What can I do if I’m worried about someone else’s drinking?

How can I tell if the person is drinking too much?

It can often be difficult to tell if someone’s drinking too much and whether this will affect their health. In all age groups, the majority of alcohol problems remain undiagnosed, but alcohol problems are even less likely to be detected in older adults.

Older adults with alcohol problems are often ashamed of their alcohol use and may be more likely to try to hide it. The signs can also be difficult to notice. For example, things like confusion or falls are often wrongly attributed to ageing rather than drinking too much.

If you are concerned about someone’s drinking, click on the below links for our advice on how you can watch out for signs and how you can help both practically and emotionally.

How do I start the conversation about my loved one’s drinking?

Starting the conversation

Sometimes it can be difficult to even start a conversation with a loved one about their alcohol use. As a starting point, avoid bringing up the subject of their drinking when they’re under the influence of alcohol. This will possibly result in arguments and increased emotions on both sides.

Look for opportunities to talk to them about their drinking, such as when they express regret or talk about something bad that has happened when they’ve been drinking. Try to start the conversation by explaining that you love and care for them.

Feeling valued and connected

It’s important that they feel ‘connected’ and a valued member of the family/friendship group. Try to avoid being confrontational, if they continue to deny their problem or are rationalising their alcohol use, end the discussion and try again another time.

In general try to concentrate on their health and wellbeing rather than the actual alcohol use.

For example, some questions you could start with are:

  • “I have noticed that you have not met your friends at the club for a while, has something changed for you recently?”
  • “Is there something that you’re worrying about?”
  • “You don’t seem to be sleeping so well recently, do you know what could be causing this?”

Offering love and encouragement, as well as practical advice and support, can be very beneficial in keeping them safe. Guiding them to access help and increasing the likelihood of them making and maintaining positive changes. It’s important to remember that the person drinking is responsible for their choices and behaviours, and only they can make the decision to change their drinking behaviour.

Practical advice

On a practical level, there are things you can put in place to ensure the environment is safe for your loved one or friend, these include:

  • making sure there are no loose wires to trip over
  • ensuring walkways and stairs are free of clutter
  • prompting them to turn off gas and electrical appliances before they start to drink
  • preparing food and ensuring they have snacks available and accessible
  • making sure there is a working smoke detector in the home
  • keeping their house phone or mobile charged and within reach
  • talking about safer drinking habits, having non-alcoholic drinks in between alcoholic drinks and eating before drinking
  • dispensing medication in dosset boxes for easy monitoring of timing and dosage (speak to your local pharmacist about this)

If they ask you to buy them alcohol this can be a very difficult call to make, you may feel it’s safer to buy them alcohol rather than risk them falling or getting injured while they’re out. However, they could see this as you ‘enabling’ the behaviour which makes it harder to then have a conversation about change, in these situations you have to set clear boundaries.

Or if you live in one of the Drink Wise, Age Well areas we can offer support and advice to families and loved ones

You could also help by:

  • offering to visit their GP or health professional with them to discuss any worries or difficulties they may have
  • reassuring them that you are not judging them but only care about their health and well-being
  • including them in any social activity or plans, even if they refuse to go, keeping them involved will give them an important sense of worth and connection with you

What triggers should I be aware of?

People can develop a drink problem at any stage in life. However, there are lots of changes in life experience and circumstances that can cause people to drink more alcohol. These include retirement, changes in routine, or loss and bereavement. We may find it harder to sleep and experience more medical problems.

Many of us may experience other challenges such as changing financial circumstances, housing difficulties, or moving into residential care. The nature of relationships can also change – for example, becoming a carer for a spouse can change our life circumstances quite significantly. Isolation and loneliness can increase as social networks change. To cope some people may find they are drinking more, often at home and often alone.

What warning signs do you look out for?

The signs below may indicate a person is drinking alcohol and it is causing them problems. These pointers may also indicate other underlying health problems, so it’s important to have a sensitive and supportive discussion with the person you are concerned about.

  • Is the person isolating his or herself more?
  • Are they declining social invitations?
  • Have they stopped doing activities they previously enjoyed?
  • Have you observed changes in their home environment?
  • Is the person’s appearance becoming more unkempt?
  • Are there signs of empty bottles or overflowing bins?
  • Or are they trying to conceal alcohol bottles?
  • Are they becoming increasingly forgetful?
  • Have they had more falls and injuries?
  • Has their general demeanour changed?
  • Do they appear to be under the influence of alcohol, with indications like smelling of alcohol and slurred speech?
  • Are they asking you to buy them alcohol regularly and becoming quite agitated if you refuse?
  • Alcohol and Medications
    Alcohol and Medications

    When we get older it is more likely that we will be prescribed medication for a number of reasons. As we age our metabolism and the ability of our liver to process medications can slow down  so it is very important that we carefully consider how alcohol can affect some medications.

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  • Family, friends and carers guide
    Family, friends and carers guide

    This guide intends to provide advice and information for anyone who is concerned about someone else’s drinking. This can be a family member, a spouse or partner, or a close friend who is aged over 50. A localised version of this guide is available for each of our Drink Wise, Age Well areas, you can contact them directly for a copy.

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