Heath and Aging

Older Adults and Alcohol: You Can Get Help

For family, friends, and caregivers

older couple with adult daughter
Are you worried that a family member or friend may have a drinking problem? There are steps you can take to help.

Marisol, John, and Thelma are all in a support group for people who have friends or family with a drinking problem. During a group meeting, they share their concerns and listen to what their group leader, Ted, suggests for how to help someone with a drinking problem.

Marisol: It’s hard to know what to do. When I try to talk to my friend about his drinking, he gets very upset and changes the subject. I want to help him, but I don’t want to lose him as a friend.

John: I’m worried that my mother takes a lot of medicines and still drinks. I have no idea if her doctor knows this. I wonder if I should say something to her doctor, but I don’t want to betray my mother’s trust. I wonder how I can get her to talk to the doctor about the drinking.

Thelma: Sometimes I think I shouldn’t say anything about my uncle’s drinking. Then something happens, like last week he fell and bruised his arm and face. I’ll bet he was drunk. How am I supposed to ignore that? I just don’t know if I should get involved or leave it up to his daughter. She does not seem to notice he has a problem.

Ted: You can’t force someone to get help, but there are steps you can take to help.

Step 1: Talk.

  • Talk about your worries when the person is sober. Try to say what you think or feel, like "I am concerned about your drinking."
  • Give facts. Some people find it helpful just to get information. You could say, "I want to share some things I've learned about older adults and alcohol."
  • Try to stay away from labels like "alcoholic."
  • Ask if you can go to the doctor with your family member or friend.

Step 2: Offer your help.

  • Suggest things to do that don't include drinking.
  • Encourage counseling or attending a group meeting. Offer to drive to and from these support meetings.
  • Give your support during treatment.

Step 3: Take care of yourself.

  • You need support, too. Think about what you need to stay safe and healthy.
  • Involve other family members or friends so you are not in this alone. Talk honestly about how you are feeling. Try to say what support or help you need.
  • Try going to counseling or special meetings that offer support to families and friends of people with drinking problems. There may be programs at your local hospital or clinic. For example, Al-Anon is a support group for friends and family of people with a drinking problem. Find a meeting near you by calling 1-888-425-2666.

Publication Date: June 2011
Page Last Updated: April 27, 2017