How to Support a Recovering Alcoholic

showing support to a loved one who is going through alcohol recovery

Medically Reviewed By:  Dr. Patricia Sullivan, MD MPH

Recovering from alcohol addiction can be difficult. If your loved one is a recovering alcoholic, they are going to need support. You might be trying to learn how to support an alcoholic in recovery, and if you are, that’s a great thing.

Support communities and networks are invaluable for recovering alcoholics and addicts. With your support, the likelihood of successful recovery can increase dramatically. For this reason, learning how best to support a friend or loved one is one of the most important things you can do.

If you or a loved one are experiencing a relapse, call us today at (385) 327-7418. Our team of experts will happily help you start on your journey to sobriety. 


Battling addiction is hard. Seeing someone you care about the battle is, is also very difficult. Learn how to help and support someone recovering from alcohol addiction. 

showing support to a loved one who is going through alcohol recovery

Where Recovery Support Comes From

Typically, the support alcoholics come from two areas: 

  • Peer recovery support 
  • General support network (e.g., friends, family) 

Peer recovery support comes from fellow addicts and alcoholics. These programs often consist of 12 step programs like Alcoholics or Narcotics Anonymous. It can also come in the form of group therapy and counseling for substance abuse. Your role in peer support is to encourage your loved one to attend regular meetings. 

However, when it comes to general support, you will play a more direct role. Alcoholics need comfort and help from their friends, family, and members of their community. This kind of support encourages them to seek treatment and gives them hope. To provide proper support, reach out, maintain close contact, and promote their recovery.  

One of the best ways to encourage recovery is to recommend they seek further treatment. After reading this article, consider asking your loved one to seek professional help from a treatment center or medical professional no matter what steps you take. Call us today if you would like more information about seeking treatment. Our professionals are here to help you start a better life today. 

Why You Must Understand the Disease of Addiction

If you want to help support an alcoholic in your life, the first step is to understand what they’re going through. Alcoholism is a form of addiction. Abusing alcohol changes the physical chemistry of our brain. In this regard, it is no different than any other form of substance abuse.  

Drug addiction can occur in many different ways. Some drugs are more addictive than others. This increases the likelihood of their potential for abuse. But there are no “safe” drugs. While thousands of Americans drink responsibly, this does not mean alcohol is non-addictive.  

When we abuse alcohol for long enough, our bodies can become dependent on it. In the brain, this occurs thanks to dopamine, the pleasure chemical. In healthy adults, dopamine reinforces healthy behavior: eating, exercise, and productivity. That’s why whenever we do something good, our brain releases dopamine. Dopamine tells the brain to remember and to seek pleasurable activity, changing our neural connectivity. This change makes “it easier to repeat the activity repeatedly without thinking about it, leading to the formation of habits.” 

In healthy people, this reinforces good habits (as well as bad). However, for an alcoholic, this process creates a feedback loop encouraging more abuse. Eventually, this loop can grow so strong it overshadows all other impulses.  

The frequent flood of dopamine overwhelms the brain’s natural chemistry. Good habits become less rewarding. Then, the brain has a decreased store of dopamine, and there are fewer neurotransmitters available. Over time, an addict must rely on the substance itself to regain that rewarding feeling. 

When this happens, it becomes immensely difficult for an alcoholic to quit. Therefore, if you want to support them, learn to empathize with their plight. Please do not dismiss the difficulty of what they’re going through. 

Understanding the Process of Recovery 

Now that you understand addiction, you are ready to understand what recovery means. As you might have guessed, battling addiction isn’t a cakewalk. But it isn’t impossible, either. With support and treatment, alcoholics can overcome their dependency. This process is recovery. 

Through recovery, an alcoholic improves their wellness, agency, and achieves their full potential. To begin their recovery, an alcoholic must have four things: 

  • Health 
  • Home 
  • Purpose 
  • Community 


Health is the process of overcoming addiction and its symptoms. To do this, every addict must make informed choices about their physical and emotional well-being.  


Having asecure home is also critical to a successful recovery. Addicts and alcoholics need stable living conditions. Of course, this means having a roof over their heads. But it also means a safe environment, both emotionally and physically. 


The purpose is to live meaningfully. To live meaningfully, an alcoholic needs independence and the ability to be a part of society. Often, this means having a stable income and work (or at least daily responsibilities). 


A Community is all about relationships. No addict can recover alone. For a stable recovery, a loving support network is essential. 

All of these things together provide the foundation of hope. Hope is the belief that addiction can be overcome. While the four dimensions are not sufficient for hope on their own, they are necessary for its development. Therefore, you should always encourage an alcoholic to seek stability on the path to recovery. 

