Worried About a Loved One’s Drinking? What to Do

When you’re concerned that someone you love drinks too heavily, it can be hard to know what to do. You may not know what to say or how they'll react if you bring it up.

Regardless of why you're hesitating, when at least one of these things are true, you're not wrong for wanting to talk about it:

  • You worry about how much or how often your loved one drinks.
  • You make excuses for how they act when they drink.
  • You’ve been hurt or embarrassed by your loved one when they were drinking.
  • The amount of money they spend on alcohol concerns you.
  • You bail your loved one out when their drinking keeps them from responsibilities.
  • Their behavior when they drink makes you nervous.
  • You’ve called or thought about calling the police because of your loved one’s drinking.

You can’t fix the problem or change their behavior. But you can present your concerns in such a way that they might see things more clearly and get the help they need.

What Helps

Study up. Find out as much as you can about the effects of alcohol and the signs of alcohol misuse so you have facts on hand.

Time your talk right. A conversation when they’ve been drinking or are stressed is likely to trigger a lot of emotions that could get out of hand. Choose a time when you’re both well-rested and clearheaded.

Focus on results. Explain how their drinking could be affecting their health and how it will continue to cause harm. Express your concern for their well-being as someone who cares for them.

Remember that it will take them time to change.

Expect pushback. They may be defensive and deny the problem. Try not to take it personally. Think of it as planting a seed that will blossom into new, healthy habits.

Prepare a plan. Have some concrete next steps for them to choose from, in case they're ready to get help. Look for local Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, find counselors that fit their insurance plan, and research treatment facilities. Offer to give them a ride if they need one.

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Seek support. Confronting someone about their heavy drinking can be hard on you, too. Talk to a trusted friend, counselor, or spiritual leader about what you’re going through.

You can also find groups of folks who are in the same situation as you are. Organizations like Al-Anon, Nar-Anon, and Alateen have networks all over the country and online to support those dealing with a loved one’s heavy drinking.

Stay connected. Continue to do things you enjoy together. Encourage their hobbies and healthy friendships.

Be ready to stay the course and support them as they work on themselves and seek treatment.

What Doesn't

Don’t lecture, shame, or threaten. If you blame them or come on strong, it can backfire. You may have better luck with a more caring approach.

Try not to judge or use emotion to steer the conversation. Remember that you aren’t their therapist or counselor. It’s not your job to diagnose or treat them.

Stop covering their tracks. It can be hard to step aside when you see someone doing self-destructive things. But when you make excuses or cover their dropped responsibilities, it keeps them from seeing the consequences of their actions. Of course, if they or others are in serious, immediate danger, call 911.

Don’t let it consume you. You may care deeply and want very much to help, but be sure you’re taking a step back from time to time. Don't let negative feelings get to you. Their drinking isn't your fault.

Taking care of your emotional and mental health can help you better help them.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Neha Pathak, MD on July 19, 2018

Sources

SOURCES:

National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence: “Helping a Family Member or Friend.”

Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation: “How to Talk to a Friend With a Drinking Problem.”

AlcoholScreening.org: “If Someone Close Has a Problem.”

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