Skip to main content

Can You Stop Someone From Drinking Themselves to Death

Mighty Mom is a keen observer of life. She shares her personal experiences and opinions in helpful and often amusing ways.


Helping the Alcoholic In Your Life

Why won't they just stop?

To a "normal" person, the self-destructive behavior of an alcoholic defies logic. Actually, it defies logic for the alcoholic, as well.

Given that 4-6 percent of the population is alcoholic, chances are very good that you know at least one. You see the evidence of the disease and it angers, disgusts and/or scares you. So as an interested spouse, family member, friend, co-worker, boss or neighbor, is there anything you can do to help?

Yes, there is.


First educate yourself

If you fear that someone you know is literally "drinking him/herself to death" you are right to be concerned. Alcoholism is a progressive, fatal disease. That means that if left unchecked, it WILL kill you. Like cancer, it is a disease that wants you dead. Unlike cancer, it is a disease whose progression can be arrested without surgery, chemo, radiation or medical intervention. That's both the good news and the bad news.  

To have any kind of shot at helping the suffering drinker you need to understand what's going on with him/her. Educate yourself. Learn about the disease. Learn about the cycle of addiction so you can time your approach when the drinker will be most receptive.

Get yourself a copy of the "Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous." Get a copy of "Under the Influence" and "Beyond the Influence." Those three books explain alcoholism from every possible angle -- program/recovery (AA) and chemical/biological progression of the disease (the "Influence" books).

If you're really invested in this person, take yourself to some Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings. You'll be welcomed (as long as it's an "Open" not a "Closed" meeting). Attendees will be more than happy to talk to you. They have been in the trenches. They've cheated death (thus far) and have lived to use their experience, strength and hope to help other suffering alcoholics. 

If going to an AA meeting seems too daunting, call your local AA hotline. They're there to help!

Are You an Alcoholic?

Tough love is necessary

The worst thing you can do is ignore the situation and hope it will get better on its own. If the person is truly an alcoholic (and not just a heavy drinker or alcohol abuser), It will only get worse.

How do you "diagnose" alcoholism? The MAST test (see link) is one of the most reliable predictors.

As a practical matter, the difference between an alcoholic and a heavy drinker or abuser has little to do with the quantity they drink or even whether they go on binges vs. drinking daily. The real difference is this:

1. Inability to stop drinking despite the desire to do so.

2. May be able to stop for a period of time, but not "stay stopped."

3. Continues drinking despite negative consequences of drinking-- may get a DUI, lose a job, marriage, car(s), home, etc.

4. May attempt to control the drinking but when controlling cannot enjoy it. When "enjoying" their drinking they are unable to control it.

Scroll to Continue

But really, if you're already worried to the point you fear for the person's safety/life, it is obviously a problem and needs to be dealt with.

Confronting the drinker is a tricky but necessary action.



!!!! New thinking on alcoholism !!!!

What NOT to do

1. Do NOT try to confront the person while they are drunk. You will get nowhere.

2. Do NOT confront the person with accusations or threats. These will be met with deaf ears and denial.

3. Do NOT try to shame the person into stopping -- for the sake of their wife/husband, kids, parents, work, or whatever. Sad to say, the person's love and loyalty are no match for the powerful urge to drink that controls his brain and body.

4. Do NOT try to control the drinker's drinking yourself. It may make you feel better to comb the house for hidden bottles. You may feel righteous pouring the drinker's stash down the sink. This will not deter the drinker for long.There's always a way to get more.  It will only set him/her against you. Besides, do you really want them driving to the store? Probably not.

4. Do NOT believe the drinker's promises. They may be said in all sincerity (or just to get you to back off). However, they are hollow. Again, once that thirst kicks in, an ocean full of booze isn't big enough to quench it.

Things you CAN do

1. Enlist the help of the people you met at the AA meetings. Ask them to do what's called a "12-step" call. This means they will come and meet with the drinker and share their own stories. The alcoholic-to-alcoholic, peer-to-peer bond is magical.

