Affected by someone else’s drinking? 3 key pieces of advice for loved ones of alcoholics

Anyone is allowed to contact the GP and say they are worried (Alamy/PA)
Anyone is allowed to contact the GP and say they are worried (Alamy/PA)

Is there an alcoholic in your life? We don’t often talk about the people whose lives have been affected by someone else’s drinking – but the impact on loved ones, family and partners can be immense.

For Alcohol Change UK – the charity behind Alcohol Awareness Week (July 3-9) – it is important that loved ones of alcoholics know they are not alone.

According to a new survey commissioned by the charity – which is not anti-alcohol but working towards ‘alcohol change’ and to reduce the harm it causes – some 19% of drinkers consider alcohol to be an “essential” in their shopping basket, with 15% of people worried about the amount of alcohol someone in their household has been drinking.

“Far too many lives are tragically cut short each year due to alcohol, with the latest figures on the number of alcohol-specific deaths at a record high. At the moment, 600,000 people in the UK could benefit from alcohol treatment but the vast majority are not receiving it,” said Andrew Misell, Director for Wales at Alcohol Change UK.

“It can be heart-breaking to see someone close to you struggle with alcohol problems. But it is not only the drinker who is affected – their loved ones can feel the effects too. The pressures of caring for someone who is drinking heavily can be overwhelming,” Misell adds. “But by encouraging them to seek support, you can really improve their health and yours.”

Is somebody close to you an alcoholic? Here are some key pieces of advice that may be helpful…

Visit your GP

Seeing your GP could help you address any anxiety you may be grappling with. They can offer professional and nuanced advice that will help you communicate how you really feel to a loved one who needs to stop drinking, and steer you towards your own mental health support if necessary.

“Living with someone who is struggling with an alcohol problem can be exhausting. You will want to do the best you can for your loved one, but your relationship with them is bound to be strained. You may no longer feel able to trust them,” Misell said. “They may well be neglecting family duties, and their moods may swing erratically. It’s important you find some time and space for yourself and for your own concerns and interests.”

Also, anyone is allowed to contact the GP or safeguarding anonymously if, for instance, there is a parent with alcoholism looking after young children.

Reach out to family support services

Whatever your relationship with the person with an alcohol problem, other people will have had, or be having, similar experiences. Connecting with them at one of the many family support services across the country can be really helpful.

“It may be worth you seeking out support from a families’ organisation like Adfam or Al-Anon, where you’ll be able to connect with others who are in the same boat as you,” Misell said.

Bottled Up, meanwhile, offers information and advice for family members living with someone who is alcohol-dependent. The founders of the organisation are a therapist and a psychologist who have direct experience with alcoholism.

Al-Anon provides free meetings where the family and friends of alcoholics can listen to the shared experiences of those in a similar positions. Al-Anon also has a separate arm for children aged between 12-17 called Alateen, where teenagers can share their experiences and find support, while also learning about the nature of the illness.

Think about the four aspects of their health

Before sitting down to talk about what is going on with a family member who is drinking too much, it might be a good idea to be prepared about what you need to say. This could be a helpful step in deciding what actions to take in order to seek help, too.

Dr Niall Campbell, Priory consultant psychiatrist and addictions expert, based at Priory Hospital in Roehampton, southwest London, suggests thinking about these four aspects of their health first: physical health, mental health, relationship health and their work health.

“Are they falling over? Have they injured themselves? Have they been drinking to the point of amnesia? Blackouts? Are they hungover and sick in the morning? Have they gone to see their GP? Some results, such as high blood pressure, could be a good indicator,” Campbell said.

“And then mentally, is it making them depressed? Are they irritable? Do they seem ashamed or guilty? Is their drinking adversely affecting relationships between a husband and wives, siblings, children, and parents?

“When it comes to their work, are they missing it? Are they late going into the office and saying they can’t do their job properly because they’re drinking at home? This is a big problem since the lockdown.”

He suggests doing this with a third party that’s already aware of the situation, so you can pull together more concrete examples.