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How to Support an Alcoholic and Lead Them to Sobriety

Lisa Taylor
Lisa TaylorAddiction Counsellor

Dealing with an alcoholic is certainly not easy. Even if you don't live with someone struggling with a drinking problem, it can be difficult to stand by and watch as a friend or family member destroys his or her life. You want to help. That is a natural reaction when someone you care about struggles with drinking. But what can you do? How can you support your alcoholic loved one while leading that person to sobriety?

If you want to learn how to support an alcoholic, the first thing you need to know is that you cannot force wellness upon that person. It is the whole 'horse and water' thing. You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot force the animal to drink. The same is true with an alcoholic. You can lead him or her to places where help and support can be found, but you cannot force anyone to take advantage of that help and support.

Understand that alcoholism is both a physical and mental issue. In order to overcome it, the alcoholic must willingly make the decision to seek and participate in treatment. As we say in the recovery community, the only true cure for alcoholism is abstinence. Only the drinker can make the decision to abstain and follow through on it.

With that said, there are things you can do to help. We have provided a list below. Should you have any questions, or you need help yourself, please feel free to contact us on our 24-hour helpline. Our counsellors can provide you with important advice and information that will enable you to support your loved one and lead him or her to opportunities to get well.

Show Your Genuine Concern

People who want to learn how to support an alcoholic find themselves in such a position because they genuinely care about the person struggling with drinking. Your care and concern are something that should be expressed to your loved one. That person needs to know that you know what is going on and that you are genuinely concerned that continued drinking will only lead to regrettable consequences.

Showing genuine concern is a matter of engaging your loved one in conversation. Alcohol recovery experts recommend keeping in mind the following strategies:

  • Avoid Accusations – It is easy to become accusatory when addressing a drinking problem. Oftentimes the emotion of the situation leads people to say things that are perceived incorrectly by the drinker, leaving that person to believe he or she is being accused of all sorts of reprehensible things. This only leads to further resistance. Avoid an accusatory attitude at all costs.
  • Emotional Pleas – Another thing to avoid are emotional pleas that could be construed by the alcoholic as an attempt to manipulate. Addressing your concerns should be as matter-of-fact as possible, in a way that shows your compassion without becoming overly emotional in the moment. Your ability to control your emotions will go a long way toward getting your point across.
  • Choosing the Right Time – Professionals tend to recommend against trying to speak with an alcoholic while he or she is under the influence. It is better to wait until that point between drinking episodes that the person begins feeling withdrawal or hangover symptoms. That is the time when the mind will be clearest.

Please be prepared for the possibility that your initial approach will yield no fruit. It may take three or four encounters with your loved one to make any headway. It may take a dozen or more before he or she agrees to get treatment.

Stop All Enabling Behaviours

Many people who genuinely want to know how to support an alcoholic are surprised to learn that they are doing things that enable the drinker to continue doing what he or she's doing. We call these things 'enabling behaviours'. One of the most important things you can do to help an alcoholic loved one is to stop enabling.

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What is enabling? It is doing and saying things that encourage the drinker to keep on drinking. For example, something as minor as agreeing with the alcoholic when he or she says his/her drinking problem is not his/her own fault is enabling. That agreement reinforces the belief and encourages continued drinking.

Other enabling behaviours include things such as:

  • calling in sick when your loved one doesn't want to go to work
  • making excuses for your loved one when he or she avoids social gatherings
  • providing the financial resources needed to purchase alcohol
  • allowing your loved one to avoid responsibilities at home
  • joining your loved one for a drink so he or she does not have to drink alone
  • allowing yourself to be manipulated into doing what the alcoholic wants.

It is extremely difficult to recognise enabling behaviour if you have been living with an alcoholic for a long period of time. These behaviours become so ingrained that they simply become the normal way of doing things. Still, enabling behaviours can be identified and stopped with the help of an experienced counsellor who knows what to look for.

Conduct an Intervention

Intervention is a kind of support for alcoholics designed to motivate an individual to seek professional treatment. It involves getting together a group of family members and close friends who will constitute the intervention team. Their responsibility is to confront the alcoholic, as a team, presenting a united front and letting the alcoholic know the totality of everyone's concern.

A typical intervention begins by inviting the alcoholic to meet with the team at a neutral, non-confrontational location. Then team members address the alcoholic one by one. One may express concern over the alcoholic's health; another may explain how the alcoholic's behaviour is harming the spouse and children. There are different approaches based on how the alcoholic is likely to respond.

Conducting an intervention is an excellent way you can help and support your alcoholic loved one. We can offer you advice on how to do so effectively. If you are uncomfortable intervening by yourself, we can connect you with a professional counsellor who specialises in alcohol interventions. The counsellor can lead you through the entire process from start to finish. The counsellor's office might even be available for the intervention meeting itself.

Contact Us Right Away

Are you looking to learn how to support an alcoholic? Is there someone in your life you desperately want to help? If so, we urge you to contact us right away. We are an independent organisation offering support, advice, alcohol assessments, and qualified treatment referrals. Our services are designed as much for the families of alcoholics as the alcoholics themselves. We want to help you in any way we can.

Our independence affords us the opportunity of recommending rehab clinics and treatment programmes from all over the UK. In short, we are not tied to any particular clinic or rehab methodology. We believe in the principle of connecting people with those service providers and treatments offering the greatest chances of success.

Learning how to support an alcoholic can be an important first step in leading your loved one toward opportunities for sobriety. Let us help you take that step. Call our 24-hour helpline right now and speak with one of our trained counsellors.

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