Veteran's Health Library Menu

Health Encyclopedia

Related Reading

Alcohol Use Disorders and Relationships

You may know a family member or friend who has a drinking problem or is going through recovery. You may want to talk with your loved one about how you can help. Below are some ideas to consider for offering support through the recovery process.

Encourage treatment

It can be very hard to live with a family member who has a drinking problem. It's best not to try to control, excuse, or cover up the person's drinking. Instead, encourage your family member to seek treatment. You may be able to do this by:

  • No longer making excuses, such as covering up for missed work or missed activities with children. Don't lie or stretch the truth to help the person.

  • Find out about treatment options. Every VA medical center has a clinic for treatment of substance use disorders. Primary care providers can assist with brief counseling and referrals to specialists.

  • Finding a good time to talk to the person. Say clearly your concerns for your loved one (such as health or work) and how substance use is affecting your relationship or your family.  For example, let them know if you do not feel safe when they drink or how their behavior is affecting your children. Let them know that you love them and want to help.

  • If the drinking or drug use continues, say clearly how the person's drinking is harming you and that you will take action if he or she doesn't seek help. For example, you could say that alcohol use is causing money problems and that you will cancel credit cards if it continues. Be prepared to follow through.

  • Being ready and able to help when a decision is made to get treatment.

Help with treatment and recovery

If someone close to you has had a drinking problem, you know how hard it can be. You know how living or dealing with someone who misuses alcohol can change and even damage your life.

When the choice for treatment has been made, you play an important part. You can help your loved one stop drinking and help repair the damage done to your family or relationship. Here are some things you can do:

  • If you drink, decide whether you want to keep alcohol in the house. Having alcohol in your home might make it harder for your loved one to stay sober.

  • Be involved and patient. Attend recovery meetings with your loved one, and be supportive. Know that it may take a long time for you to trust and forgive the person and for the person to forgive himself or herself.

  • Be aware that your loved one may seem like a different person after he or she is sober. You may find it hard to get used to this person. You may need to rebuild your relationship.

  • Understand that you have the right to know how recovery is going, but ask about it in a respectful way.

  • Help your loved one plan to prevent a relapse. Many people relapse after stopping treatment. This doesn't mean the treatment failed. Try to help your loved one see relapse as a chance to learn and to keep working on skills to avoid drinking.  Help them get back into treatment, and support treatment of this long-term illness for as long as needed.

  • Focus on the positive actions your loved one is making. 

Take care of yourself

Taking care of yourself while you help your loved one is important. You probably will feel relief and happiness when the person decides to get help. But treatment and recovery mean changes in your life too. Your emotions may become more complicated. You may:

  • Resent what the person did to you in the past.

  • Not trust the person. You may not want to give the person the house key, the car key, or money. You also may feel guilty about not trusting the person.

  • Find it hard to give up or share your family role. For example, if you took over child-rearing when your partner was drinking, you may resent him or her becoming involved again. If you managed money, you may resent having to make shared decisions on how to spend money.

  • Resent that the person is spending more time at meetings or with others in recovery than with you.

  • Worry so much about relapse that you avoid anything that you think may upset the person. You may also resent this feeling if you experience it.

These feelings are normal. You've been through a difficult period of your life, and what happened is not easy to forget. Nor is it always easy to forgive your loved one. Keep in mind that recovery is the road to a better life and that you can help your loved one get there. People with engaged and supportive family have a much better chance of recovery. It is a shared journey that can bring you closer than ever, but it takes effort.

Find your own support. Getting counseling for yourself can be helpful. Al-Anon and similar programs are designed for people with family members or friends with alcohol problems. Other support groups are specially designed for certain age groups, such as Alateen for teens and Alatot for younger children.

These programs help you recover from the effects of being around someone who misuses alcohol. You also may try family therapy.

Author: StayWell Custom Communications
Last Annual Review Date: 9/1/2019
Copyright © The StayWell Company, LLC. except where otherwise noted.
Disclaimer - Opens 'Disclaimer' in Dialog Window | Help | About Veterans Health Library