How to Help an Alcoholic

Discover how to help an alcoholic and provide the support they need. Seek professional help and find resources for assistance.

July 3, 2024

Understanding Alcohol Use Disorder

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a chronic condition characterized by the excessive and problematic consumption of alcohol. It affects millions of individuals and can have a significant impact on both the individuals themselves and their families.

Alcohol Use Disorder Overview

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), more than 14 million adults in the United States, aged 18 and older, have alcohol use disorder [1]. AUD is a complex condition that is influenced by genetic, psychological, social, and environmental factors, which can impact how alcohol affects a person's body and behavior.

Over time, excessive alcohol consumption can lead to changes in the brain's normal functioning, affecting areas associated with pleasure, judgment, and self-control. This can result in cravings for alcohol as an attempt to restore positive feelings or alleviate negative ones [2].

Impact on Individuals and Families

The impact of alcohol use disorder extends beyond the individual struggling with it. Families and loved ones also experience the consequences of AUD, which can disrupt family life, lead to financial and legal difficulties, and potentially result in mistreatment and abuse of family members. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), in 2020, the SAMHSA National Helpline received over 833,000 calls, indicating a significant increase in individuals seeking help.

It is essential to understand that alcohol use disorder is a complex medical condition that requires professional assistance and support. By recognizing the signs and symptoms of AUD and understanding its impact on individuals and families, we can begin to address the issue and provide the necessary help and support to those in need.

Recognizing Signs and Symptoms

When it comes to helping someone with a drinking problem, it's essential to first recognize the signs and symptoms of alcohol abuse. By understanding these indicators, you can better support and assist individuals who may be struggling with alcohol use disorder.

Signs of Alcohol Abuse

Recognizing the signs of alcohol abuse is crucial in identifying a drinking problem. Some common signs may include the following:

  • Neglecting responsibilities and obligations
  • Experiencing financial and legal difficulties
  • Misusing or mistreating family members
  • Drinking to cope with stress and emotions

It's important to note that these signs may vary from person to person, and not everyone may exhibit all of these behaviors. However, if you notice several of these signs in an individual, it may indicate a potential drinking problem.

Behavioral and Emotional Indicators

Apart from specific signs, behavioral and emotional indicators can also provide insights into someone's relationship with alcohol. These indicators may include:

  • Frequent blackouts or memory lapses due to drinking
  • Increasing tolerance to alcohol, requiring more alcohol to achieve the desired effect
  • Drinking alone or in secrecy
  • Withdrawal symptoms when attempting to cut back or stop drinking
  • Continued drinking despite experiencing negative consequences

These behavioral and emotional indicators can signal a problematic relationship with alcohol and may suggest the need for intervention and support [3].

By familiarizing yourself with the signs of alcohol abuse and observing behavioral and emotional indicators, you can better understand the challenges faced by individuals with alcohol use disorder. This knowledge forms the foundation for providing effective support and assistance to those in need.

Approaches to Helping

When it comes to helping someone struggling with alcohol use disorder, there are various approaches that can be effective in supporting their journey towards recovery. Seeking professional help and engaging in support groups and interventions are two key strategies to consider.

Seeking Professional Help

Seeking professional help is an important step in the treatment of alcohol use disorder. A primary care physician or healthcare provider experienced in alcohol treatment can play a crucial role in evaluating an individual's drinking pattern, assessing overall health, and crafting a personalized treatment plan [1]. They can also determine if medications, such as disulfiram, naltrexone, or acamprosate, may be appropriate to help prevent relapses in alcohol use disorder.

Professional help may also involve therapies such as motivational interviewing and cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). These therapies aim to help individuals overcome addiction by addressing underlying issues, changing thought patterns, and developing coping skills to manage cravings and triggers.

Support Groups and Interventions

Support groups can provide valuable assistance and encouragement on the road to recovery from alcohol addiction. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is a well-known support group that offers a safe space for individuals to share their experiences, receive support, and develop healthier habits. These groups, whether online or in-person, allow participants to connect with others who understand their struggles and can provide guidance and accountability.

Interventions can also be effective in helping individuals recognize and accept that they need professional help. Loved ones can organize an intervention with the guidance of a professional experienced in alcohol treatment. This intervention provides an opportunity to express concerns and encourage the person struggling with alcohol use disorder to seek treatment.

It's important to remember that everyone's journey to recovery is unique, and what works for one person may not work for another. Encouraging the individual to seek professional help and providing emotional support throughout their journey can make a significant difference in their recovery process. By combining professional guidance with the understanding and encouragement of support groups and interventions, individuals with alcohol use disorder can increase their chances of successful recovery.

Strategies for Support

Supporting someone with alcohol use disorder requires a multifaceted approach that encompasses both encouragement for treatment seeking and providing emotional support. By combining these strategies, you can help your loved one navigate the challenges of overcoming alcohol addiction.

Encouraging Treatment Seeking

Encouraging your loved one to seek professional help is an important step in their journey towards recovery. A primary care physician can play a crucial role in the treatment of alcohol problems. They can evaluate drinking patterns, assess overall health, and determine if medications for alcohol may be appropriate. If you feel that your loved one's drinking is causing problems or if their family is concerned, suggest talking to a healthcare provider. Other options for seeking help include mental health professionals or support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous.

