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Signs Your Loved One Has a Drinking Problem

If your loved one has a drinking problem, they are not alone. Alcohol use disorder (AUD), more commonly known as alcoholism, is a chronic relapsing brain disease that develops with alcohol abuse or dependency on alcohol. 

AUD may be more common than you think. In fact, an estimated 15 million people struggle with alcoholism in the United States. But not everyone who has a drinking problem suffers from alcoholism. Binge drinking, alcohol abuse, excessive alcohol use, and heavy drinking also constitute as AUD.

Your loved one may binge drink, abuse alcohol, or have alcoholism, but there are key differences between the three types of alcohol problems. That said, one problem can lead to the next. If you’re wondering how to help someone stop drinking, you should first understand the levels of alcohol problems.

Binge drinking is defined as a drinking pattern that elevates one’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level to 0.08 g/dL. One’s BAC level differs depending on a gamut of factors—from food intake, weight, and medications (or lack thereof). But it typically reaches .08 g/dL after four drinks for women and five drinks for men in about two hours.

Someone who binge drinks is not necessarily an alcoholic. In fact, nearly one-third of American adults are deemed excessive drinkers, but only 10 percent of them are considered alcoholics.

Those suffering from alcohol addiction, unlike binge drinkers, continue to drink alcohol despite: 

  • Recurrent, alcohol-induced health problems
  • Social consequences
  • Occupational consequences
  • Legal consequences 

However, people who abuse alcohol may have an easier time breaking their habits than people who struggle with alcoholism.

Alcoholism is the inability to control drinking due to both a physical and psychological dependence on alcohol. Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a chronic disease characterized by uncontrolled drinking and preoccupation with alcohol, including alcoholism. 

AUD changes the chemical makeup of one’s brain, which drives them to drink first for pleasure and then to avoid withdrawal symptoms. People who have alcoholism tend to suffer from withdrawals while they’re not drinking, which can make quitting even more difficult. 

If your loved one has an alcohol dependence, there are ways you can help. Professional help is available.

How to Help an Alcoholic Family Member

How do you help an alcoholic in your family? You can help an alcoholic family member to reduce or quit their alcohol consumption, detox, and improve their overall well-being.

If you are a close family member, you may not want to push this person away. Instead, you may try to avoid confrontation in order to keep the peace. But it’s important not to be an enabler by financially supporting your family member’s bad behaviors, making excuses for them, and ultimately denying their alcohol problem. While you may not want to believe that they have an alcohol problem either, the quicker they can get professional help, the easier their recovery process will be.

Family therapy is a great option to find out what may be triggering your loved one to drink. If you cannot get your loved one to attend family therapy, however, staging an intervention with your other family members can help them open up and hold them accountable for their behaviors. As an interventionist, you are letting them know that you are not going to tolerate their drinking problem but that you care to support them along their recovery journey.


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How to Help an Alcoholic Spouse

What about getting an alcoholic help if you’re married to one? Helping your spouse is like helping any other family member. While you may feel a responsibility for your spouse, it is their responsibility to take accountability over their own actions.

Again, it’s important not to be an enabler. While you may support your spouse financially, giving them spending money without questioning what you suspect they’re going to spend it on permits their bad behavior. Likewise, drinking or keeping alcohol in the house can make it more difficult for them to quit.

While a drinking problem can certainly take a toll on a marriage, traditional talk therapy for couple’s can help. If your spouse is willing to seek treatment, it’s also important to reach out to health professionals for addiction help.

How to Help an Alcoholic Friend

If you have a friend who is struggling with alcoholism, you can help them by supporting them in quitting drinking. Staging an intervention with your friend to let them know that you are concerned is one positive first step. Drinking around them will not help their sobriety efforts. Engage in other social activities together that do not involve alcohol.

Help your friend seek professional help. You can help them research local treatment centers, and you may even be able to go with them to group therapy sessions if they want your company.


