Anyone can develop a dependency on alcohol and it can be very difficult watching someone you care about struggle to control their drinking habits.
Harmful drinking can cause various adverse issues not only for the person drinking, but for the entire family. Often, the home environment can become unpredictable or tense, and other common issues include mental and physical health problems, financial worries, parenting difficulties, and relationship breakdown.
If you are concerned it is important not to wait to bring it up, as the problem is likely to get worse if it is not addressed.
Signs to look out for
It can be difficult to recognise if your family member has a drinking problem but if it impacts life negatively, causes emotional distress, or their health is starting to suffer, it is time to seek help. Common signs may include:
They experience frequent cravings to drink alcohol or need a drink to unwind to feel better.
They can’t control the amount they drink or are unable to refuse alcohol.
They appear drunk regularly or need to drink more to get the same effect.
They attempt to hide their drinking or are dishonest about how much alcohol they drink.
They become upset or stressed when going without alcohol.
They consistently neglect responsibilities or find themselves in dangerous or risky situations because of drinking.
If you are worried about the drinking habits of your family member, it can be daunting to decide when to approach them, what to say, and what help to offer. Here are our key tips:
Raise your concerns
First, plan what you want to say and pick a time when they are sober so are more likely to be receptive to your concerns. Make sure you do this in a private, safe, and comfortable place. The following considerations may help you to raise the topic sensitively:
Be ready and willing to listen, and speak in a friendly, positive, and supportive way.
Avoid making them feel guilty or ashamed with sweeping accusations, criticism, or judgement.
Refer to specific events or instances, rather than vague views or assumptions.
Be truthful but choose your words carefully to avoid causing your loved one to become defensive or agitated.
Avoid an argument. No matter the reaction, attempt to remain calm and assure your family member that they have your respect and support. If it doesn’t go well, try again another time.
Don’t force the issue if you’ve already brought it repeatedly; it may be better to remind them that you will be there to support them when they are ready.
While you can’t force your family member to get help, you can assist and encourage them to reach this decision and take ownership of their actions and choices. Some key considerations include:
Suggest that they make an appointment with their GP to discuss the services and treatments available. The first critical step in recovery is reaching out.
Make sure that they are not putting themselves or others at risk by drink driving or undertaking any other activities that may be dangerous while drinking.
Encourage them to take care of themselves physically, eat regularly, and drink plenty of water so that they don’t become dehydrated.
Stay positive about their ability to change and offer praise for any efforts they make.
Let them know that you care about their wellbeing, and that you are there when they need your support.
Look after yourself
The emotional impact of supporting a family member who is drinking harmfully can take its toll. It is important to:
Make sure that you get enough sleep and have strategies for relieving your own stress.
Ask your GP for advice and you can also go directly to an alcohol support service (see a list of services below). In these groups, you can discuss your experiences openly and learn from others who have been in your situation.
Consider talking to other family members or friends honestly about your feelings and ask them to consider what they can do to help.
Remember that your loved one has made their own choices and you are not responsible for their behaviour.
The NHS Addictions Provider members provide support for service users and their families. You can find support and information related to alcohol consumption and treatment services via their websites below.
You can also find NHS alcohol addiction services based on location.
Inclusion - Birmingham & Solihull NHS Trust - South London & Maudsley NHS Trust - Greater Manchester Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust - Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust - Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust -
Surrey and Borders Partnership NHS Foundation Trust - Leeds and York Partnership NHS Foundation Trust - Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation - Rotherham Doncaster and South Humber NHS Foundation Trust - Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust - Derbyshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust - North Staffordshire Combined Healthcare NHS Trust - Greater Manchester Health & Social Care Partnership
There are also many organizations and charities across the UK that provide support and advice around alcohol misuse.
Call the Drinkline national alcohol helpline on 0300 123 1110
Alcoholics Anonymous helpline on 0800 9177 650
Al-Anon Family Groups helpline on 020 7403 0888