2. Give the Big Book to the drinker and suggest (never demand) that he/she read it.

3. Offer to take the drinker to an AA meeting. Schedules should be readily available online. Hard copies are available at all meetings.

4. Set your boundaries. Decide what you are/are not willing to tolerate. If the person's drinking is negatively impacting your quality of life, know that you do NOT have to live that way. You can reclaim your life. Tell the person you will no longer (fill in the blank). This might include:

--- talk to them on the phone when they're drunk

--- let them crash at your house

--- give them money

---let them be alone with their kids or grandkids

---whatever other consequences will be meaningful and put them on notice that you mean business

Once you make the boundaries clear, don't back down. And don't let them manipulate you into backing down -- they WILL try! Remember, they're desperate.

The road to recovery begins with AA

Enlisting Help

1. Intervention. Having an "intervention" with the person can be very powerful and effective. This can be done informally, with just friends and family members coming together to confront the person's drinking behavior. Or you can enlist a professional "interventionist" to moderate the intervention. Given the highly emotional nature of the session it's a really good idea to bring in a pro.

2. Drug and Alcohol Counseling . If the person is receptive and willing to try to stop, he/she may be a good candidate for an outpatient chemical dependency program. The key is WILLINGNESS. If the person has no desire to stop, this will basically be a waste of time.

However, outpatient may be a required "gateway" to getting inpatient rehab paid for by insurance. Yes, it's true. You have to fail at outpatient in order to be considered a candidate for inpatient. Makes no sense, but there you have it.

3. Detox. The safest way to get off alcohol is with a medical detox. Detoxing is very uncomfortable. Without medical supervision can be dangerous, as well. Extremely debilitated, long-term drinkers can easily have seizures. And you don't want that!

Regardless of the next step, getting the drinker a bed in a detox facility is one of the kindest things you can do. Detox is typically 7-10 days. Afterwards the person will feel much better and hopefully amenable to ongoing treatment.

4. Rehab. Despite the bad image cultivated by stars like Lindsay Lohan and shows like "Celebrity Rehab", long-term treatment can be an important -- and effective -- first step on the road to recovery. Again, a lot depends on the willingness of the drinker to do the work. Too often, 30-day programs earn their nickname of "spin-dry" centers. But most insurance companies will only pay for 30, 45 or 60 days. If at all possible, go for 60. The longer the person is removed from his/her old environment and living and healing in a sober environment, the better the chances of remaining sober upon release.

5. County assessment. Depending on the person's financial situation, the pricetag of rehab may be overwhelming. Don't despair. Take the person down to the county for assessment. This may well lead to obtaining a "county bed" in a rehab facility. It may not be the Ritz (or Eric Clapton's "Crossroads" recovery center on the island of Aruba), but the program will be the same. It's the content that counts.

6.Mental evaluation.  It's also a wise idea to get the person seen by a psychiatrist. Approximately 70% of alcoholics have co-occurring mental conditions. So what you're seeing is a person drowning in alcohol, but what they're really doing is using alcohol in a desperate attempt to quiet their mind.

7. Psychiatric hospital . If the person is suicidal or clearly an imminent danger to himself or others, they may need to be locked up for a bit. At minimum, they'll get evaluated and medically detoxed and you'll have the peace of mind of knowing they're safe for the duration.

A hub by "Recovering Addict"

God loves his drunks

A final word of encouragement

If at first you don't succeed, don't lose hope. No one wants to grow up to be an alcoholic. It's a damning label, still -- even though society has made great strides in understanding that alcoholics aren't bad/immoral people, they're sick people.

By the time someone is being accused of "drinking themselves to death" they are sick indeed. They know they have problems, but probably cannot accept that the problems are related to or caused by their drinking. Cutting through layers of denial takes time. The person has to be ready to make a change. Yes, you can impose change on them before they're 100% ready. You can force them into treatment. It happens all the time. At least they'll get exposed to the concepts of recovery. Rumor has it that a head full of AA kills the buzz, so even if they relapse they'll be closer to "getting it" and sticking with sobriety the next time.