Alcohol support

Realising you have a problem with alcohol is the first step to getting better, but it is often the hardest one.

You may need help if:

  • You always feel the need to have a drink.
  • You get into trouble because of your drinking.
  • Other people warn you about how much you’re drinking.

A good place to start is with your GP. Be honest with them about how much you drink.

If your body has become dependent on booze, stopping drinking overnight can be life-threatening, so get advice about cutting down gradually.

Your GP may refer you to a local community alcohol service. Ask about free local support groups, day-centre counselling and one-to-one counselling.

You may be prescribed medication such as chlordiazepoxide, a sedative, to help with alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can range from not sleeping, agitation, anxiety, sweating and tremors, right through to vomiting, diarrhoea, hallucinations and seizures.

Staying sober

Cutting down and stopping drinking is often just the beginning, and most people will need some degree of help to stay alcohol-free in the long term.

Getting support – beyond family, friends or carers – is crucial to understanding and overcoming the issues that make you drink.

Ask your GP or alcohol support group about one-to-one counselling or group support in your area.

You can attend NHS and voluntary-agency day centres for up to a year, as well as groups where ex-alcoholics help each other stay sober.

Useful contacts for alcohol problems:

  • Drinkline is the national alcohol helpline. If you're worried about your own or someone else's drinking, you can call this free helpline, in complete confidence. Call 0300 123 1110 (weekdays 9am – 8pm, weekends 11am – 4pm).
  • Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is a free self-help group. Its "12-step" programme involves getting sober with the help of regular support groups.
  • Al-Anon Family Groups offer support and understanding to the families and friends of problem drinkers, whether they're still drinking or not. Alateen is part of Al-Anon and can be attended by 12- to 17-year-olds who are affected by another person's drinking, usually a parent.
  • Addaction is a UK-wide treatment agency that helps individuals, families and communities to manage the effects of drug and alcohol misuse.
  • Adfam is a national charity working with families affected by drugs and alcohol. Adfam operates an online message board and database of local support groups.
  • The National Association for Children of Alcoholics (Nacoa) provides a free, confidential telephone and email helpline for children of alcohol-dependent parents and others concerned with their welfare. Call 0800 358 3456 for the Nacoa helpline.

Caring for an alcoholic? Find out where you can get support.

Residential rehabilitation

Most people receive their support to stop drinking in the community. Some need a short stay in a unit with access to 24-hour medical care so they can receive adequate assistance with their withdrawal symptoms or other problems.

This may be an NHS hospital ward or medical unit, or a residential rehabilitation service, depending on the situation.

The best results from residential rehab are achieved when participants stay for at least 12 weeks. Residential rehab is usually reserved for people with medium or high levels of alcohol dependence, particularly those who have received other forms of help that have not been successful.

Days are usually structured, with a combination of one-to-one counselling and group therapy, as well as some chosen activities, such as art therapy, sport, life skills, cooking, financial management and family/couples therapy for relatives.

You may be referred to residential rehab through the NHS. It’s also possible to pay to go privately. Medical insurance companies may fund this for a certain period.

There are several websites that provide information on residential rehabilitation units. It's not possible to give advice on which sites are the most useful or balanced in their approach.

Get more information about treatments for alcohol dependency.