Problem drinking and alcohol addiction are big problems throughout the UK and they do not only affect the dependent drinkers themselves.

An alcohol addiction can have a huge impact on spouses, partners, children, family members, friends and even work colleagues. It can be very difficult to watch a loved one harm themselves with an alcohol addiction, as well as living with the fallout from their drinking.

Problem drinking can lead to problem behaviour, including dishonesty and erratic and violent behaviour. It is often linked to domestic abuse and can cause financial hardships and problems at work.

If you believe a loved one has a problem with alcohol you will naturally want to help them but might not know where to start. It can be a difficult process but there are some things you can do.

 

Noticing signs of an Alcohol Problem

One of the first issues is to identify the problem in the first place. Alcohol abuse tends to go hand in hand with denial and the person concerned might not realise or admit to themselves how bad their drinking has gotten. They might also not be aware of the effect it is having on those around them.

Here are some signs of alcohol abuse to look out for…

  • – Witnessing frequent or heavy drinking, including binge drinking
  • – Finding hidden alcohol or empties that have been consumed secretly
  • – Furtiveness, dishonesty, lying about their drinking
  • – Blackouts, unable to remember what they said or did while drinking
  • – Downplaying how much they drink
  • – Avoid social situations or activities where they can’t drink
  • – Drinking at inappropriate times
  • – Self-medicating mental health problems such as anxiety or depression
  • – Continuing to drink despite negative effects on relationships and other areas

This is not an exhaustive list but if any of the above apply, your loved one is likely to be a problem drinker and may have an alcohol addiction.

 

How to talk to someone about their drinking

Helping someone with an alcohol problem is often not easy, whether they have a binge drinking problem or are showing the full-blown symptoms of alcohol addiction.

The first step is almost always to talk to them, but this can be tricky in itself. Many people with an alcohol abuse problem will be in denial. They may get defensive, which can lead to anger and make them lash out.

There may also be a danger that your own resentments and – often justifiable – anger will come out and things could spiral out of control.

It is still a difficult and delicate process but here are some tips for talking to a loved one about their drinking.

 

Choose your time and place

Try to wait until you are both calm and when the other person has not been drinking. Choose a place that is quiet and private, switch off your phone and avoid distractions.

 

Be calm but insistent

Try to talk calmly and show your concern in a caring way. At the same time, do not allow yourself to be ‘fobbed off’ or deterred from expressing that concern.

Once you have decided to broach the subject it is best to continue – although it is the case that you can’t force someone to listen. Tell them about the effect their drinking has on you and others around you but try to do so calmly and compassionately.

 

Invite them to open up

Offer to listen and encourage the other person to open up. There may be pressures, issues and underlying causes that you may not even be aware of and they will need to address these factors if they are to change their behaviour or quit drinking entirely.

After broaching the subject it is important not to enable their drinking by shielding them from negative consequences going forward.

 

Should I stage an Intervention?

In terms of substance abuse and addiction, an intervention is a gathering of family, friends or other loved ones who come together to let the person know the impact their drinking is having and to ask them to change their behaviour or seek help to do so.

It is important not to make the person with the problem feel they are being attacked or ‘ganged up on’ and so it can be useful to seek professional advice when planning an intervention.

In a neutral setting and calm mood, it can be valuable for family members and other loved ones to share their concerns and let the person know about the impact and consequences of their addiction.

It is important to provide specific examples of destructive behaviours and their impact, but without getting angry or appearing judgemental. This can be a tricky line to walk, which is another reason why a professionally guided intervention may be the best option.

 

Getting professional help

Addiction changes the way the brain and body function. By definition, a person with a dependency will have a compulsion to keep on drinking, even when they know there may be negative consequences.

When they do not drink they will feel bad and may suffer withdrawal symptoms. Although your love and support will be invaluable, all of this makes it extremely difficult to quit without expert help and guidance.

Ultimately the person with the problem must be the one to seek help. It cannot be forced upon them, but you can encourage your loved one by offering to make the first call or sitting with them while they call a helpline or seek advice.

You can also offer to accompany them to appointments, meetings or counselling sessions, if this is appropriate.

Your role does not end even if they do decide to seek outside help though. Having a support network in place can be very important in any recovery, especially as they adjust to a new life without alcohol.

This may involve finding new social activities and fun things to do that don’t involve drinking. You can offer an ear or a shoulder when they need it and provide that vital support going forward.

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