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If Your Loved One Has an Alcohol Problem

Signs of an Alcohol Problem

Alcohol problems include binge or heavy drinking, and alcohol use disorder (AUD), which is a pattern of drinking with two or more symptoms. These symptoms include:

  • obsessions or thinking too much about alcohol
  • a compulsion to drink
  • loss of control
  • unsuccessful attempts at stopping
  • problems caused or worsened by drinking (medical, family, social, psychological)
  • continuing to drink despite problems
  • strong cravings to drink
  • a change in tolerance (need more alcohol to feel the effects, or can’t handle as much)
  • or, in cases of physical addiction, withdrawal symptoms when alcohol is stopped or the amount is cut down


AUDs can vary in severity from mild to moderate to severe. For example, Becky’s mom was a binge drinker who sometimes went a month or longer between drinking episodes. Her mom’s alcohol problem started when Becky was a teenager, and while her mother was quiet and usually well behaved when she drank, her family worried about her.

But Jason’s dad wreaked havoc on his family for many years. His father drank heavily, nearly every day for many years. He was in several car accidents while drunk, lost jobs, caused his family severe financial hardship, and was admitted to the hospital several times for medical complications worsened by his drinking. Jason’s dad sometimes became mean and unpredictable when drinking, often causing fear in his family members.

While Becky’s mom had an AUD, it was much less severe than Jason’s father, who had a problem for many years. Even people who do not have an AUD can experience or cause serious problems from a single episode of excessive drinking. It can lead to an auto accident, a fall, violent altercation, or some other negative outcome. An episode of intoxication also can contribute to a fatal outcome for the drinker, or for innocent people such as those involved in a drunk driving accident.

Watch Dr. Daley and Dr. Glance discuss alcohol use disorders and how to find help:


Resources for Families

There are many great resources available for families. By learning more about alcohol problems and what you can do and cannot do, you may feel better and understand what you can control — which is yourself, and not your family member with the AUD. By sharing hope and experiences with other affected family members, you can receive and give support to others who are dealing with a loved one’s AUD.

The resources listed below include mutual support programs, advocacy programs, and other sources of information or help:

  1. Al-Anon ( is a mutual support program for friends and families of individuals with alcohol problems. 
  2. Alateen ( is a fellowship of young Al-Anon members, usually teenagers, whose lives have been affected by someone else’s drinking. Like Al-Anon, Alateen provides group meetings where members share experiences and learn the principles of the Al-Anon program.
  3. Bridge to Hope ( is a family support program in the Pittsburgh area that offers education and help for families and friends affected by a loved one’s addiction. 
  4. Community Reinforcement Approach and Family Training (CRAFT) ( is an approach to help families and significant others deal with a substance use problem in the family. It provides guidance on how to engage the person with the substance problem while they’re in treatment. It also helps the family deal with their own reactions to a loved one and engage in their own recovery.
  5. Faces and Voices of Recovery ( is an advocacy organization that provides information and support for families and those with a substance use disorder. 
  6. Facing Addiction ( is an advocacy organization dedicated to finding solutions to the addiction crisis. They aim to build a national constituency, increase access to treatment, translate scientific innovation into services, advocate for governments to implement evidence-based policies, and share the proof of long-term recovery. 
  7. Family Resource Center ( is a  website with various resources for families to understand and address a child’s substance use. The resources can be filtered by the intended user; for example, parents of young adolescents, older teens, adult children, or teachers/community support personnel. 
  8. Nar-Anon ( is a mutual support program for families affected by any type of drug problem. 
  9. National Association of Children of Alcoholics ( is an advocacy group that aims to eliminate the adverse impact of alcohol and drug use on children and families. Their goals are to raise public awareness, provide leadership in public policy at the national, state, and local level, inform and educate the community, disseminate information, and advocate for accessible programs and services.
  10. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) ( provides information on many topics of interest for families, including drugs, treatment programs, and current research initiatives. 
  11. Partnership for Drug-Free Kids  ( is a nonprofit organization that aims to help families struggling with their son or daughter’s substance use. They provide information, support, and guidance to families, in addition to advocating for greater understanding and more effective programs to treat addiction. They offer a helpline that helps families connect with experts. 
  12. Sage’s Army ( is a nonprofit drug awareness and prevention organization that aims to offer support, guidance, and encouragement to others who have also been affected by addiction. They offer monthly community meetings and presentations, and information about resources available for those suffering from addiction. 



  1. Daley DC & Miller J, Addiction in Your Family: Helping Yourself and Your Loved Ones. Holmes Beach, FL: Learning Publications, Inc, 2001.
  2. Daley DC & Tarter RE. Children of parents with substance use disorder.  In The SAGE Encyclopedia of Abnormal and Clinical Psychology (A. Wenzel, Ed).  Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc, 2017, 643-644.
  3. Douaihy A & Daley DC. Alcohol use disorder.  In The SAGE Encyclopedia of Abnormal and Clinical Psychology (A. Wenzel, Ed).  Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc., 2017, 96-99.
  4. Douaihy A & Daley DC. Substance Use Disorders: Pittsburgh Pocket Psychiatry.  NY: Oxford University Press, 2013. 
  5. Liepman MR, Gross KA, Lagos MM, Parran TV, Farkas KJ. Family involvement in addiction, treatment and recovery.  In The ASAM Principles of Addiction Medicine, 5th New York, NY: Wolters Kluwer, 2014, 958-974.
  6. Lander L, Howsare J & Byrne M. The impact of substance use disorders on families and children. Social Work in Public Health, Vol 28(3-4): 2013, 194-203.