How Family Members Can Cope With a Loved One's Alcohol Use (2023)

Addiction is a chronic, brain-based disorder that involves brain chemistry, the environment, life experiences, and genetics. People who have an addiction to alcohol continue to engage in compulsive behaviors despite negative consequences. Many of these negative consequences affect the individual's health and well-being, but family, friends, and other loved ones are also often affected as well.

If you are a friend or family member of a person with an alcohol use disorder (AUD), you might be searching for ways to better understand your loved one's behaviors. It can be challenging not to internalize their hurtful actions, but the reality is that people with an alcohol problem may not fully understand the impact that their actions have on friends and family.

It can often be helpful for family members to learn more about alcohol use disorders and explore ways to improve their responses during interactions with someone who has a drinking problem. This may mean setting ground rules and joining a support group such asAl-Anon,designed specifically to meet the needs offamiliesof people with alcohol use issues.

Effects of Alcohol on the Brain

Loved ones of people with alcohol use disorder may feel less empathy for them and become more frustrated with them as time passes. This is understandable, but it may help to learn about how alcohol affects the brain.

Alcohol can impair an individual's motor and cognitive abilities. This occurs while a person is drinking. It can also create longer-term impairments that persist even after a person is no longer intoxicated.

Chronic, heavy alcohol consumption can cause reductions in both white and gray brain matter, leading to brain shrinkage. This can lead to problems with:

  • Attention
  • Impulsivity
  • Learning
  • Memory
  • Problem-solving
  • Processing speed
  • Spatial processing
  • Verbal fluency

Heavy alcohol consumption can also cause malnutrition and vitamin deficiencies which can further contribute to alcohol's detrimental effects on the brain. In some cases, people may develop alcohol-related dementia or a cognitive disorder known as Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome.

How Alcohol Affects Families

Alcohol use can have a serious negative effect on close relationships. As the problem becomes more serious, people with the condition may withdraw from loved ones or lash out at those who try to help.

Increased Family Problems

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that consuming alcohol increases the risk of family problems and violence. Some of the ways that alcohol may impact families include:

  • Defensiveness: People with an alcohol use disorder may come to see their partner or other family members as a threat. This can create a mindset where a person who is in denial about their alcohol issues may feel attacked or defensive by attempts to get help for the individual or the family unit.
  • Financial problems: It is not uncommon for people to experience financial hardships resulting from their alcohol use. This might be caused by poor choices, job loss, or spending excessive amounts of money on alcohol. Such problems affect the individual with the problem, but also create hardships for the entire family.
  • Legal troubles: Alcohol use may also play a role in legal difficulties relating to things like arguments, driving while under the influence, or domestic violence.
  • Negative emotions: Family members may often experience a variety of negative emotions in response to a loved one's drinking, including feelings of sadness, frustration, and fear.

Impact on Children

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration notes that families that are affected by alcohol problems have high levels of confusion and stress. This can make children who grow up in such environments more susceptible to substance use and other mental health problems.

Children who have a parent with an alcohol problem may also experience a wide range of negative effects and emotions. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry suggests that these feelings may include:

  • Anger
  • Anxiety
  • Confusion
  • Depression
  • Embarrassment
  • Trouble forming close relationships

Kids may also exhibit behaviors such as social withdrawal, risk-taking, and academic problems.

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How Families Can Cope

Encouraging your loved one to get treatment is important, but there are also other steps that can help you protect your well-being.

  • Learn about alcohol use disorders: Educating yourself about addictions can be helpful. In addition to learning more about how addiction affects the brain, knowing how treatment works can help give you the tools and resources to support your loved one during their recovery.
  • Set boundaries: Being supportive is important, but it is also essential to clearly establish boundaries when it comes to your loved one's actions. For example, make it clear that you will not accept drinking in your home and then follow through on the consequences if those boundaries are crossed.
  • Take care of yourself: Caring for a loved one with an alcohol problem can sometimes cause people to neglect their own needs and well-being. Make sure that you are giving yourself the things that you need to feel well. That includes eating healthy meals, getting regular physical activity, interacting with friends, getting enough sleep, and pursuing hobbies that you enjoy.
  • Talk to a professional: Seeing a therapist on your own can also help you make sense of your experiences. Your therapist can help you learn new ways of coping with your loved one's behaviors and practice new strategies to help cope with feelings of stress.

It is also important to manage your expectations. Recovery from alcohol addiction is a process that takes time and may involve setbacks.

