How to Help a Binge Drinker: What to Know and Do

How to Help a Binge Drinker: What to Know and Do

If you’re reading this, chances are you’re probably concerned about someone you love. We’re right there with you, binge drinking isn’t something you should ignore or take lightly. Being concerned and taking action to help are two different things, and we aim to help you do the 2nd. Helping a binge drinker can be a big task, and certainly one that you don’t have to tackle on your own, this article should give you some tips to help support and guide your loved one through this hard time of life.

Understanding Binge Drinking

Before we start identifying potential solutions, it’s prudent that we identify and define the issues at hand. Binge drinking is characterized by the consumption of a large amount of alcohol in a short period. According to data, one in six Americans engages in binge drinking occasionally, with 25% of them doing it on a weekly basis. It is crucial to differentiate between binge drinking and heavy drinking, as they represent distinct drinking behaviors. Trust us, you aren’t alone in this struggle.

Definition of Binge Drinking

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines binge drinking as a pattern that brings a person's blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level to 0.08% or higher. This typically translates to consuming five or more drinks for men and four or more drinks for women within about two hours. However, it's important to note that these quantities can vary based on factors such as body weight, age, metabolism, and tolerance.

Differences Between Binge Drinking and Heavy Drinking

While binge drinking is characterized by the intensity of alcohol consumption in a short duration, heavy drinking refers to the prolonged and consistent consumption of alcohol above recommended limits. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines heavy drinking as consuming 15 or more drinks per week for men and eight or more drinks per week for women. Heavy drinking poses its own set of risks, including chronic diseases, liver cirrhosis, mental health disorders, and a weakened immune system.

Understanding the distinction between binge drinking and heavy drinking is crucial, as it helps individuals recognize their drinking habits and associated risks. It is possible for someone to engage in occasional binge drinking without considering themselves a heavy drinker, and vice versa. Both patterns of drinking warrant attention and care for those seeking a healthier relationship with alcohol.

Choosing the Right Time and Place to Talk

When addressing a loved one's binge drinking problem, it is essential to choose the right time and place for the conversation. Timing is crucial as discussing the issue when the person is sober and relaxed allows for a more productive and meaningful dialogue. Avoid bringing up the subject when they are intoxicated, angry, upset, or sad.

Creating a comfortable environment is equally important. Find a quiet and private place where you can talk without distractions or interruptions. By respecting their privacy and ensuring they feel comfortable, you increase the likelihood of a positive and open conversation. Focus on providing factual information about the harmful effects of binge drinking to make your points more convincing.

Approach Their Binge Drinking Casually

When initiating a conversation about a loved one's binge drinking problem, it is crucial to approach the subject casually. Avoid directly telling them that they have a binge drinking problem, as this may lead to defensiveness. Instead, emphasize how much you enjoy spending time with them when they are sober and express your concerns about their behavior when they have been drinking. Frame your reactions as personal feelings or reactions rather than placing blame on the individual. Helping a binge drinker can be tricky, but this typically is the best way to approach the subject.

The goal is to convey your preference for them being sober and your unwillingness to be with them when they are drinking. By focusing on your own experiences and emotions, you can create a non-confrontational atmosphere that encourages open communication.

Being Prepared for Pushback

When helping a binge drinker, it is important to anticipate pushback when discussing a loved one's binge drinking problem. People who engage in excessive drinking often become defensive about their habits and may insist that they are completely fine. They might even become upset or angry with you for bringing up the topic. In these situations, it is essential to remain patient and understanding.

Reassure your loved one that you are not trying to judge them but are genuinely concerned about their well-being. Emphasize that your intention is to support them in making positive changes in their drinking habits. It may take time for them to fully accept and understand the impact of their behavior, so be prepared for multiple conversations and continue expressing your concerns.

Having Multiple Conversations

Addressing a loved one's binge drinking problem is unlikely to be resolved in a single conversation. It often requires ongoing communication and multiple discussions to help them recognize the need for change. Highlight the specific concerns you have regarding their drinking and how it negatively impacts your relationship, children, and other family members.

By consistently expressing your worries and providing them with factual information about the consequences of binge drinking, you increase the chances of them understanding the need to make changes. It is essential to approach these conversations with empathy, patience, and a genuine desire to help them improve their well-being.

Watch Your Words

When discussing a loved one's binge drinking, it is crucial to be mindful of the language you use. Avoid labeling them as an alcoholic or using terms like alcohol abuse, substance abuse, or addiction. Instead, maintain a high sense of empathy and compassion when addressing their excessive alcohol consumption.

It is also important not to assume that they are suffering from alcohol use disorder. Many individuals who engage in binge drinking may not meet the criteria for alcohol dependence or alcohol use disorder, although they are at a higher risk compared to moderate drinkers. Treat them with respect and avoid treating them as a patient.

A Valuable Self-Help Manual

If you are seeking additional guidance on how to support a loved one with binge drinking, the book "Getting Your Loved One Sober: Alternatives to Pleading, Nagging, and Threatening" by Drs. Robert Meyers and Jane Smith is a valuable resource. This self-help manual provides strategies and techniques for family members and concerned individuals to address heavy drinkers and motivate them to change their drinking habits.

The book offers practical advice and proven methods that can assist you in effectively communicating with your loved one about their binge drinking. By utilizing the techniques outlined in the book, you can navigate the challenges of supporting a binge drinker and help them take steps towards sobriety.


Additional Resources for Support

There are other resources available to support individuals dealing with binge drinking and related issues. The National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-7233) can provide assistance for those experiencing domestic violence in relation to heavy drinking or drug use. Seeking guidance from professional counselors, therapists, or support groups can also be beneficial in navigating the challenges associated with binge drinking.

Remember, you are not alone in supporting your loved one through their journey towards recovery. Reach out to these resources for guidance, advice, and emotional support to ensure both you and your loved one receive the assistance you need.


Supporting a loved one with binge drinking requires patience, understanding, and a commitment to their well-being. By understanding the definition of binge drinking, choosing the right time and place to talk, approaching the subject casually, being prepared for pushback, having multiple conversations, watching your words, and utilizing valuable resources like different books and other loved ones, you can provide the support your loved one needs to overcome their binge drinking problem.

Remember, your support plays a crucial role in their recovery journey. Encourage them to seek help, be a source of strength, and remind them that they are not alone. Together, you can navigate the challenges of binge drinking and help them achieve a healthier and happier life.


Center for Disease Control - Binge Drinking Fact SheetNational Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism - Moderating Binge Drinking MedLine - How Much is Too Much?

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