For the media

How to support a loved one with alcohol use disorder

By The Health News Team | February 28, 2024
Couple sitting together on the beach

Relationships, whether they’re with family members or friends, can be tricky if a loved one struggles with alcohol use disorder (AUD). AUD, which is commonly referred to as alcoholism, is a medical condition in which an individual is unable to control their alcohol consumption despite resulting negative effects.

According to the 2022 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 29.5 million people ages 12 and older had AUD in the past year. Serene Carruthers, LMFT, manager of Sharp McDonald Center, answers common questions about supporting a loved one with AUD and the programs Sharp offers.


How does AUD affect relationships?

With an increase in substance use, such as alcohol, there is often a decrease in healthy behaviors related to relationships, work, school, sleep, exercise, socialization, eating and self-care. This can result in conflict. Excessive alcohol use can also lead to risky behaviors, which can include driving under the influence, mismanaging finances, or making continuous errors at work or school.


What are some warning signs of AUD?

Symptoms can be classified in three categories:


  • Tremors, impaired coordination and slurred speech

  • Decline of physical health, such as in the liver, kidneys, brain or gastrointestinal system

  • Unusual odor on body and breath

  • Changes in weight


  • No longer engaging in hobbies or social interactions

  • Neglecting responsibilities

  • Lying or keeping secrets

  • Poor self-care or grooming habits

  • Changes in appetite or sleep

  • Changes in spending


  • Lack of motivation

  • Having mood swings, including agitation and irritability

  • Anxiety or depression

  • Change in personality


How can I help a loved one who may be drinking too much?

State your concern while being compassionate and understanding. Offer your loved one help and encourage them to seek treatment. Remember to set and maintain healthy boundaries. And realize that you cannot make someone change.

It’s also important to have realistic expectations: Addiction is a chronic disease, so it is not cured with a single episode of treatment. Lastly, consider getting support for yourself by participating in a group such as AI-Anon, which is comprised of people who have loved ones with AUD.


What are treatment options for someone with AUD?

There are many treatment options for someone who wishes to decrease or discontinue alcohol use. Sharp McDonald Center offers various services, such as inpatient detoxification, outpatient programs and residential treatment. The center also provides medication assisted treatment (MAT), which uses FDA-approved medications along with counseling and behavioral therapy to assist with recovery.

If your loved one is struggling with a mental health condition such as anxiety, depression or PTSD along with AUD, Sharp Mesa Vista Hospital provides a Dual Recovery Treatment Program. There are also several support and recovery group meetings in the community.


What kinds of support exist for someone who has a loved one with AUD?

Sharp McDonald Center has a free family education program that meets biweekly on Tuesdays. The public is welcome to join.

There is also AA and SMART Recovery, which offer free meetings for individuals to help manage urges and discuss issues due to drinking. NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) also provides helpful resources.

Learn more about substance use treatment at Sharp McDonald Center.

You might also like:

Get the best of Sharp Health News in your inbox

Our weekly email brings you the latest health tips, recipes and stories.