Helping a loved one with a drinking problem


If you think a loved one has a drinking problem, you may want to help but do not know how. You may not be sure it really is a drinking problem. Or, you might be afraid that your loved one will get angry or upset if you say something.

If you are concerned, DO NOT wait to bring it up. The problem is likely to get worse, not better, if you wait.

When is Drinking a Problem?

Drinking problems are not measured by the amount someone drinks or how often they drink. What matters most is how drinking affects the person'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

Learn About Alcohol Abuse

Start by learning all you can about alcohol abuse. You can read books, look online, or ask your health care provider for information. The more you know, the more information you will have ready to help your loved one.

Get Support for Yourself

Alcohol abuse takes a toll on everyone. You cannot help your loved one if you do not take care of yourself and get support.

  • Make your family's health and safety your top priority.
  • Ask other family members or friends for support. Be honest about your feelings and tell them what they can do to help.
  • Consider joining a group that supports family and friends of people with alcohol problems, such as Al-Anon. In these groups, you can talk openly about your struggles and learn from people who have been in your situation.
  • Consider seeking help from a counselor or therapist who deals with alcohol problems. Even though your loved one may be the drinker, drinking affects the entire family.

What Not to Do

It is not easy to be involved with a person who has a drinking problem. It takes a lot of patience and love. You also need to set certain boundaries for your own actions so you do not encourage the person's behavior or let it affect you.

  • DO NOT lie or make excuses for your loved one's drinking.
  • DO NOT take on responsibilities for your loved one. This will only help the person avoid consequences for not doing the things they should.
  • DO NOT drink with your loved one.
  • DO NOT argue when your loved one has been drinking.
  • DO NOT feel guilty. You did not cause your loved one to drink, and you cannot control it.

How to Talk About Alcohol Use

It is not easy, but it is important to talk with your loved one about the drinking. Find a time to talk when the person is not drinking.

These 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 the drinking affects you.
  • Try to stick with the facts about your loved one's alcohol use, such as specific behaviors that have you worried.
  • Explain that you are concerned for your loved one's health.
  • Try not to use labels like "alcoholic" when talking about the problem.
  • DO NOT preach or lecture.
  • DO NOT try to use guilt or bribe the person to stop drinking.
  • DO NOT threaten or plead.
  • DO NOT expect your loved one to get better without help.
  • Offer to go with the person to see a doctor or addiction counselor.

Remember, you cannot force your loved one to get help, but you can offer your support.

Getting Help

It may take a few tries and several conversations before your loved one agrees to get help. There are many places to get help for an alcohol problem. You can start with your family health care provider. The provider may recommend an addiction treatment program or specialist. You can also check with your local hospital, insurance plan, or employee assistance program (EAP).

You can play an important role by continuing to show your support. Offer to go with your loved one to doctor's appointments or meetings. Ask what else you can do, such as not drinking when you are together and keeping alcohol out of the house.

When to Call Your Doctor

If you feel that your relationship with this person is becoming dangerous or is threatening your health, get help for yourself right away. Talk with your health care provider or a counselor.


Friedmann PD. Clinical practice. Alcohol use in adults. N Engl J Med. 2013;368:365-373. PMID: 23343065

Moyer VA; U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Screening and behavioral counseling interventions in primary care to reduce alcohol misuse: U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommendation statement. Ann Intern Med. 2013;159:210-218. PMID: 23698791

National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. Helping a Family Member or Friend. Accessed April 29, 2014.

National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. Intervention -- Tips and Guidelines. Accessed April 29, 2014.

National Institute on Aging. Older Adults and Alcohol. June 2011. Accessed April 29, 2014.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Rethinking Drinking. 2010. Accessed April 29, 2014.

Review date:
December 07, 2016
Reviewed by:
Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
Copyright Information A.D.A.M., Inc. is accredited by URAC, also known as the American Accreditation HealthCare Commission ( URAC's accreditation program is an independent audit to verify that A.D.A.M. follows rigorous standards of quality and accountability. A.D.A.M. is among the first to achieve this important distinction for online health information and services. Learn more about A.D.A.M.'s editorial policy, editorial process and privacy policy. A.D.A.M. is also a founding member of Hi-Ethics and subscribes to the principles of the Health on the Net Foundation (

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- 2008 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.