What to Do When You Love an Alcoholic

Table of Contents


Loving an alcoholic man or woman can be extremely challenging, particularly if you have no first-hand experience of alcohol abuse and addiction.

Alcoholism is clinically described as alcohol use disorder. Alcohol use disorder is one of ten substance use disorders recognized by American Psychiatric Association in DSM-5-TR, the most recent update of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Alcoholism is a chronic, progressive, and relapsing brain condition.

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Loving an alcoholic in the early stages of alcohol use disorder, it may not be apparent that they have a drinking problem. If your partner is in the end stage of alcoholism, though, it is likely to be obvious that they have a problem and need help. 

How, then, can you help when you love an alcoholic? 

I Love an Alcoholic, Now What?

Many people associate alcoholism with severe alcohol use disorder and a problem that is immediately apparent to others. That is not always the case, though, as alcoholism presents on a spectrum. 

Alcohol use disorder, sometimes abbreviated to AUD, is diagnosed as mild, moderate, or severe according to the number of criteria that present in a one-year period. NIAAA (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism) lists the criteria for alcohol use disorder here

If you are concerned that an intimate loved one is developing alcohol use disorder, watch out for the following indicators of alcoholism: 

  • Alcohol is central to their life.
  • They frequently drink early in the morning.
  • They seldom appear intoxicated.
  • The person seems to be able to drink more alcohol than before.
  • They use alcohol as a coping mechanism.
  • Drinking is causing problems in the person’s life, at work and at home.
  • Financial stress is triggered by alcohol abuse.
  • The person has a family history of alcoholism.
  • They are being isolated and withdrawn socially, and spending less time doing things they once enjoyed.

Noticing one or two of these signs does not necessarily mean that your loved one is an alcoholic, but if you identify a cluster of signs, it might be time to approach your loved one to address your concerns.

Perhaps the most frustrating element of loving an alcoholic is accepting the fact that they are must be ready to admit the existence of a problem and to commit to recovery.

How can you make this happen?

An image of two loved ones embracing, symbolizing what to do when you love an alcoholic

How to Get Help for An Alcoholic

While everyone has a unique situation when it comes to alcohol use disorder, you can personalize the following framework to get help for an alcoholic in your life. 

  • Take the time to practice what you are going to say
  • Pick the right time and place to initiate a dialogue with your loved one
  • Voice your concerns using specific examples and express your desire to help them get the professional treatment they need
  • Be prepared to meet resistance or denial
  • Offer your ongoing support

Take the time to practice what you are going to say

Plan what you will say to your loved one about their alcohol abuse and your desire to connect them with inpatient or outpatient rehab. 

Formulate some supportive and positive statements so that you know what you’ll be saying in advance. Do not be confrontational, judgmental, hurtful, or negative. Be specific rather than general when pointing out how alcohol abuse id creating problems in your life as well as your loved one’s life. 

One useful tactic is to use “I” statements to make your point indirectly. Instead of stating, “You’re an alcoholic, you need to get help”, try suggesting, “I love you very much and I am concerned about your alcohol intake and the harm it is causing.” 

Pick the right time and place to initiate a dialogue with your loved one

Try to pick a time to approach your loved one when they will be sober. You should choose a quiet and private place where you will not be disturbed. 

When you initiate this conversation with your alcoholic loved one, it may be on ongoing dialogue that you keep revisiting. It is unlikely you will resolve all of your issues in a single brief chat. 

Voice your concerns using specific examples and express your desire to help them get the professional treatment they need

Give specific examples of ways in which your loved one’s alcohol-related behaviors have impacted your family life. 

Be prepared to meet resistance or denial

Be prepared to meet with denial or anger and allow your loved one time to accept that rehab offers the most effective road to sustained sobriety. 

Denial is a common by-product of addiction, and even if your loved admits that they have a drinking problem, they may still deny the need for professional treatment. 

Offer your ongoing support

Let your loved one know that you will support them throughout their ongoing addiction treatment and into sober living. 

If you are still unable to convince your alcoholic partner to engage with treatment, you may want to consider staging an intervention. 

What to Look for in a Rehab

Untreated, alcohol use disorder is a chronic condition that will only get worse. 

Fortunately, evidence-based treatment in an inpatient or outpatient rehab will strengthen your loved one’s chances of initiating a full recovery. 

It can be confusing to find the right rehab, though, so follow this guide to what to look for in an alcohol rehab to connect your alcoholic partner with the help they need. 

  • Inpatient or outpatient rehab
  • Duration of inpatient rehab or intensity of outpatient rehab
  • Location of rehab
  • Does the rehab offer a supervised medical detox?
  • Experience and credentials of treatment team
  • Specialties of rehab
  • Therapies and treatments

Inpatient or outpatient rehab

The first thing you’ll need to determine is whether your loved one requires inpatient or outpatient rehab.

Inpatient rehab, also known as residential rehab, is the most intensive form of addiction treatment. Your loved one will remain at the treatment facility from detox to discharge. See below for the different types of inpatient rehab. 

Inpatient rehab is typically recommended for

  • Moderate and severe alcohol use disorders.
  • Alcohol use disorder with co-occurring mental health disorder.
  • Those with unsupportive or volatile home environments.

