, and body. As we’ve discussed before, AUD is highly complex and involves much more than drinking too much every once in a while — alcoholism involves dependence, high tolerance, and a loss of control.


Observe your loved one’s behaviors and check them against the symptoms of AUD. If you believe your loved one is suffering from alcohol addiction, you can take steps to help them seek treatment.

Find Treatment Programs in Your Area

Seeking professional treatment is the most important step someone with AUD can take. These programs offer medical supervision for withdrawal symptoms, therapy sessions to help people with AUD develop healthy coping skills, and a strong network of support. Approaching your loved one with concrete options for seeking treatment can help them on the path to recovery. 


Before you talk to your loved one, compile a list of AUD rehab programs in your area. The best treatment option for your loved one depends on a number of factors, such as their level of dependence, co-occurring addictions or mental health conditions, and their previous attempts to quit. Together, you and your loved one can research and decide which one to attend.

Engage in Careful Conversations

It takes a lot of courage to seek help for AUD, and your loved one may not be ready to discuss their drinking problem or admit they need treatment. In these situations, you should speak to your loved one about their drinking problem, how the issue affects you, and encourage them to seek help.


You may want to speak to a healthcare provider who specializes in AUD treatment before talking to your loved one. You may also want to write down what you want to say before you approach them. Remember, it may take a few conversations before they decide to seek help. 


When talking to your loved one, you should remain calm and speak carefully, making sure not to shame or make your loved one feel guilty for their drinking problem. Make it clear that you want to help your loved one seek treatment, explain how the alcohol use is affecting you, and present your research.


Remember, AUD is not a condition your loved one can control. Above all else, remain honest, empathetic, and helpful. If your loved one remains in denial, you may want to seek the help of a drug and alcohol counselor to stage an intervention.


Before you talk to your loved one, compile a list of AUD rehab programs in your area. The best treatment option for your loved one depends on a number of factors, such as their level of dependence, co-occurring addictions or mental health conditions, and their previous attempts to quit. Together, you and your loved one can research and decide which one to attend.

Alcoholism Treatment and Recovery

Someone with AUD may be resistant to seeking professional help. However, rehabilitation facilities are incredibly important for people suffering from alcohol addiction. 


Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be intense, relapse is common, and the mental health support these facilities provide is invaluable. It is extremely difficult to overcome addiction without this support. 

What Happens in an Alcohol Rehab Center?

When your loved one enters an alcoholism treatment program, they may receive a number of treatments. Many rehab centers take a holistic approach to addiction treatment, crafting an individualized program based on your loved one’s needs, symptoms, and co-occurring conditions.

Effective alcoholism treatment may include:


  • Medication to ease withdrawal symptoms
  • Support groups and group therapy
  • Individual therapies to develop healthier coping skills
  • Long-term sobriety and aftercare planning
  • Treatment for other mental health disorders
Approximately one-third of people who enter alcohol rehabilitation show no further AUD symptoms one year after completing the program, and have fewer alcohol-related problems. 7 Although aftercare is important, attending a rehabilitation program will give your loved one the tools they need to begin their journey to sobriety.

Supporting a Loved One After Treatment

After your loved one seeks professional help, they will need additional support after they leave the rehabilitation facility. Your loved one may attend peer support groups and therapy sessions for their AUD. They may need to stop spending time with people or at events where alcohol use is encouraged.


Aside from their professional treatment plan, your loved one will need support from you and their family to continue on the path to recovery. 

Avoid Bringing Alcohol into the Home

Having alcohol in close reach can make it difficult for your loved one to remain sober. Keep alcohol out of the house, as well as other potentially addictive substances. This will help avoid temptation and create a safe space for your loved one.

Attend Therapy and Support groups

Helping someone with AUD can be emotionally draining, and you want to make sure you are not putting your mental health at risk to support them. You may also want advice from a mental health professional who understands the complexities of addiction.

To protect your mental health, visit a therapist to process your emotions and discuss your experiences with your loved one. You can also join a support group for loved ones of alcoholics to learn from the experiences of others in similar situations.

Encourage a Healthy Routine

Many rehab programs emphasize the importance of an established routine to avoid relapse, and your loved one may need help keeping the routine going. Encourage your loved one to eat healthy, exercise regularly, and enjoy hobbies and activities that they enjoy.


One of the biggest causes of relapse is stress, and your loved one may need to add stress-relieving activities to their routine to overcome alcohol cravings. Encourage your loved one to try activities like journaling, yoga, meditation, and regular exercise to relieve stress.


Be Mindful of Relapse

A person is not cured of alcoholism after they leave rehab. Stressful situations, temptation, and toxic friends and environments can lead someone to start drinking again.

Common signs of alcohol relapse include:

  • Elevated stress 
  • Recurrence of withdrawal symptoms
  • Mood swings and other behavior changes
  • Spending time with people who drink
  • Missed support group meetings or therapy sessions
  • Abandonment of a daily routine
  • Behaving in a secretive or isolated manner
  • Anxiety and depression

The path to sobriety is not always free of obstacles; relapse is a serious threat. If your loved one relapses, don’t blame, shame, or get angry; encourage your loved one to stop drinking and seek help as soon as possible.


Although rehab and treatment may help in the short-term, sobriety is a lifelong journey. Relapse may occur, and it is important that your loved one has ongoing, positive support to help them avoid slipping back into full-blown addiction. Remain supportive and avoid enablement; with these tips, you can help your loved one recover from alcoholism and enjoy a sober lifestyle.


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