• In families where someone is drinking heavily, there may be a number of problems.
  • People may drink to deal with stress, but the drinking can make the situation worse. It’s a vicious circle.
  • It may be difficult to know how a heavy drinker is going to behave next, which causes tension and uncertainty within the family.
  • Communication within the family / relationship can become difficult.
  • Everything can start to revolve around the drinking, if that is the only thing the family thinks and talks about.
  • The family can feel ashamed of the drinker’s behaviour and become cut off from everyone outside.
  • Practical difficulties may include accidents, money, sex, legal and health problems. Some of these ­ for example, sexual problems or incontinence ­ may be embarrassing to talk about.
  • Children may understand more about what is going on than their parents realise, and this can be reflected in the way they behave.
  • If the drinker no longer takes responsibility for things like paying bills or doing household jobs, other family members may take these tasks over. This can lead to resentment on both sides.
  • There may be arguments and violence.

How to help

  • We cannot make someone stop drinking but we can encourage and help them to make changes. The following ideas have proved to be helpful.
  • Talk to the person you’re worried about. Find a time when they’re sober and when you’re both reasonably calm.
  • Tell them about the problems their drinking is causing.
    Listen to them. Find out how they feel about their drinking, and how it helps them. Avoid getting into arguments, it will make it more difficult for them to talk openly to you about things in the future. For the same reason it’s best not to sound as though you’re ‘nagging’ or accusing.
  • Be consistent ­ don’t keep changing your mind about what you’re saying and don’t say one thing and do another.
  • Make clear what behaviour you will not accept.
  • Make clear what action you will take if it still happens.Don’t make idle threats.
  • Discuss with other members of the family what you are trying to do. This will make it easier for everyone to take a similar approach, and it will be less confusing to the person who is drinking.
  • Help the person who is drinking to be realistic. Don’t encourage them to make promises they can’t keep. For example the promise “I’ll never drink again” is very difficult to keep.
  • Don’t make it easy for them to drink by buying it for them, giving them extra money, or always agreeing to go to the pub. It may be difficult to break these patterns, but they’re more likely to take you seriously if your actions match what you’re saying.
  • Don’t try to hide the effects of their drinking. Seeing the consequences might encourage them to change more quickly.
  • Don’t try to hide the effects from other people, eg. phoning work with excuses, clearing up the mess, putting them to bed, missing social events for fear of embarrassment.
  • Encourage the person to concentrate on the effects the drinking is having on their life, rather than asking them to accept a label such as “alcoholic”.
  • The partner / family is more comfortable blaming other things for an alcohol problem eg. bad housing, employment problems or living in an area where there are many pubs. This means false hopes are raised on a change of job or neighbourhood, but will often leave the problem unresolved.
  • Do listen when it’s your turn to receive a complaint, be open-minded and reasonable, you are not without faults.
  • Do cope with your feelings of anger. Problem drinking may give rise to daily resentment. Don’t “take out” these feelings on others, particularly children who can be seriously affected by an unreasonable, hostile parent. It will help you to develop and keep a healthy home life and will really affect the problem drinker’s recovery. A counselling session for yourself might help to deal with this.

Take care of yourself

Do get help for yourself even if the problem drinker is not prepared to do so yet.

Being involved with someone with a drink problem can be difficult and you may need support and accurate information.

Heavy drinking is quite a common problem and lots of people will understand how you feel, so try not to be embarrassed to talk about it.

You need to be clear about what you are prepared to accept from the person who is drinking and how you will react if any boundaries set are overstepped. This is especially important if there is a risk of violence.

We are all responsible for our own behaviour so don’t accept blame for someone else’s drinking. On the other hand you are responsible for your own reaction to it. It is not a good idea to try drinking along with them for example ­ it won’t control the drinking and will just make things worse for you.

If someone else’s drinking is making your life difficult you may need to make changes in your relationship.

What to do in an emergency

Medical Emergency

If someone seems seriously ill, eg unconscious, fitting, hallucinating, call your GP or an ambulance immediately.


If you feel that are at risk of violence, try to ensure that you have somewhere or someone to go to. Women’s Aid offer refuge to any woman at risk. Alternatively, don’t be afraid to call the police.


If you feel that children are at risk, you can phone Social Services, the Police, or the NSPCC.

Drink problems – Where to get help:

Alcohol Advisory Centres

These centres offer help, advice and counselling to people from all cultural groups who may have drinking problems, and to family members and friends of problem drinkers. You may be advised to seek further help, such as from a Doctor or Treatment Centre. It is up to you whether or not you take this advice.