During the treatment-seeking process, it's important to provide your loved one with unwavering support and understanding. Offer to accompany them to appointments or help them research treatment options. Reinforce the positive aspects of seeking help, highlighting the potential for a healthier and more fulfilling life. Be patient, as it may take time for your loved one to accept the need for treatment and take the first step.

Providing Emotional Support

Emotional support plays a vital role in helping someone with alcohol use disorder. Your loved one may be facing emotional turmoil, guilt, shame, or anxiety related to their addiction. By providing a supportive and non-judgmental environment, you can help them navigate these challenges.

Listen actively and empathetically when they express their feelings or struggles. Encourage open and honest communication, and let them know that their emotions are valid. Avoid blaming or criticizing them for their addiction, as this can hinder their progress. Instead, focus on their strengths and provide reassurance that recovery is possible.

Help your loved one develop new coping skills and interests that do not involve alcohol. Encourage them to participate in social activities that promote sobriety and provide a sense of belonging. Assist them in addressing the underlying problems that may have contributed to their drinking, such as stress or unresolved trauma. By offering support, you can help them find healthier ways to cope and build a strong foundation for their recovery journey [3].

Remember, recovery from alcohol use disorder is a challenging and ongoing process. Relapses may occur, but with continued support, your loved one can achieve sobriety. Be patient, understanding, and remain a source of unwavering support throughout their journey towards a healthier and happier life.

If you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol use disorder, it's essential to seek professional help. There are national helplines, online and in-person support groups, as well as culturally and regionally specific programs available to provide assistance and guidance [7].

Resources for Assistance

When seeking help for individuals struggling with alcohol use disorder, there are various resources available to provide support and guidance. National helplines and online support groups offer valuable assistance to those in need.

National Helplines and Support

National helplines provide a confidential and accessible avenue for individuals seeking assistance with alcohol use disorder. These helplines are staffed by trained professionals who can offer guidance, resources, and referrals to appropriate services. In 2020, the SAMHSA National Helpline received 833,598 calls, reflecting a 27 percent increase from the previous year. Some national helplines include:

Helpline Contact Information

  • SAMHSA National Helpline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357)
  • National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD): 1-800-NCA-CALL (622-2255)
  • Alcoholics Anonymous (AA): Find local hotline numbers on AA's website

These helplines serve as a valuable first point of contact for individuals seeking information, support, or guidance regarding alcohol use disorder.

Online and In-Person Support Groups

Support groups play a crucial role in helping individuals with alcohol use disorder. These groups provide a safe space for individuals to share their experiences, receive advice, and find support on their journey to recovery. Support groups can be found both online and in-person.

Online support groups offer convenience and accessibility, allowing individuals to connect with others facing similar challenges. One notable online support group is offered by Tempest, which combines mindfulness and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to help individuals abstain from drinking alcohol. Their program includes video lessons covering various topics related to recovery.

Another popular online support group is SMART Recovery, a science-based program that offers a four-step plan to help individuals abstain from alcohol use. They also provide a CheckUp and Choices app with modules on CBT and motivational exercises [8].

In addition to online support groups, in-person support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) provide a supportive community for individuals on their recovery journey. AA meetings are available worldwide, and individuals can find local meeting information on AA's website.

Whether seeking support online or in-person, these support groups offer a sense of belonging, understanding, and encouragement for individuals with alcohol use disorder.

By utilizing national helplines and engaging in online or in-person support groups, individuals and their loved ones can access valuable assistance and find the support they need to navigate the challenges of alcohol use disorder.

Cultural and Regional Support

When it comes to helping individuals struggling with alcohol use disorder, it's important to recognize that different cultural and regional support services may be available. These resources can provide targeted assistance and culturally sensitive approaches that cater to specific communities. Two examples of such support are indigenous-specific programs and provincial and territorial services.

Indigenous-Specific Programs

For First Nation, Inuit, or Métis individuals in need of help with substance use, there are culturally sensitive resources available through programs like the National Native Alcohol and Drug Abuse Program and the National Youth Solvent Abuse Program. These programs aim to provide support and assistance while respecting the unique cultural backgrounds and needs of Indigenous communities.

These indigenous-specific programs often incorporate traditional healing practices and teachings, recognizing the importance of cultural identity and spirituality in the recovery journey. By addressing substance use disorders within a culturally relevant framework, these programs can help individuals receive the support they need while maintaining a connection to their cultural heritage.

Provincial and Territorial Services

In addition to specific indigenous programs, provincial and territorial health and support services are available to individuals seeking help with alcohol use disorder. These services can vary from region to region but are generally accessible through dedicated helplines, harm reduction centers, and email contacts.

By calling 1-800-665-1822 or emailing, individuals can access provincial and territorial health and support services, including harm reduction centers. These services are designed to provide assistance, resources, and referrals to individuals struggling with alcohol use disorder, ensuring that help is accessible and available regardless of geographical location.

Mental Health Support

It's important to remember that alcohol use disorder often coexists with mental health issues. To address the mental health aspects related to substance use, support services are available to provide assistance and guidance. These services aim to support individuals struggling with mental health issues related to substance use, offering a holistic approach to recovery.

Getting the right support is crucial when helping someone with alcohol use disorder. By exploring culturally and regionally specific resources, individuals can find tailored assistance that takes into account their unique needs and experiences. Whether it's through indigenous-specific programs or provincial and territorial services, these support systems play a vital role in helping individuals on their journey to recovery.


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