With outpatient treatment, your loved one will have a more flexible and affordable route to recovery. They will attend therapy sessions scheduled on weekdays at an alcohol rehab, returning home between sessions. See below for the different types of outpatient rehab. 

Outpatient rehab is typically recommended for

  • Mild alcohol use disorders.
  • Alcohol use disorder without co-occurring mental health disorder

Duration of inpatient rehab or intensity of outpatient rehab

There are three main choices of inpatient rehab: 

  • 30-day residential rehab
  • 60-day residential rehab
  • 90-day residential rehab

The only difference between these programs is their duration. 

If you feel your loved one would benefit from outpatient treatment, choose from one of the following options: 

  • OP: outpatient program (up to 3 hours of weekly outpatient treatment)
  • IOP: intensive outpatient program (up to 15 hours of weekly outpatient treatment)
  • Virtual IOP: remote rehab via videoconferencing
  • PHP: partial hospitalization program (up to 35 hours of weekly outpatient treatment)

Location of rehab

The location of the alcohol rehab will impact the cost of treatment. Make sure that any rehabs you are considering are convenient to access. 

If you are considering out-of-state inpatient programs for your loved one, the location will be less critical in terms of access. They will only need to make the trip once before returning home sober. 

Does the rehab offer a supervised medical detox?

Most people detoxing from alcohol benefit from a supervised medical detox. FDA-approved medications can streamline withdrawal, while clinical and emotional care mitigates complications and relapse during detoxification. 

If your loved one engages with inpatient rehab, this will be preceded by a medical detox. If they intend to undertake outpatient addiction treatment, consider locating a licensed medical detox center to help them detox from alcohol as safely and comfortably as possible. 

Experience and credentials of treatment team

Check that the treatment team are credentialed and experienced in treating those with alcohol use disorder. 

Ensure that the rehab offers a good mix of therapists, certified counselors, medical professionals, and addiction specialists. 

Specialties of rehab

Some treatment centers treat all types of addictions, while other specialize in the treatment of certain behaviors, addictions, or mental health conditions. Other offer integrated dual diagnosis treatment for those with addictions and co-occurring mental health conditions. 

Everyone has a different experience of alcoholism, and you should ensure that you help your loved one connect with care tailored to their needs. 

Therapies and treatments

Alcohol rehabs will use many different treatment methods and therapeutic interventions. 

Most will draw from the following research-based treatments: 

  • MAT (medication-assisted treatment)
  • Counseling
  • Psychotherapy (the clinical term for talk therapy like CBT)

Additionally, rehabs may offer motivational therapies like CM (contingency management) and MI (motivational interviewing). 

If you have no personal experience of addiction treatment, it may be worth helping your partner to research these different therapies. This will enable them to choose the most appropriate program for their needs.

How to Find a Rehab for an Alcoholic

The most recent data from SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) indicate that over 40 million over-18s in the United States had an addiction to alcohol or drugs in 2020. This means there is a chance that someone in your social network may have direct experience of addiction recovery in your area. If so, ask them for a recommendation for a rehab. 

Your loved one should consult their physician and request a referral for diagnosis or a recommendation for rehab for alcoholics. 

Perhaps the most effective method of finding the most effective rehab for your partner is to search online. American Addiction Centers publishes National Rehabs Directory, a comprehensive resource that connects you with over 1,000 rehabs in California.  

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Get Help for an Alcoholic Today

At California Detox we can help your alcoholic loved one to kickstart their recovery without needing to pack their bags and go to residential rehab. 

Research shows that most mild and moderate alcohol use disorders respond just as well to intensive outpatient treatment as to inpatient treatment. Choose from programs at the following levels of intensity to suit the needs of your spouse:  

  • OP: traditional outpatient programs delivering up to 3 hours of therapy sessions per week
  • IOP: intensive outpatient programs delivering up to 3 hours of therapy sessions per week
  • PHP: partial hospitalization programs delivering up to 3 hours of therapy sessions per week

Regardless of which treatment program is most appropriate for your loved one, they will benefit from a personalized treatment plan drawing from evidence-based interventions and holistic treatments, including: 

  • Medication-assisted treatment
  • Psychotherapies (CBT or DBT)
  • Individual counseling
  • Group counseling
  • Family therapy
  • Experiential adventure therapy

When your loved one completes their treatment program at California Detox, they may step down to a less intensive form of treatment – from a PHP to an OP, for instance. Alternatively, they may be ready to transition directly into sober living. 

Due to the high relapse rates of alcoholism, your loved one’s treatment team will equip them with a solid aftercare plan, including access to our alumni program and relapse prevention techniques to maximize their chances of sustained sobriety.


This analysis of studies shows that those aged 40 who reported drinking excessive amounts of alcohol had life expectancies shortened by four to five years. 20% of this increased mortality was due to death from heart disease. The life expectancy for someone with end-stage alcoholism (severe alcohol use disorder) could be as little as six months.
In almost all cases, one partner abusing alcohol creates an unhealthy and toxic dynamic in the relationship. Trust issues, anger, aggression, and financial stress all often accompany alcohol abuse. This can spill over into outbursts of violence or physical abuse. Almost always, the only way to have a truly healthy relationship with an alcoholic is to help them to get sober and stay sober.


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