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Comprehensive Guide on How to Help an Alcoholic in Alcohol Rehab

Comprehensive Guide on How to Help an Alcoholic in Alcohol Rehab
Written by Seth Fletcher on September 8, 2016
Medical editor Dr. Chintan Shah
Last update: May 13, 2024

Seeing a loved one or someone you care about struggling with alcohol-related problems can be hurtful and difficult. You may not know how to get help for alcoholism for them or whether they want help. Alcoholism is not a habit that one simply decides to stop, so your loved one will most likely need some assistance to get better. 

Alcohol use disorder affects a person’s relationships, work, finances, and every aspect of their lives. It can also lead to organ damage and life-threatening diseases. The path to helping someone deal with alcohol addiction is different for everyone. It often depends on how they developed the problem, their drinking habits, and the extent of their addiction. CCFA explains how to help an alcoholic you care about, whether it’s your child, a spouse, or a friend, overcome their condition. 

Key Takeaways

  • Alcoholism affects every aspect of a person’s life and relationship with others
  • You can help a loved one deal with alcoholism by being thoughtful and empathetic in your approach
  • Offer your support but don’t enable them as you try to help
  • Ensure you don’t neglect your health and well-being in trying to take care of an alcoholic loved one

What is Alcoholism?

Drinking is a common social activity and not a problem for most people. Over 75% of Canadians aged 15 years and older reported drinking alcohol in 2019, while the average household spent $1,125 on alcoholic beverages in the same year. Telling whether a person’s alcohol use has moved from regular to problematic is not always easy. A person with alcoholism will have trouble controlling their drinking behaviour and will continue drinking even when it impacts them negatively. This condition is known as alcohol use disorder (AUD) and describes an unhealthy drinking pattern that causes physical or psychological alcohol dependence. 

AUD is a medical condition characterized by the compulsive use of alcohol despite obvious adverse effects on a person’s health and overall well-being. A person with AUD will think about drinking often, binge drink, and always seek opportunities to drink. The effects of AUD can be physical or psychological and include: 

  • Hangovers
  • Blackouts
  • Temporary or permanent memory loss
  • Stomach issues
  • Brain damage
  • Cirrhosis or liver damage
  • Heart problems
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Increased cancer risk
  • Pancreatitis
  • Decreased productivity at work or school
  • Legal and financial issues

How Does it Affect Your Relationship with Your Loved Ones?

If your loved one is struggling with alcoholism, it may lead to a strain in your relationship. You may see them neglect their responsibilities, get into financial or legal troubles that you have to sort out, or even abuse other family members. These developments can leave you feeling angry, ashamed, afraid, guilty, and exhausted by the whole situation. You may be overwhelmed by all that’s going on and consider ignoring the person or leaving them to their fate. 

However, denial of a substance abuse problem rarely solves anything, often bringing more problems to you and others connected to the individual later. It helps to understand that the addicted loved one is the victim of a disease that can affect anyone and that they require your love, support, commitment, and patience to work through this problem.

Helping an alcoholic loved one get through their addiction and its effects often calls for professional help. CCFA offers multiple treatment options for alcohol use disorder in an environment that inspires lasting change. We provide client-centred treatment that gives our clients the best chance at recovery. Call us today at 1-855-499-9446.

Spotting the Signs of Alcohol Use Disorder

Telling the difference between social drinking and alcohol use disorder in a loved one is not always easy. Still, some of these signs can hint that a family member’s drinking has become problematic:

Drinking in Secret

The stigma and social disapproval that follows indiscriminate alcohol use can make people conceal their alcohol consumption. If your loved one is being secretive about their drinking, maybe they’re lying about their alcohol usage, or you discover alcohol in unusual places like in a wardrobe or under the stairs, you should consider that they could be hiding a problem. 

Increased Alcohol Tolerance

People with AUD drink frequently, and with time, they build a tolerance to alcohol. Tolerance means they will need to drink more alcohol to get the same euphoric feeling. If you observe an increase in a loved one’s alcohol use, they may be struggling with AUD. 

Neglecting Responsibilities

If your loved one is suddenly failing to meet up with their tasks at home, work, or school, it could be a pointer to a problem with alcohol. If they skip school or office work and abandon their tasks at home to drink instead, they may be in trouble. 

Diminished Interest in Hobbies

People with drinking problems tend to prioritize alcohol use over every other thing. If your loved one suddenly seems disinterested in their hobbies or events they once enjoyed, their alcohol use may have become a problem.

Sudden Mood Swings

Alcohol affects the brain and can lead to alterations in mood and behaviour. You may notice sudden changes in mood and unexplained aggression if your loved one is struggling with AUD.