Support Groups for Family Members

When a loved one is receiving treatment for an alcohol use disorder, family members can also benefit from educational and support programs such as Alateen and Al-Anon. There are a number of important benefits of participating in support groups:

  • They may help reduce the risk of kids developing alcohol or substance use problems.
  • Such programs may help identify kids that are in need of additional treatment for problems such as anxiety and depression.
  • These educational and supportive resources can help kids and other family members understand that they are not responsible for their loved one's problems with alcohol.
  • They can help family members feel less isolated and understand that there are other people out there who have also been affected by alcohol misuse.

These support groups can serve as a source of stability, resources, and advice for people who have loved ones who are struggling with alcohol addiction. In addition to finding people who have had experiences similar to your own, you can learn more about how to care for your own health and well-being.

Getting Help

If you have an alcohol use problem and are concerned about the impact it might be having on your family and friends, talk to your doctor. Effective treatments are available and your doctor can offer advice on what your next steps should be. Your doctor can prescribe medications that can help people stop drinking and help with symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. Your doctor can also recommend treatment programs that can help with detox and recovery.

Unfortunately, many people are not aware that there are medications available to help treat alcohol use disorder. According to one 2019 survey, only around 1.6% of adults with an AUD reported using medications during treatment.

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, contact theSubstance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helplineat1-800-662-4357for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see ourNational Helpline Database.

(Video) 5 Tips for Dealing with an Alcoholic Parent or Family Member

A Word From Verywell

Alcohol misuse can have a serious detrimental impact on the health and well-being of individuals as well as their families. Getting treatment is essential and can help people begin to recover their normal functioning and improve relationships with their partners, children, and other loved ones.

Support from family and friends is essential, but people who make up the individual's support system also need to be sure that they are caring for themselves. Reaching out to support groups, seeking educational resources, and talking to a mental health professional can all be beneficial if you have a loved one who has an alcohol use problem.

Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

  1. American Society of Addiction Medicine. Definition of addiction.

  2. Stavro K, Pelletier J, Potvin S. Widespread and sustained cognitive deficits in alcoholism: a meta-analysis. Addict Biol. 2013;18(2):203-13. doi:10.1111/j.1369-1600.2011.00418.x

  3. Rossi RE, Conte D, Massironi S.Diagnosis and treatment of nutritional deficiencies in alcoholic liver disease: Overview of available evidence and open issues.Dig Liver Dis. 2015;47(10):819-25. doi:10.1016/j.dld.2015.05.021

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Alcohol and substance use.

    (Video) Understanding a Functioning Alcoholic

  5. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. What Is Substance Abuse Treatment? A Booklet for Families.

  6. American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. Alcohol use in families.

  7. Han B, Jones CM, Einstein EB, Powell PA, Compton WM. Use of medications for alcohol use disorder in the US. JAMA Psychiatry. 2021;78(8). doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2021.1271

By Buddy T
Buddy Tis an anonymous writer and founding member of the Online Al-Anon Outreach Committee with decades of experience writing about alcoholism.

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What can you do if a family member has a drinking problem? ›

Ask for the support or help you need. Try going to counseling or special meetings that offer support to families and friends of people with alcohol use disorders. There may be programs at your local hospital or clinic. For example, Al-Anon is a support group for friends and family of people with a drinking problem.

How do you deal with someone who has an addiction? ›

Here are seven tips that family and friends can reference to support an addicted family member or friend.
  1. Tip #1: Educate Yourself. ...
  2. Tip #2: Get Support. ...
  3. Tip #3: Get Counseling. ...
  4. Tip #4: Seek Specialty Help. ...
  5. Tip #5: Don't Enable. ...
  6. Tip #6: Have Realistic Expectations. ...
  7. Tip #7: Take Care of Yourself.
4 Sept 2013

How can you help your peers cope with problems or issues and not to resort to drug use? ›

Other preventive strategies
  • Know your teen's activities. Pay attention to your teen's whereabouts. ...
  • Establish rules and consequences. ...
  • Know your teen's friends. ...
  • Keep track of prescription drugs. ...
  • Provide support. ...
  • Set a good example.

What are some good coping skills when dealing with alcohol? ›

Fortunately, using healthy coping skills can help you on your journey to recovery.
Bottling Up Your Feelings
  • Communicate your feelings consistently.
  • Figure out why you keep your feelings inside.
  • Accept and own your feelings.
  • Write in a journal.
  • Talk when you need to.
  • Release your bottled feelings.

Is the best way to help the alcoholic and the family? ›

11 Tips to Help an Alcoholic Family Member or Friend
  1. Stop trying to save the alcoholic. ...
  2. Empower yourself. ...
  3. Don't enable an alcoholic. ...
  4. Find support and ban together. ...
  5. Get help from a professional. ...
  6. Offer to take your alcoholic loved one to a 12 Step meeting. ...
  7. Look for what an alcoholic is doing, not what they're saying.

