What to Do If You Think Someone Has a Drinking Problem
It’s often difficult to make a distinction at first between casual, social drinking and a drinking problem. These are some signs that someone needs help:
For many adults, alcohol is a go-to stress reliever after a long day. Some people occasionally enjoy a few drinks with friends after work or have a glass of wine with dinner. But what if you suspect a relative’s or friend’s drinking has turned into something more worrisome?
- Drinking is causing problems at home, work or school
- Drinking causes blackouts, illness or is disrupting healthy sleep patterns
- Drinking leads to risky behaviors, such as drugs, unsafe sex or driving while intoxicated
- Not drinking causes withdrawal symptoms such as shakiness, anxiety, irritability, depression or nausea
If you observe these signs in someone you love, here are a few tips to keep in mind when addressing the issue:
- Be realistic. Although you may be willing to do anything to help someone you love, it’s important to realize that you can’t help a person unless they want help. If they’re not willing to admit they have a problem, there may not be much you can do.
- Remember that alcoholism is a disease. Just as you wouldn’t pass judgment on someone with cancer, you shouldn’t do that to someone with a substance abuse disorder. Be supportive but not accusatory.
- Express your concern. Start with a calm but serious conversation. Offer concrete examples of why you’re concerned (for example, you’ve been late to work three times this week because you’re hungover or your grades at school are suffering due to your excessive drinking). Enlist the help of friends or family members when having this conversation if you think it will be beneficial.
- Prepare for defensiveness. The person may likely deny there’s a problem. If they’re adamant that they don’t need help, you may have to back off.
- Present a list of resources. Provide information and locations for support groups, therapists or treatment centers in the area. Offer to make a call or go with the person if they don’t want to go alone.
- Seek help for yourself. Support groups such as Al-Anon can help family and friends of alcoholics cope with the difficulty of living with someone who has a drinking problem. Talking to friends or a therapist may also help.
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Date Last Reviewed: September 17, 2019
Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor
Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD