How to Help the Compulsive Drinker in Your Life

You can’t do it alone. You’ve kept it a secret for far too long. You feel like you’re losing air. Glancing from across the room, hovering anxiously over the screen of your Smartphone, you cross your fingers that today will be different; today, they’ll put the bottle down. But as the clock moves forward, you find yourself stuck in the same nightmare—sinking into the quicksand of what it means to have a relationship with a compulsive drinker; to care for someone so unconditionally, wanting only what’s best for them. This article will discuss the ways you can help the person in your life struggling with alcohol today while also keeping the focus on you.

For many of us, compulsive drinking has crept its way inside the life of someone very close to us, latching on like a spider would its prey, and keeping our loved one wrapped up inside a web of pain and uncertainty. Now, it feels like no matter what we say or do, the drinking continues. The web becomes more difficult to navigate. We become preoccupied about our loved one’s drinking, even neglecting our own health and happiness along the way.

If the above sounds at all familiar, you’re not alone. At first it probably felt completely harmless, normal even, for your loved one to have a glass of wine with dinner or a beer or two at the afternoon game. Eventually though, you came to notice that the bottle of wine you opened a few minutes ago was just about empty and the number of trips made to the stadium “food court” were steadily increasing. You thought to yourself: I need to do something.

Staring at the computer screen, unsure of what to type inside the infinite abyss that is Google search bar, you realize how heavy this all feels. You may have noticed changes with your appetite, sleep patterns, and overall mood: feeling increasing levels of anxiety and preoccupation surrounding the drinking behavior. Still, you push through—holding on to hope and trusting that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.

Patterns of Alcohol Use

Alcohol abuse, in its multiple forms (e.g., problem drinking, binge drinking, and/or having an alcohol use disorder), is a widespread problem with often tragic consequences. We’ve all heard this fact once or twice before, somewhere, but the fear is all too real when it hits home. And so, you eagerly click the first site that loads: “What is Alcohol?”and begin reading—hanging on to every word as if the answer to your loved one’s drinking problem was hidden somewhere between the lines.

Per the Foundation for a Drug-Free World (2021), alcohol is considered a depressant, meaning that it can slow down the functions of the body resulting in slurred speech, lack of coordination, distorted perception, and delayed reaction speed. Certain individuals may consume alcohol for its initial stimulant effect in hopes to “loosen up” or feel less inhibited; however, when larger amounts of alcohol are consumed the depressant effects become more dominant.

When it comes to understanding the differences between problem drinking, binge drinking, and/or having an alcohol use disorder, there are various tools available to help distinguish them apart. Per American AddictionCenters (2021), “People who are problem drinkers and those struggling with alcohol use disorder (AUD), both have unhealthy relationships with alcohol, but problem drinkers aren’t necessarily addicted to alcohol nor have an AUD.”

Problem drinking or heavy drinking can be defined as having 4 or more drinks in a day for men and 3 or more drinks in a day for women; whereas binge drinking can be defined as having 5 or more drinks for men and 4 or more drinks for women within a 2-hour sitting.

Problem drinking, heavy drinking, and/or binge drinking may also be referred to as “alcohol abuse” or “alcohol misuse” and can be understood as engaging in a pattern of drinking that results in negative consequences: relationship discord, marital conflict, employment difficulties, financial strain, or legal issues. Heavy drinking and/or binge drinking can also increase the possibility of developing an alcohol use disorder in the future.

Assessment Tools to Measure Alcohol Use

There are tools available to better understand one’s relationship with alcohol consumption: AUDIT (Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test) is a 10-item screening questionnaire developed by the World Health Organization (WHO) to examine alcohol use and consequences of use; the CAGE assessment is a simplified 4-item questionnaire that may suggest further assessment is required based on the results. (American AddictionCenters, 2021).

