How to support someone who has stopped drinking
Here are some things you can do to look after your friend or family member, and yourself.
When to speak to a doctor
Physical alcohol withdrawal is a medical emergency.
If someone is physically dependent on alcohol, it’s dangerous to stop drinking suddenly.
If they have any of these symptoms, get medical help as soon as possible:
- Shaking, trembling or seizures (fits)
- Hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that aren’t there)
- Nausea (feeling sick) and vomiting
- Racing pulse or heart rate
A doctor will be able to assess their risk and suggest treatments to keep them safe and help them feel better.
Help them to eat healthily
Someone who’s stopped drinking may not feel like eating and drinking.
Help them stay hydrated by offering them non-alcoholic drinks. Avoid coffee, energy drinks and anything else with caffeine, as these can make it harder to sleep.
You could also consider preparing healthy foods in advance, so there’s something ready for them when they do feel hungry.
People who have stopped drinking often crave sweet foods. Fresh fruit makes a healthy alternative to sugary snacks.
Suggest ways to relax
Someone who has stopped drinking may feel stressed, tense or worried. Simple relaxation tools like breathing exercises could help them feel better.
If your friend or family member is struggling with cravings for alcohol, see our advice on how to handle cravings.
Set some healthy boundaries
When you’re focused on supporting someone else, it’s especially important that you also look after yourself.
Someone who’s trying to stop drinking might behave in ways that are harmful for them and for others, which is why it’s so important to set healthy boundaries.
These are the limits we have when it comes to other people’s behaviour. For example, you may draw the line at being lied to, being sworn at, or having alcohol in your home.
Keeping boundaries can be difficult. But in the end, they will protect both you and the person you care about.
Try to have calm, positive conversations
In difficult situations, it’s easy to start saying negative things or blaming each other.
To help, we’ve collected some simple communication tips to encourage calm and positive conversations.
These will help you:
- know when it’s a good time to talk
- encourage your friend or family member to open up and be honest
- say how you feel without making the other person defensive
Help them through lapses and relapses
A lapse is when someone drinks after not drinking for a while. A relapse is when someone goes back to drinking regularly.
Lapses and relapses are frustrating, but they’re a normal part of the process when someone has stopped drinking.
A single lapse doesn’t mean someone has failed. With support and encouragement, they can avoid a full relapse.
If someone does have a full relapse, it might make stopping more difficult - but if they have managed it once, they can do it again.
You won’t always be able to prevent lapses or relapses. But you can make them less likely by knowing a person's triggers: the situations that make them crave drink.
Find professional support
You don’t have to go through this alone: we can help you find professional support.
If the person you're concerned about is not already attending an alcohol service, we can help them find a service.
If you can't find any face-to-face support, we have advice on how to safely detox from alcohol at home - but you should always speak to a medical professional before trying this if at all possible.
You can also get free and confidential advice through our webchat service.