How to Get Someone to Stop Drinking & Abusing Alcohol

How to Get Someone to Stop Drinking & Abusing Alcohol

Ways to Help Someone Stop Drinking

When it comes to addressing a loved one’s drinking problem, it can be a nerve-racking decision to address the proverbial pink elephant in the room. One might wonder: should it even be attempted?

Doubts can easily creep in: do they really have a problem, or am I jumping to conclusions? Will it anger them or hurt their feelings if I bring it up?

If you’re really worried, open the lines of communication, preferably without delay. In the case of a real alcohol abuse disorder and all the problems it can generate, speaking up sooner will always be better than later. It may be easier to save a relationship than a liver — or even a life, after all.

Problem and Binge Drinking

There are multiple warning signs — like binge drinking and heavy consumption — that point to problem drinking.

Binge level drinking occurs when a person’s blood alcohol concentration rises to 0.08 or higher. Normally it takes at least five drinks for men or a minimum of four drinks for women in the space of about two hours.

One out of every six U.S. adults binge drinks four times a month, averaging seven drinks per occasion. Four out of every five binge drinkers are men. When teens and underage adults drink, they tend to binge, which isn’t great for growing minds and bodies.

Heavy alcohol use is defined as binge drinking five or more days in the past month.

Risks of Heavy Alcohol Use

Even though many binge and heavy drinkers may not be alcoholics or dependent on the stuff, overdoing it does carry its own risks:

  • Accidents (car crashes, falls, burns, alcohol poisoning)
  • Violence (homicide, suicide, domestic abuse, sexual assault)
  • Sexually transmitted diseases
  • Unplanned pregnancies, miscarriages, and stillbirths
  • Fetal alcohol syndrome disorders
  • Sudden infant death syndrome
  • Diseases (heart, liver, high blood pressure, stroke)
  • Cancers (mouth, breast, throat, liver, colon)
  • Memory and learning problems
  • A greater likelihood of dependence

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Know the Signs

When addressing the problem, be sure you’re informed. First, know the warning signs of alcohol abuse and alcoholism.

Sometimes someone overdoes it from time to time. It’s not ideal, but it’s not necessarily a problem. Someone with an addiction will continue the behavior despite the negative consequences.

Signs of a problem may include:

  • Drinking alone
  • Consuming more alcohol to achieve the same effects
  • Becoming hostile when drinking habits are questioned
  • Not eating properly, or hardly eating at all
  • Neglecting personal hygiene
  • Missing work or school as a result of drinking
  • Being unable to control the amount imbibed
  • Giving up activities because of alcohol use
  • Making excuses for drinking
  • Drinking even after problems develop (legal troubles, job loss, etc.)

After prolonged use, alcohol cravings tend to get worse. Withdrawal becomes more difficult. Shaking or nausea can follow once alcohol leaves the body. As a dependence to alcohol deepens, tremors, blackouts, dehydration, and diseases such as cirrhosis can occur.

Causes of Alcoholism

As for the causes of addiction, it’s hard to pinpoint one true culprit. Drinking to excess can change the brain’s chemistry and can make one dependent on the stuff to hold onto that feeling.

The problem is, after a while, the only amount of alcohol that seems to replicate that high is more.

Genes seem to only make up half the likelihood of developing alcohol use disorder, mostly affecting how a person reacts to intoxicants. If flushing, nausea, and a rapid heartbeat occur after drinking, that can keep someone off alcohol, period. On the flip side, those who experience little discomfort while imbibing may be more prone to overdoing it.

Environment and social factors may contribute to whether someone develops an addiction, including:

  • Early exposure to alcohol
  • Acceptance of alcohol among family or community members
  • Low self-esteem
  • Stress
  • Mental health problems (depression, anxiety)

Don’t (or Do) Offer an Ultimatum

People may debate whether giving an ultimatum is the right approach. In some cases it can be a wake-up call. Other times it can backfire.

Merriam-Webster defines ultimatum as “a final proposition, condition, or demand.” If a person draws that line in the sand but isn’t ready to follow through, it’s an empty threat. It’s just words. That undermines the seriousness of the situation.

It can be more helpful when people deliver the message in a calm manner, and not as a threat. Think persuasion over force.

The same goes with an intervention. It can set a person on the right course by making them realize that they need to change. But an intervention also runs the risk of becoming confrontational, even violent.

A medical professional can provide a more neutral landscape, whereas family and close friends run the risk of igniting emotionally explosive situations.

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Do Not Enable Them

When dealing with a loved one with alcohol use disorder, it can be easy to try to smooth everything over for the sake of keeping up appearances.

That’s codependent behavior, also the work of an enabler, and it’s not likely to help anyone. Enabling behaviors support a family member or loved one’s addiction.

It’s not always a conscious effort, either. People sometimes enable others unintentionally, or with good intentions. (A parent may bail out their teen after they’ve been arrested for drunk driving. Or, if a family breadwinner is too impaired to make it to the office, the spouse may call in and say he or she has the flu, for example.)

Covering and enabling behaviors can be motivated by any number of things:

  • Fear of losing income if the drinker is fired.
  • Concern that the family’s reputation will be damaged.
  • Worry that bringing up the problem will cause tears or anger.

Enabling might maintain the status quo or outside appearances (to an extent) but everyone — including the addict — suffers.

When approaching a loved one about a drinking problem, it’s best to do it in a quiet, private place. Offer concrete examples of why you think there may be a problem.

Using “I” statements keeps the tone more neutral and sounds less accusatory. Instead of saying “You’re an alcoholic. You need help,” consider saying “I love you and I’m worried about how much you’re drinking.”

Staying calm, listening, offering support and if need be, an intervention might be the best approach. Friends, family, coworkers usually gather to urge the person into treatment. Typically a professional counselor is present and offers advice on the process.

Then, when a person is recovering, it’s best not to:

  • Drink around them, period
  • Don’t cover for them or do their work
  • Don’t offer financial support, except for treatment
  • Don’t order them to do things

Many Ways to Help

Fortunately, there are plenty of paths to follow to achieve and maintain sobriety. Twelve-step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and 12-step alternatives such as SMART Recovery have provided peer support for decades.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has plenty of resources, including types of treatments available and tips for finding the right recovery plan.

With expert help, withdrawal can be managed safely; medication-assisted treatment can help with cravings. A residential facility can work on a whole mind and body approach. Counseling can devise coping mechanisms. Family therapy works to make loved ones understand the problem and strives to establish a network that is supportive throughout their recovery.

There may not really be a way to make someone quit drinking, but there are many ways to make recovery an attainable outcome.



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