How You Can Help

While navigating problem drinking with your loved one, remember that your well-being is just as imperative as the person whom you’re trying to help. Taking time to focus on you, while reaching out to friends, family, a mental health professional, or support groups like Al-Anon, Alateen, and Nar-Anon, will significantly help in lessening the load. When it comes to how you can help the compulsive drinker in your life reduce their consumption and or/ abstain from the substance altogether, there are a few tips to you can try:

Acknowledge Where They Are
There are four stages of change when it comes to being “ready” to address a pattern of behavior: precontemplation, contemplation, preparation and action. Maintenance and/or relapse could also be considered as a fifth stage of change if applicable. Depending on the level of change that your loved one is in, you may find it helpful to move the conversation in a way that meets them where they are now.

By addressing feelings of apprehension, your loved one may feel less defensive and more comfortable talking about their drinking and the many feelings associated (e.g., shame, guilt, sorrow, anger). 

Talk in a Calm Space
As much as you may want to unleash every thought and feeling inside of you that are directed towards your loved one, it may be best to wait until you’re both in a calm state. You’ll find the conversation will be more productive for both of you. You may even want to consider planning the conversation a few days or weeks beforehand.

Avoid Using Blame and Accusatory Statements
Although difficult to resist the path of “you did this!” and “how could you!” you’ll find it’s more productive to stay calm while explaining how your loved one’s drinking has impacted you. Don’t be afraid to express your emotions; just try to leave some breathing room for one another, too.

You may find it helpful to focus on using “I” statements and open-ended questions during your conversation: “I feel…” “When you do this…I feel…” “How do you feel about your drinking?”

Set Boundaries and Model Positive Behavior
During your conversation it’s possible you’ll run into some minor—or major—speed bumps. The conversation about ending compulsive drinking may not go as planned and you may observe resistance surface. This is common and part of the process of change. Try and release any previous expectations you held about the conversation and stay in the present.

Focus on what you can control and if you need to: set boundaries! The important part about setting boundaries is that they must be deemed “realistic,” something you can stick to. If you’re not prepared to hold up a boundary on your end, easily caving at your loved ones attempt to weaken it, try then to avoid setting boundaries that feel out of reach. Remember to communicate with your support system if you need help clarifying your limits.

Let Go and Practice Self-Care
Although just the beginning, you can feel confident knowing you’ve set a foundation for positive change to occur. Continue reaching out to your support system and as hard as it is, let go with love. This doesn’t mean that you aren’t there for your loved one, it simply suggests that you’ve let go of the responsibility that belongs to them.
Our loved ones must want to change. They must want to stop drinking. They must want to heal. We can love, support, help them enter a program if needed, but ultimately we have to release control and love ourselves, too.

*Remember: if you or someone close to you is in crisis or may be in danger please do not hesitate to reach out for help:
  • Emergency: Call 911 immediately
  • Crisis Text Line: Text “DESERVE” to 741-741
  • American Association of Poison Control Centers: 1-800-222-1222
  • National Council on Alcoholism & Drug Dependency Hope Line: 1-800-622-2255
  1. What is Alcohol? Is Alcohol a Drug? Alcohol Content – Drug-Free World. Foundation for a Drug-Free World. (2021).
  2. Problem Drinking Vs. Alcoholism - Whats The Difference? (2021).
New Dimensions Can Help!
If you are struggling with depression, anxiety, PTSD, OCD, trauma, bipolar disorder, panic attacks, alcholism, or other mental health issues, New Dimensions can help.  Our Internet Based Intensive Online Treatment Programs are open to anyone who resides within the State of Texas, including Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin, San Antonio, Houston, Arlington, El Paso, Laredo, McAllen, Brownsville, Corpus Christi, Plano, Lubbock, Irving, Garland, Amarillo, Grand Prairie, McKinney, Frisco, Pasadena, Odessa, Midland, Beaumont, Huntsville, Waco, Abilene, and College Station. To learn more about our locations in Katy, The Woodlands, and Houston or to schedule an assessment, contact us at 1-800-685-9796.  You can also visit our website at

24 May, 2021

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