What to do with someone who won't stop drinking? ›

Let them know the effect their drinking is having on you.
  1. See how they feel about change. ...
  2. Plan and pick a good time. ...
  3. Avoid blame and accusations. ...
  4. Use examples to explain. ...
  5. Don't give mixed messages. ...
  6. Be prepared for resistance. ...
  7. Don't push the issue. ...
  8. Don't give up.

What do you say to someone struggling with addiction? ›

1. I'm here for you. People struggling with SUD often turn to substances to numb feelings of isolation and victimization, so it's essential to start the conversation with your presence and without judgment. The challenge, urges Murchison, is to do it with boundaries.

How do you live with someone in recovery? ›

Here are seven tips to keep in mind as you support someone in their recovery journey.
  1. Take care of yourself, too. ...
  2. Remember that addiction is a disease. ...
  3. Recognize that there's a lot to learn about substance use disorder. ...
  4. Be careful not to use your love and comfort against them.

What do you say to someone in recovery? ›

Encourage Them

Along with praising the progress they already made, you should also give them encouraging words for the future. Let them know that you believe in them. It will give them a boost of self-confidence to know that other people think they can stay sober as well.

What is the best solution to drug abuse and misuse? ›

Here are the top five ways to prevent substance abuse:
  • Understand how substance abuse develops. ...
  • Avoid Temptation and Peer Pressure. ...
  • Seek help for mental illness. ...
  • Examine the risk factors. ...
  • Keep a well-balanced life.
7 Jul 2021

What are your own healthy ways of dealing with stressful events so you can prevent yourself from trying prohibited drugs? ›

Stress can put people at risk for substance abuse.
Here are some practical tips:
  • Take care of yourself. Healthy foods, exercise, and enough sleep really do make you feel better and better able to cope!
  • Focus. To keep from feeling overwhelmed, concentrate on challenges one at a time.
  • Keep calm. ...
  • Move on. ...
  • Talk about it.

What is your role or contribution in the fight against substance misuse and abuse? ›

As a student my role in the fight against substance abuse is to not try or use any kind of substance. I always keep my distance from any substance in order to not get addicted or experience negative effects it might have on me since I have a lot of allergies.

What are 10 ways to cope with cravings? ›

11 Tips and Ways to Deal with Urges and Cravings to Drink
  • Keep Track.
  • Avoid Triggers to Drinking (or overdrinking)
  • Distract Yourself.
  • Question the Urge.
  • The DISARM Method.
  • Drink Refusal.
  • Medications.
  • Meditation.
6 Jan 2020

What are healthy coping mechanisms? ›

Take brief rest periods during the day to relax. Take vacations away from home and work. Engage in pleasurable or fun activities every day. Practice relaxation exercises such as yoga, prayer, meditation or progressive muscle relaxation.

What are coping skills for anxiety? ›

Here are 11 tips for coping with an anxiety disorder:
  • Keep physically active. ...
  • Avoid alcohol and recreational drugs. ...
  • Quit smoking, and cut back or quit drinking caffeinated beverages. ...
  • Use stress management and relaxation techniques. ...
  • Make sleep a priority. ...
  • Eat healthy foods. ...
  • Learn about your disorder.
20 Jul 2021

How would you handle a family member who is under the influence of alcohol? ›

Don't try to talk when either one of you is under the influence. Do protect yourself and others around you from physical harm. Do call police if there is violence. Do set limits that will protect your home, finances, and relationships and stick to those limits.

How will you protect yourself your family and the community against the dangers of drinking alcohol? ›

The following tips can help keep your drinking low risk and manage high risk situations.
  • Avoid drinking situations. ...
  • Count your drinks. ...
  • Slow down your drinking. ...
  • Take less alcohol with you. ...
  • Make every second drink a non-alcoholic drink. ...
  • Eat before or while you are drinking. ...
  • Avoid top-ups. ...
  • Drink water with a meal.
20 Jul 2020

What do you do when someone drinks too much alcohol? ›

How to help someone showing signs of alcohol poisoning 5
  • Try to keep them awake and sitting up.
  • Give them some water (and nothing else), if they can drink it.
  • Lie them on their side in the recovery position if they've passed out, and check they're breathing properly.
  • Keep them warm.
  • Stay with them and monitor their symptoms.

How do you respond to an alcoholic? ›

Creating a Plan & What to Say
  1. Focus on your concern about your loved one's drinking. ...
  2. Explain that you're worried about your loved one's health. ...
  3. Avoid using labels like “alcoholic” or “addict.” Instead, focus on the person and their behavior instead of the label. ...
  4. Be empathic and understanding.
14 Sept 2022

What is a secret drinker? ›

What is Secret Drinking? Secret drinking is a common practice among alcoholics who have a high tolerance for alcohol. Because they have to drink more to get the desired effect from alcohol, they might secretly drink before an event; some even have a name for this — pregaming.