With hope, alcoholics learn resilience. The road to recovery is filled with potential setbacks, and every alcoholic needs hope to make it. Hope is what motivates resilience. You can be an essential part of giving an alcoholic the strength to recover, and it all begins by helping them find hope.

We understand how important the road to recovery is. That is why our experts work with you to make sure you get the treatment that best suits your needs. Always get top-notch care with our specialists. 

Providing Support to an Alcoholic in Recovery 

First, how are you supposed to support an alcoholic in recovery? If you have an alcoholic in your life, listen to them, and encourage them to get their help. Sometimes, this means reaching out even if the relationship has become damaged due to their substance abuse.  

It is not unusual for old relationships to become strained when suffering from addiction. Alcohol abuse often results in poor decisions. Many times, this means they might have said or done something hurtful. But if you want to help them, you will also need to learn to forgive them. 

Also, it would help if you tried to repair the relationship. Doing so might help save the life of the person struggling. Social exclusion can lead to relapse among alcoholics. Therefore, maintaining regular personal contact can be one of the most important things you do.  

Before doing anything else, help them remove all the alcohol from their immediate surroundings. If the alcoholic is your spouse or someone you live with, then this task should be simple. However, if they do not live with you, ask them to remove all alcohol from their home. In either case, be sure to check places where alcohol isn’t present. Sometimes we miss things, and you will need to be thorough. 

As recovery progresses, you should remember to offer encouragement to your loved one. A word of appreciation, or even a simple acknowledgment of the improvement your loved one has made, can go a long way. Even better if the remark comes off the cuff. Studies have shown that positive reinforcement is always helpful, and doubly so when they trust someone. 

Finally, remember that recovery is a never-ending process. It will take time and constant hard work. But it is possible. 

Seek Support for Yourself 

As you now know, helping an alcoholic in recovery can be incredibly difficult. It can be very stressful for family members and close friends. Just as every alcoholic needs support, so do you. So practice self-care, lean on friends and family for help and seek therapy or counseling if you need it.  

Your loved one is responsible for their addiction. You should not feel like you bear responsibility, even if you have the power to help. Your support cannot do all of the work for someone who is recovering from alcoholism.  

One of the most important things you can consider is joining a support group for those affected by alcoholism. Doing so will introduce you to people similarly affected by alcoholism. Joining a support group is a critical aspect of helping an addict.  

First, by taking care of yourself, you will be in a better position to offer support. Talking to people who are in similar situations is a large part of self-care. By taking this step, you enable yourself to help more. 

But there is a second benefit to attending support meetings. By doing so, you can learn how to deal with specific difficulties. No amount of internet research can teach you how to handle every last thing on the road to recovery.

The problems can even vary depending on what kind of relationship you have with the recovering alcoholic. For example, if you are here to learn how to support an alcoholic spouse in recovery, your problems will differ from helping a friend. 

That is why support groups for those suffering from alcoholism can offer advice not found elsewhere. You can seek answers to specific problems. You will learn how members with experience got through similar situations. This advice, along with the sympathy that comes with it, can be incredibly beneficial. 

Asking Them to Seek Treatment 

You now know how to support an alcoholic in recovery, now let’s look at situations where relapse is happening. One of the most significant decisions every alcoholic will need to make during a relapse is seeking treatment.

In most cases, this option can be incredibly beneficial. Rehab clinics and counseling programs use evidence-based techniques to battle alcoholism. No matter what form of recovery they ultimately choose, treatment can help.    

Rehab clinics help alcoholics go through withdrawals safely, provide peer support and therapy. These clinics exist as either inpatient or outpatient facilities. Inpatient facilities require alcoholics to check in for an extended period, ranging from 30 to 90 days.

They will not be allowed to leave. Outpatient facilities enable their patients to continue meeting outside responsibilities while attending. Both rely on proven forms of treatment. 

Counseling can help patients learn to manage urges and change behavior as directed by a medical professional. Studies have shown counseling is helpful for anyone suffering from alcohol addiction. These are great options for anyone attempting recovery.    

Also, doctors can prescribe medication that stops or reduces the urge to drink. Within the U.S., the FDA has approved three of these medications for public use. This means any medical health professional or primary care doctor can prescribe them. These medications commonly pair with other forms of treatment, such as outpatient rehab or counseling. 

If you have any questions, feel free to call us. We would be happy to discuss possible treatment options or other ways to support a recovering alcoholic. 

To speak with someone about your situation and get a free consultation, call Better Help Addiction Care at (385) 327-7418 ttoday!

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