How To Help A Loved One Struggling With Alcohol Abuse

How To Help A Loved One With Alcohol Use Disorder?


How to help a loved one with alcohol use disorder and recognizing the signs. Addiction can happen to anyone. It does not matter your background. It affects more people than just the individual with the substance use disorder.  When seeking treatment, what works for one individual, may not be as effective for the next.

Addiction is a complex disease. It is recommended that the individual enlist the help of a specialist. This was they can solve the problem and recommend treatment. Education and evidence-based treatment methods are key to prevention for relapse. Recent changes in Alcohol Screening Tools and Measurements indicate only 1 in 6 adults speak to health care providers about substance misuse. Behaviors of alcoholism range in individuals. It is difficult to recognize. As they develop. However, as troubling and unacceptable behaviors become more frequent, it may become apparent a loved one is struggling with substance abuse.

Here are some behaviors that may indicate an individual is struggling with alcohol and/or drugs:

Lack of Motivation and/or Interest in Priorities: A noticeable change in performance at work or school.  Failures due to being drunk, hungover, or having withdrawals.  Family/relationship  are neglected.  Self-harm is also an indicator of someone abusing alcohol.
Mood Swings: Alcohol withdrawals can cause mood swings including aggressive or erratic behavior. Substance Use Disorder also may exacerbate an underlying or undiagnosed mental health disorder. This may include anxiety and bipolar disorder. Dual diagnosis within addiction is very common among adults.
Fixation on Drinking: Alcoholics usually have patterns of controlled and uncontrolled drinking. Uncontrolled drinking may include ‘binge drinking’ or ‘benders’ where the individual drinks uncontrollably for several hours/days. During periods of controlled drinking, the individual may appear irritable, anxious, restless, and/or miserable. These are all signs of an unhealthy relationship with alcohol.
Financial Struggles: Another sign of an individual struggling with Substance Abuse is financial strain or stress. Alcohol addiction can create a dependency, which may result in a loss of income, legal problems, or other risky/impulsive behaviors such as gambling. Excessive drinking may result in a loss of employment. These can all be warning flags of Substance Abuse.

Any of these behaviors may be considered ‘warning’ signs or indications that your loved one may need your support and/or professional help.

How to help a loved one with Alcohol Use Disorder?

Causes of Substance Use Disorders & Co-occurring Mental Illness

There are multiple possible causes of AUDs, including genetic, psychological, and environment factors. Risk factors for Substance Abuse are greater in individuals who struggle with mental illness. Co-occurring conditions and risk factors are greater due to trauma, stress, and genetic predisposition. Certain psychological conditions and factors can exacerbate substance misuse, and vice versa. Substance abuse and addiction can lead to experiencing symptoms of mental illness, including anxiety disorders, depression, personality disorders, and schizophrenia. Often, undiagnosed or underlying mental health disorders can influence an individual’s experience with Substance Abuse. Individuals who suffer from symptoms of depression, bipolar disorder, and social anxiety are more likely to develop alcoholism, often using alcohol as a method of coping with their illness. Other important risk factors such as personal choice/environment, Genetic Factors, and Personality Factors may influence an individual’s relationship with alcohol.

But How Much Is Too Much? Moderate Alcohol Consumption

Consuming too much alcohol can lead to physical and mental health problems. How do we know if drinking is a problem for ourselves or a loved one? The CDC reports nearly 44% of all adults who consume alcohol are classified as binge drinkers. The NIAAA defines binge drinking as consuming 5 or more drinks in 2 hours (male), or 4 or more drinks in 2 hours (female). Recognizing when an individual is drinking too much, or has an unhealthy relationship with alcohol, is the first step in identifying a need for help. Binge drinking, or excessive drinking in a short period of time, does not always mean someone has an Alcohol Use Disorder, or addiction. However, it does mean they may be at an increased risk of developing the disorder and may indicate the individual’s drinking is problematic. Even if the individual is not alcohol dependent, or an alcoholic, they may benefit from some treatment for alcohol abuse.

It may help to examine the motivation for drinking, or abusing alcohol, and if it is not a one-time occasion, the individual should consider treatment. Here are some of the more common reasons people may over-indulge in alcohol:

Stress Relief/Coping
Escape Reality
Peer Pressure
Social Anxiety
Easy Access or Social Pressure

Self-assessments including CAGE and AUDIT can help you to determine if an individual may have a problem with alcohol, but if you believe there is a problem, always speak with a medical professional.

How To Help A Loved One 

Treatment options vary, and may include Medical Detox, Inpatient Addiction Treatment, Medication-Assisted Treatment, Support Groups (AA), and Therapy. There are many evidence-based methods that can be utilized to help individuals with alcohol addiction, or those who may have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol. Some solutions you may explore to help a loved one include:

Create a plan on what to say: Focus your concerns on the loved one’s drinking, and express your feelings using “I” statements, such as “I am concerned about your alcohol use.”

Avoid Using Labels: Avoid calling the individual names, such as “alcoholic” or “addict”. Instead, focus on the person and express your feelings/concerns.

Be Empathetic and Understanding: Instead of placing blame, use empathetic statements such as “I know you have been having a hard time, and feel more stressed than usual.”

Offer Structured Support, Not Demands: Present options for professional help, and offer support throughout the treatment process.


For a free consultation, or to be connected to a Substance Abuse Counselor, please do not hesitate to reach out. Meet the team at High Expectations.