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Updated on September 11, 2023
7 min read

How to Deal With an Alcoholic

What is Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)?

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is when a person can't control their alcohol intake or drink excessively despite the negative consequences. It's a disease that affects 14.5 million Americans.1

With so many people affected, chances are you might know someone who currently struggles with AUD. Common symptoms of AUD include:

  • Inability to stop drinking, even when they want to quit 
  • Drinking more than expected
  • Going through periods of binge drinking
  • Legal issues due to drinking
  • Health problems caused by drinking, such as liver disease
  • Loss of job or problems with school due to drinking
  • Blackouts when drinking
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Causes of AUD

There are various causes of AUD, including:

  • Genetic predisposition (having a parent with AUD increases risk 50 to 65%)
  • Mental health conditions (45% of AUD also have a psychiatric diagnosis or dual diagnosis)
  • Environmental factors, such as other family members who drink
  • Age
  • Gender
  • Comorbid substance abuse

It's important to understand that it's never someone's fault for having AUD. Studies show that genes play an important role in the development and risk of the disorder.However, you are responsible for what you do about having AUD.

How Alcohol Abuse Affects Relationships

Alcoholism affects relationships between family members, friends, colleagues, and spouses. It can be difficult to help an alcoholic family member or loved one if you have a limited understanding of AUD.

You may struggle with your mental health, fight with your loved ones, or lose money. A study published in the Society for the Study of Addiction (SSA) found that drinking affects family members physically and mentally.4

The study found that family members of someone with AUD had higher rates of:

  • Substance use disorders (SUDs)
  • Depression
  • Trauma

Knowing AUD’s risk factors is essential in helping someone through alcohol addiction. 

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10 Tips for Dealing with an Alcoholic

Living with an alcoholic can be difficult. Fortunately, there are several ways to help them through their journey toward sobriety:

1. Meet Them Where they Are

To meet someone where they are means to support them in whatever stage of recovery they are in. This allows that person to trust you, and it shows empathy. 

Building trust and showing unwavering support is an important part of successful treatment. It allows your loved one to attend alcohol addiction treatment on their own terms. 

By showing support, your loved one will be more willing to talk to you about their addiction struggles and how you can better support them. It is very important to support the person, but not to support their drinking/using or to protect them from the consequences.

2. Set Boundaries

Not setting boundaries or expressing your emotions can quickly lead to codependency. Studies have shown that women with alcoholic husbands are more likely to be codependent.5

This is especially true if they have other mental health issues like neuroticism. Setting boundaries can help prevent the development of a codependent relationship.

Do not loan them money, which they might use to pay for alcohol. Don't allow them to care for children alone, as an alcoholic partner might put them at risk. Setting boundaries keeps both parties safe, especially if you live with an alcoholic.

3. Never Force Them Into Recovery

There is no evidence that forcing your loved one into alcohol treatment is effective. 6 Doing so can reduce treatment effectiveness.

Addiction treatment is incredibly effective, but only when someone wants to recover for themselves, not for others. Forcing someone into recovery can build resentment and reduce the trust in your relationship.

4. Understand the Risk of Relapse

Understand that AUD is a chronic disease, even if your loved one has already sought treatment for alcohol addiction.7 Recovery involves multiple steps, including essential follow-up treatment programs that help maintain sobriety. 

Because AUD is a chronic disease, the person also risks relapsing, even in sobriety. This is a normal part of addiction recovery.

5. Help Them Through Recovery

Someone with a high amount of alcohol use is at greater risk of suffering the effects of withdrawal symptoms. These are painful symptoms that can also be deadly.

Withdrawal symptoms require medical treatment and should be dealt with during a medical detox. Afterward, your loved one might undergo inpatient treatment or other treatment programs. It’s important to show support in every step of treatment.

6. Consider Family Therapy Sessions 

Family therapy is an excellent way to clear the air, communicate feelings, and receive professional advice. This can help you and your partner improve your family life. 

A family therapist can be a great resource regardless of whether your partner is in recovery, sober, or showing signs of AUD. Therapy sessions also allow you and your partner to grow closer together and reach a common understanding.

7. Avoid Being Their Therapist

It’s always best to seek the help of a professional counselor to treat mental health issues related to alcohol abuse. A mental health professional is the best resource for your alcoholic loved one.

You should never take a professional’s place or think you can offer advice better than they can. Therapists are trained in treating specific mental disorders and providing evidence-based treatment.

8. Avoid Situations That Involve Alcohol

You should avoid situations that involve drinking if your loved one is recovering from alcohol addiction or reducing their alcohol intake. This includes celebrations, holidays, and social gatherings.