Frequent Legal and Financial Troubles

Alcohol lowers inhibitions and impairs judgment, and people tend to act recklessly when under the influence. Your loved one may drive while drunk or get into brawls, putting them at risk of accidents and legal issues. They may also have unending financial trouble as they need money to finance their drinking habits. If your loved one is frequently asking for money or getting into legal trouble, a drinking problem may be the actual cause. 

Withdrawal Symptoms

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms are clear pointers to a drinking problem. Exhibiting a few or all of the following symptoms a few hours to days without alcohol is most likely the result of an underlying drinking problem:

  • Tremors and shakes
  • Restlessness
  • Disorientation
  • Diminished appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Irritability
  • Insomnia
  • Increased heart rate
  • Seizures 

A Step-by-Step Guide on How to Approach an Alcoholic

People with AUD often deny they have a problem or get aggressive if confronted or offered help. You must approach your loved one with care and understanding to get through to them successfully. 

Here’s a stepwise guide for approaching and helping a loved one battling alcoholism:

Learn About Alcohol Use Disorder

The first thing to do is to learn all you can about AUD and how it impacts a person’s mind and body. Alcoholism goes beyond social drinking, so you need to be sure your loved one has AUD and is not just using alcohol to cope. AUD involves loss of control, tolerance, dependence, and withdrawal. Explore online resources to educate yourself on the condition and how it affects people. If you determine they’re dealing with alcohol addiction, you can proceed to the next step. 

Find Available Treatment Programs 

If your loved one is dealing with AUD, they will most likely need professional treatment and guidance. It would help if you had treatment options before initiating a conversation with them. The most suitable treatment option for your loved one will depend on personal factors like the severity of the addiction or the presence of co-occurring mental health disorders. 

You need to find a treatment program that provides client-centered addiction treatment. CCFA’s luxury centres in Ontario offer sophisticated alcohol addiction treatment. At CCFA, we help people understand their addictions and the healthier coping strategies available to them by engaging them in one-on-one counseling with certified counselors, psychiatrists, and mental health professionals. 

Select the Right Place and Time

It’s essential to hold the conversation at a place where you’ll have some quiet and privacy. You have a better chance of getting through to them if both of you are focused and non-distracted. Also, select a time you know they’ll be sober and turn off phones and other devices to prevent interruptions. 

Prepare to Speak to Them

It helps to practice what you will say to your loved one beforehand. Your statements should be positive and non-accusatory. You can write what you intend to say down so your emotions don’t get the better of you. Tell them about their drinking problem and how it affects you. Remain calm and try not to get upset even if they don’t respond positively. It would probably take a series of discussions to get them to see the need for treatment. If they’re open to your options, bring up a list of treatment programs you’ve researched and allow them to choose. Be sympathetic but firm in your suggestions. If they refuse your attempts to help, you may need to stage a professional intervention. 

Supporting an Alcoholic – Dos and Don’ts

Knowing how to support an alcoholic is key to the success of this long process, and you’ll need to be mindful of how you deal with them even after recovery. Relapses are common, and your loved one will need support to prevent a relapse or allow one to become the start of a downward spiral. You should adhere to these dos and don’ts to give your loved one an increased chance of staying sober. 


Encourage Them to Take Up New Activities 

Drinking and recovering from its effect takes up a significant chunk of a person’s time. Now that your loved one has quit drinking, they’ll need something else to fill the usually large void that remains. You can help by encouraging them to take up a new activity that adds value and excitement to their life. They could learn a new skill, take up a hobby that doesn’t involve alcohol, or volunteer for a notable cause. 

Accompany Them to Therapy and Support Group Meetings

Going with your recovering loved one to therapy or support group meetings shows them you’re invested in their well-being and can be the motivation they need to preserve till they achieve complete recovery.

Encourage a Healthy Routine

Keeping a healthy routine helps recovering addicts stay focused and less likely to relapse. You may need to encourage your loved one to stick to a routine of healthy meals, exercise, and partaking in hobbies that promote sobriety. 

Help Them Find Healthier Ways to Relieve Stress

Stress is one of the main triggers for alcohol use and other unhealthy behaviour that leads to alcoholism. Encourage them to confide in others, exercise, or take up activities like meditation to help fight stress. 


Don’t Bring Alcohol into the Home

Even if you drink socially, you must not bring alcohol into the home or anywhere your recovering loved ones can see them. Seeing alcohol could be triggering, and you want your loved one to be as far from tempting situations as possible. 