What are the stages of becoming an alcoholic? ›

If you or your loved ones need help to identify the signs of problem drinking, four stages of alcoholism have been identified: pre-alcoholic, early alcoholic, chronic alcoholic, and end-stage alcoholism.

How do you tell someone they are drinking too much? ›

Explain how their drinking could be affecting their health and how it will continue to cause harm. Express your concern for their well-being as someone who cares for them. Remember that it will take them time to change. Expect pushback.

What do you do when someone drinks too much alcohol? ›

How to help someone showing signs of alcohol poisoning 5
  • Try to keep them awake and sitting up.
  • Give them some water (and nothing else), if they can drink it.
  • Lie them on their side in the recovery position if they've passed out, and check they're breathing properly.
  • Keep them warm.
  • Stay with them and monitor their symptoms.

What is considered an alcoholic? ›

For men, consuming more than 4 drinks on any day or more than 14 drinks per week. For women, consuming more than 3 drinks on any day or more than 7 drinks per week.

What are the stages of becoming an alcoholic? ›

If you or your loved ones need help to identify the signs of problem drinking, four stages of alcoholism have been identified: pre-alcoholic, early alcoholic, chronic alcoholic, and end-stage alcoholism.

Is someone who drinks every night an alcoholic? ›

"While there are a number of variables, typically having a drink every night does not necessarily equate to alcohol use disorder, but it can increase the risk of developing alcohol-related health problems," Lawrence Weinstein, MD, Chief Medical Officer at American Addiction Centers tells WebMD Connect to Care.

What is a secret drinker? ›

What is Secret Drinking? Secret drinking is a common practice among alcoholics who have a high tolerance for alcohol. Because they have to drink more to get the desired effect from alcohol, they might secretly drink before an event; some even have a name for this — pregaming.

Is it normal for my husband to drink every night? ›

Maybe you notice your husband has a few cocktails every night. Even if it seems as though your partner's drinking isn't affecting their daily life, excessive drinking and a tolerance build-up are a major sign that they may be an alcoholic or struggling with addiction.

What is the recovery position for alcohol? ›

If someone you know passes out from drinking alcohol, you can help reduce the risk of choking by positioning them in the recovery position: Raise the person's arm closest to you straight above the head. Straighten the leg closest to you. Bend the other leg at the knee and bring the other arm across the chest.

What happens if you drink too much alcohol everyday? ›

High blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, liver disease, and digestive problems. Cancer of the breast, mouth, throat, esophagus, voice box, liver, colon, and rectum. Weakening of the immune system, increasing the chances of getting sick. Learning and memory problems, including dementia and poor school performance.

How do you help someone who is throwing up from alcohol? ›

Get them to sip cold water – make sure they rinse their mouth out thoroughly to remove stomach acid. Wait for a reasonable amount of time before drinking larger amounts as this could trigger another round of vomiting.

What are the five symptoms of an alcoholic? ›

Some of the most common symptoms of alcohol abuse are:
  • Experiencing temporary blackouts or short-term memory loss.
  • Exhibiting signs of irritability and extreme mood swings.
  • Making excuses for drinking such as to relax, deal with stress or feel normal.
  • Choosing drinking over other responsibilities and obligations.
21 Sept 2022

What are some behavioral characteristics of an alcoholic? ›

Often someone who is abusing alcohol will also display the following signs and become:
  • Insecure.
  • Sensitive.
  • Impulsive.
  • Impatient.
  • Secretive.
  • Defensive.
  • Manipulative.
  • Easily aggravated.
21 Dec 2021

Who is most likely to become an alcoholic? ›

Age Factors

Individuals in their early to mid-twenties are the most likely to abuse alcohol and suffer from alcohol use disorders. The younger that an individual starts consuming alcohol, the more likely they are to develop alcoholism later in life. This is especially true of individuals who start drinking before 15.

What stage of alcoholism is the most difficult to recover from? ›

Late alcoholism, Stage 4, is the most difficult stage for most people to recover from. You or someone you love may have short periods of being sober, but stress will likely bring on drinking, getting in trouble, and feeling ashamed and guilty.

In what stage of alcoholism does the drinker face serious health problems? ›

End-stage alcoholism is the final stage of alcoholism, when serious mental health and medical issues are beginning to appear.

What is the final stage in the development of alcoholism? ›

Stage 4: The End Stage

The last and final stage consists of a complete loss of control over drinking alcohol. At this point, the person feels that they must drink to go about their day. Their body physically needs the presence of alcohol in their system to function or feel normal.


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