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How To Help An Alcoholic Family Member or Friend

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How do we help someone we love who is struggling with alcoholism? This is a difficult question for many. Alcohol use disorder affects millions of Americans every year. The National Institute of Health (NIH) reported that 29.5 million Americans (1) struggled with an alcohol use disorder in 2021. This is approximately 10% of all Americans in this age range. Many of those who struggle have family members and friends searching for answers on the best way that they can help their loved one.

If you are one of those looking for ways to help your loved one, Guardian Recovery is an excellent resource. Often, treatment is required to address a substance use disorder. Guardian Recovery is a national leader in providing quality substance use treatment. Our network of highly qualified clinicians are committed to ensuring that you or your loved one will receive the tools they need for a life of recovery. Call today to speak with a treatment advisor. They will be able to answer any questions you may have about the treatment process. They are also available to conduct a no obligation insurance check over the phone. The first step towards your recovery journey can start today. Contact us to learn more.

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When Is It Time to Say Something?

The first question to address is, “When is it time to say something?” It is difficult to watch a loved one struggle, but there may be better times than others to discuss the topic. Ensuring that you discuss this topic at a time when your loved one is able to receive this feedback can make a difference in the outcome of the conversation.

Before bringing it up, it is important to consider your motivation. Often, a loved one’s alcohol use disorder can be frustrating and negatively impact those who are close. It can be tempting to let this frustration impact the way that you bring up the topic of alcohol use. Ensuring that you approach your loved one in a supportive and non-judgmental way can help steer the conversation in a more productive direction.

If an alcohol use disorder continues to progress, it will lead to greater negative consequences. Consequences can include legal issues, health issues, relationship issues, or a combination of each. Often, your loved one will begin to notice these negative consequences that have come from their drinking. This is a great time for a supportive loved one to begin the discussion about their alcohol use.

Addressing Denial

Denial (2) is a large part of the thinking patterns that can continue addictive lifestyles. Many times, a person dealing with a substance use disorder will protect themselves from the reality of their choices by using denial. Denial can come in many forms including:

  • Simple Refusal — “No, I haven’t been drinking.”
  • Comparison — “I am not as bad a Joe. He is a real alcoholic.”
  • Minimization — “I don’t drink that much. I can still keep a job.”

An excellent tool for a loved one addressing denial is asking helpful questions. Often, loved ones continuously pointing out problems or consequences can come off as nagging or complaining. This will often be met with resistance. However, simply asking questions and allowing your loved one to arrive at conclusions themself can lower their defenses and make them more receptive. Great questions to ask your loved one can include:

  • “Do you think this would have happened if you had not been drinking?”
  • “Was this a problem for you before you started drinking?”
  • “Do the benefits of drinking outweigh the consequences for you?”

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Approach with Care

Remaining non-judgmental and supportive will help as your loved one discovers helpful answers to these and other questions. Arriving at these conclusions can open the door to making changes for the better.

Do Your Research

Providing your loved one with viable treatment options may also be helpful. This will make it easier to transition into a treatment program as well as showing your loved one that you care enough to research ways to help them.

Hold an Intervention

A powerful tool for loved ones of a struggling alcoholic is an intervention. An intervention is a meeting conducted by a professional in which family and friends share how their loved one’s alcoholism has impacted them and how they plan to address it moving forward. Often these meetings are very emotional but end with presenting your loved one the option to attend substance use treatment.

Understanding Your Role

An important part of helping a loved one is recognizing your role in their recovery. Trying to control or intervene in a loved one’s alcoholism can often lead to feelings of powerlessness. Realizing your role is one of support and guidance rather than one of responsibility can lead to feelings of empowerment.

Take a Step Back

Because you care about the person who is struggling with this substance use disorder, it is easy to become overly involved or wrapped up in the chaotic lifestyle of addiction. Taking time to reassess the situation can help clarify your role as a separate person with a separate life from the one who may be struggling.

Avoiding Feelings of Guilt

Often those close to a struggling alcoholic can feel a sense of guilt. This often comes as a result of unhealthy boundaries. Setting boundaries with your loved one who is struggling will help you to realize that their lifestyle and patterns of addiction are their responsibility and not yours.

Educate Yourself

A helpful tool for loved ones is education. If someone you love is battling an alcohol use disorder, having options and solutions for them and yourself can increase the chances of a positive impact. This can also help when dealing with feelings of powerlessness over your loved ones addiction. Having resources, plans, and guidelines can make walking this journey alongside a loved one easier. Groups like Al-anon (3) are specifically designed for the loved ones of those battling a substance use disorder. It can provide helpful resources for those who are willing to help.

Take Care of Yourself

As the saying goes, “You cannot pour from an empty cup.” Realizing that taking care of yourself will be what allows you to provide help to your loved one without personal suffering. It can become easy to lower the priority of self care when helping a loved one. Though this may be tempting, it will often lead to burnout and exhaustion.

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How to Help an Alcoholic Loved One

It is difficult to see a loved one struggling, but there is a distinction between offering help and enabling. Enabling is a term used in substance use counseling to describe actions of rescuing a person with a substance use disorder from the consequences of their actions. When you, as a loved one, begin to take on their problems and your own, it is a red flag letting you know that you may have begun enabling. Setting healthy boundaries and allowing your loved one to experience the consequences of their actions are ways to keep your desire to help from turning into enabling.

Substance use treatment is an important step for those who may be struggling. Guardian Recovery understands the importance of high quality substance use treatment. We are committed to empowering you or a loved one with the tools and hope needed to begin a life of recovery. If you are interested in more information about substance use treatment, call Guardian Recovery today. Our treatment advisors are available day or night to address your specific needs. Your journey to recovery can start today.


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Disclaimer: Does not guarantee specific treatment outcomes, as individual results may vary. Our services are not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis; please consult a qualified healthcare provider for such matters.


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Reviewed professionally for accuracy by:

Ryan Soave


Ryan Soave brings deep experience as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, certified trauma therapist, program developer, and research consultant for Huberman Lab at Stanford University Department of Neurobiology. Post-graduation from Wake Forest University, Ryan quickly discovered his acumen for the business world. After almost a decade of successful entrepreneurship and world traveling, he encountered a wave of personal and spiritual challenges; he felt a calling for something more. Ryan returned to school and completed his Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling. When he started working with those suffering from addiction and PTSD, he found his passion. He has never looked back.

Written by:

Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark grew up in Santa Barbara, CA and graduated from UCLA with a degree in playwriting. Since then she has been writing on addiction recovery and psychology full-time, and has found a home as part of the Guardian Recovery team.

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