Don’t Enable Them

You shouldn’t enable your loved one if they are unwilling to put in the effort required to overcome their drinking problem. Enabling someone means shielding them from the consequences of their actions. It involves doing things like taking up their responsibilities, and helping them out of financial or legal trouble. Enabling a person prevents them from acknowledging the gravity of their situation and makes them less likely to get their act together. You must set boundaries and hold your loved ones accountable even while helping them so that they can maintain their sense of dignity and responsibility.

Don’t Forget About Self-Care

Caring for an alcoholic loved one can be draining, and you can lose yourself doing so. It’s vital to care for yourself and get the support you need. Don’t allow the situation to dictate your happiness or health. Find time to relax and do the things you love. Recovery is a journey, and you must be at your best to meet the demands.

Your loved one’s addiction is also not something you must handle on your own. You can turn to friends and support groups if you feel overwhelmed. Also, understand that you cannot help someone unwilling to do their part. Don’t beat yourself up if your attempts appear to be unsuccessful. Successful addiction recovery only happens when the individual is willing and committed to their treatment.

Tips on Maintaining Support for Your Loved One After Treatment

Recovery takes time, years in some cases, and getting treatment is only one of the steps in the process. Your loved one will still need your help after treatment, and you can maintain support by following some of these tips:

Find Support Together 

You may need the help of friends and other family members to support your recovering loved one. Other family members may unintentionally enable the alcoholic, so you should let them see things from your perspective. You may set general boundaries for interacting with the individual so everyone knows what to do all the time. 

Don’t Talk Down on Them

Try not to talk or shame your loved one if they relapse, miss a support meeting, or do something contrary to their recovery requirements. Alcoholism is a disease, and they’re probably more disappointed at the situation than you are. Always be positive and encouraging in your speech, especially if they’re making an effort. 

Keep Them Away from Triggers

If your loved one has identified their triggers, you should do all you can to keep them away from them. This may involve helping them avoid places, situations, and people that remind them of drinking. 

Be Part of their Aftercare Program

You can maintain your support for your loved one by being an active part of their aftercare program. Go with them to support meetings and counselling sessions whenever you can. 

Have a Relapse Plan

A relapse is always possible with addictions, so it’s better to have a backup plan. If this happens, discuss the issue with them immediately so they can return to treatment. You may call their sponsor or an addiction hotline to help you if they suffer a relapse. 


Alcohol use disorder is a complex condition that impacts people and others around them. When an individual has AUD, their loved ones are often at a loss on what to do. Every addiction case is unique, and you must find the right approach for your loved one. Getting professional help is the best thing to do, especially if you don’t know how to proceed. 

Also, ensure you don’t neglect your well-being as you try to help your loved one. Do all you can but take care of yourself. The important thing is to let them know you care and are ready to offer your support on this challenging journey.

Frequently Asked Questions

What do you say to a struggling alcoholic?

When talking to a struggling alcoholic, speak words that convey empathy, thoughtfulness, and understanding of what they’re going through. Avoid judgmental or accusatory statements and calmly call their attention to your observations. Use statements like:
“I’m worried about your safety.”
“How can I help you get through this?”
“I’m willing to support you when you’re ready.”

How do you comfort a sad drunk person?

You can comfort a sad drunk person by being there for them and speaking encouraging words. You should also get them to stop drinking and eat solid food instead. If they need to lie down, ensure they’re lying on one side, with something at their back so they don’t roll over and choke if they vomit. 

Should you argue with a drunk person?

No, you shouldn’t argue with a drunk person. Even if you feel disappointed by the words of an intoxicated person, it helps to remember that they’re impaired and not functioning properly. Instead, wait till they sober up before initiating any serious discussion.

Does alcoholism run in your family?

Alcoholism is thought to run in families, with studies showing that genes could be responsible for half of the risk of alcohol use disorder. Some genes may increase risk, while others may reduce it. 

What should you not say to someone in recovery?

When speaking to someone in recovery, you should not say things that make light of their addiction or health issues, stigmatise or make them feel ashamed. Don’t say things like:
- I know exactly how you feel.
- Are you sure you’re an addict?
- I did not realise you had a problem.
- Why don’t you drink?
- Surely you can have just a sip?
- I didn’t realise you had a drinking problem.
- How long have you been sober?
- You don’t look like someone with a drinking problem.

Certified Addiction Counsellor

Seth brings many years of professional experience working the front lines of addiction in both the government and privatized sectors.

Dr. Chintan is a Board Certified Family Physician with an interest in holistic and preventative care as well as healthcare systems. Credentialed Physician with both American & Canadian Board of Family Medicine. Adjunct Professor in the Department of Family Medicine at the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry. Telemedicine clinician.

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