You should also avoid giving them easy access to alcohol by not having any at home. Consider giving them alternative hobbies if they have a routine that involves drinking.

9. Don't Enable Their Behavior

When your alcoholic loved one gets in trouble because of their drinking problem, it's important to let them experience the consequences of their actions. Making excuses for their behavior or bailing them out of situations will only be counterproductive.

By enabling them, you're incentivizing them to continue their problematic behavior. Although it might seem harsh, it'll be better for them in the long run.

10. Take Care of Your Own Health

As mentioned before, dealing with an alcoholic can have negative consequences on your health. This can lead to mental health problems, and you may develop a substance abuse problem of your own.

Because of this, it's important to keep an eye on your health. Consider joining a support group for people who have alcoholic loved ones like Al-Anon.

These support groups can give you techniques and resources to handle your loved one. They also provide a community of people with the same struggles and experiences.

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How to Talk to an Alcoholic About Rehab

Watching your loved one continue drinking can be frustrating and even scary. Because of this, it's important to talk to them about rehab.

However, it can be difficult to talk to them about seeking treatment. Instead, consider hiring the help of a professional to provide therapeutic intervention. They might also recommend additional treatment options based on your loved one’s needs.

But if you want to approach them about rehab, here are a few things that you can do:

  • Talk to them while they're sober
  • Establish a safe and empathetic space
  • Avoid using judgmental or accusatory language
  • Avoid verbally abusing them
  • Avoid forcing them into treatment or making ultimatums
  • Do your research on AUD treatment before talking to them
  • Talk to an addiction specialist or healthcare professional
  • Have a concrete and realistic plan

Why Should You Get Treatment for AUD?

Alcoholism can ruin your loved one's health, cause stress, and put lives at risk. As their addiction worsens, they may begin to experience:

  • Financial problems
  • Legal problems
  • Problems at work or school
  • Long-term health problems
  • Worsening mental health conditions
  • Increased risk of drug abuse
  • Alcohol poisoning
  • Alcohol dependence
  • Alcohol withdrawal syndrome
  • Death

Because of these potential side effects, seeking professional medical treatment is important.

Treatment Options for AUD

In addition, you should let your partner know that various treatment facilities offer help for different stages of recovery. These include:8

  1. Medical detoxification: A vital part of alcohol abuse recovery that helps stabilize your loved one and manage withdrawal symptoms
  2. Inpatient treatment: Offers high levels of care and reduces the risk of relapse by providing a 24/7 structured environment
  3. Outpatient treatment: Flexible meetings that offer support groups and provide mental health treatment
  4. Intensive outpatient treatment (IOP): A stage of treatment that helps transition your loved one from inpatient to outpatient treatment
  5. Support groups: Provide a much-needed community to help maintain sobriety after treatment

Summary

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a disease that makes people unable to control their alcohol intake, despite the negative side effects. Various psychological, environmental, and genetic factors influence the development of AUD.

Although it's never anyone's fault for developing AUD, living with an alcoholic can be difficult. You'll experience stress and mental health problems, and you may even develop an addiction of your own.

Fortunately, there are ways to deal with an alcoholic family member or loved one. Various treatment options can help them recover and stay sober.

Updated on September 11, 2023
8 sources cited
Updated on September 11, 2023
All Alcoholrehabhelp content is medically reviewed or fact checked to ensure as much factual accuracy as possible.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only link to reputable media sites, academic research institutions and, whenever possible, medically peer reviewed studies.
  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. "Understanding alcohol use disorder." National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. 
  2. Gilbertson et al. "The role of selected factors in the development and consequences of alcohol dependence."Alcohol research & health: the journal of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 2008.
  3. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. "Genetics of Alcohol Use Disorder." National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
  4. Ray et al. "Family members of people with alcohol or drug dependence: Health problems and medical cost compared to family members of people with diabetes and asthma." Addiction (Abingdon, England), 2009. 
  5. Panaghi et al. "Living with addicted men and codependency: The moderating effect of personality traits." Addiction & health, 2016.
  6. Werb et al. "The effectiveness of compulsory drug treatment: A systematic review." International Journal of Drug Policy, 2016.
  7. McKay, J. R., and Hiller-Sturmhofel, S. "Treating alcoholism as a chronic disease: Approaches to long-term continuing care. " Alcohol research & health: the journal of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 2011.
  8. McCarty et al. "Substance Abuse Intensive Outpatient Programs: Assessing the evidence." Psychiatric Services (Washington, D.C.), 2014.
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All content created by Alcohol Rehab Help is sourced from current scientific research and fact-checked by an addiction counseling expert. However, the information provided by Alcohol Rehab Help is not a substitute for professional treatment advice.
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