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How to Help an Alcoholic in Denial

Wondering how to help an alcoholic in denial? It’s not easy to help someone in denial who doesn’t believe that they need help. An alcoholic in denial needs to admit to their drinking problem and acknowledge that they need help before they’re willing to accept it. It can take a lot of time before an alcoholic admits to needing help.

Follow the steps above to support the person with alcoholism. If you don’t enable this person and hold them accountable for their actions, they may come around and agree to receive professional help.

Addiction Treatment Options for Your Loved One 

Fortunately, there are different alcohol and drug addiction treatment options for those facing alcohol use disorder (AUD). These include support groups, traditional therapies, medical treatments, and more. 

Here are some options to get you started:

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)

AA is a global, community-driven program that involves regular accountability meetings and group discussions surrounding addiction. It’s “nonprofessional, self-supporting, multiracial, apolitical, and available almost everywhere.” AA uses a 12-Step approach to overcoming alcohol addiction, which include admitting to addiction, making conscious choices to change, and using prayer and meditation.

Addiction Rehab Options

There are both inpatient and outpatient treatment options for those seeking a rehabilitation center. Rehab centers offer medical support from trusted healthcare professionals, as well as supervision during the withdrawal journey and recovery phase. Sober living houses are more involved treatment facilities than outpatient centers.


Counseling through traditional talk therapy can help someone with an alcohol addiction discover any mental illness or emotional baggage that may trigger their addiction. Identifying the causes can help them to overcome their addiction in a healthy way. Group and family therapy are great options for people who want to go through it with peer support and/or their loved ones.

Medication-Assisted Treatment

Medication for alcoholism is usually used in combination with other methods of treatment to help someone detox from alcohol. A medical professional will assess them to prescribe the best medication for them, given their health history and needs. 

Medication might include Naltrexone that can help to reduce alcohol cravings. Acamprosate can also help to repair the brain. And Disulfiram can trigger a negative physical reaction to alcohol to help prevent someone from drinking it.

Questions About Addiction Treatment?

Figuring out how to help someone with alcoholism isn’t easy on your own. If you have questions about an alcohol problem or addiction treatment, reach out to a professional treatment provider.

Related posts:


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“Alcohol Questions and Answers.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 15 Jan. 2020, www.cdc.gov/alcohol/faqs.htm

“Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD).” MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 29 Apr. 2020, www.medlineplus.gov/alcoholusedisorderaud.html.

“Alcohol Use Disorder.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 4 June 2020, www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/alcohol-use-disorders

“Alcohol Use Disorder: A Comparison Between DSM–IV and DSM–5.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 13 Mar. 2020, www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/alcohol-use-disorder-comparison-between-dsm

“Drinking Levels Defined.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 26 June 2020, www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/moderate-binge-drinking

“Drinking Too Much Alcohol Can Harm Your Health. Learn the Facts.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 30 Dec. 2019, www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/alcohol-use.htm

“Factors That Affect How Alcohol Is Absorbed & Metabolized.” Factors That Affect How Alcohol Is Absorbed & Metabolized | Office of Alcohol Policy and Education, www.alcohol.stanford.edu/alcohol-drug-info/buzz-buzz/factors-affect-how-alcohol-absorbed

“Family History of Alcoholism: Are You at Risk?” Department of Mental Health, www.dmh.lacounty.gov/our-services/employment-education/education/alcohol-abuse-faq/family-history/

“Preventing Chronic Disease.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, www.cdc.gov/pcd/issues/2014/14_0329.htm

Publishing, Harvard Health. “Alcohol Abuse.” Harvard Health, www.health.harvard.edu/addiction/alcohol-abuse

Skerrett, Patrick J. “Heavy Drinkers Aren't Necessarily Alcoholics, but May Be ‘Almost Alcoholics.’” Harvard Health Blog, 17 June 2020, www.health.harvard.edu/blog/heavy-drinkers-arent-necessarily-alcoholics-may-almost-alcoholics-201411217539.

“What Is AA?” Aa.org, www.aa.org/pages/en_US/what-is-aa.

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