Alcohol use/alcohol addiction formally referred to, as alcohol use disorder is the fourth leading cause of preventable death in the United States, which costs the United States $249 billion per year. Approximately 88,000 lives are lost each year in the United States and 3.3 million worldwide from alcohol-related deaths. Although alcoholism is 2.5 more prevalent in men than women, this serious addiction affects individuals of all ages, genders, social classes, and nationalities. Alcohol abuse can also tear apart families and destroy relationships by causing financial strain, poor behaviors such as emotional and physical abuse, dangerous decision making and clouded judgments which can cause a lot of harm to a loved one. If you think your family member has a drinking problem you may want to help but you may not know what to do. If you are concerned, it is important to approach the matter immediately because the problem will most likely continue to worsen. One of the first and most important steps when addressing someone with a drinking problem is being confident that your loved one does have a problem and it is not just a phase. A drinking problem is not always measured by the amount an individual drink or how often he/she drinks. What matters the most is how drinking affects this individual’s life.

Your loved one may have a drinking problem if they:

  • Regularly drink more than they intended
  • Cannot cut back on drinking
  • Spend a lot of time getting alcohol, drinking alcohol, or recovering from the effects of alcohol
  • Have trouble at work, home, or school because of alcohol use
  • Have trouble with relationships because of drinking
  • Miss important work, school, or social activities because of alcohol use

Starting the conversation: What to say and what not to say

This is never an easy conversation to have but it is important to talk to your loved one about his/her drinking habits. Find a safe time and place to talk when your loved one is not drinking and when emotions are not heightened. The following tips may help make the conversation go more smoothly:

  • Express your feelings about your loved one’s drinking. Try to use “I” statements. This helps keep the focus on how alcohol affects you.
  • Try to stick with the facts about your loved one’s alcohol use, such as specific behaviors that have you witnessed.
  • Explain that you are concerned about your loved one’s health and well being.
  • Try not to use labels like “alcoholic” when talking about the problem.
  • Stay away from preaching or lecturing.
  • Do not try to use guilt or to attempt to bribe your loved one to stop drinking.
  • Do not threaten or plead.
  • Do not expect your loved one to get better without help.
  • Offer to go with your loved one to see a doctor or addiction counselor.
  • Remember, you cannot force your loved one to get help, but you can offer your support.
  • Do not drink with your loved one
  • Do not be an enabler by making excuses for your loved one or supporting their drinking habit in any way
  • Do not take on responsibilities for your loved one, as they must face their consequences.
  • Do not engage with any negative behavior when your loved one has been drinking
  • Do not carry around feelings of guilt. This is not your fault.

Seeking treatment

The overall goal for a loved one who is struggling with an alcohol problem is to seek professional treatment, whether it is inpatient rehab or outpatient counseling. Professional treatment for alcohol abuse disorder is important because withdrawing from alcohol without any medical supervision can be dangerous and even life-threatening. Alcohol withdrawal can result in critical changes in heart rate, blood pressure, and can cause seizures and memory problems. Additionally, there may be underlying triggers as to why your loves one is abusing alcohol and therefore professional therapy can help your loved one uncover these triggers and adopt healthy coping skills to overcome these triggers in the future.