Caring for an alcoholic

If you're a carer for a problem drinker, finding help can be a frustrating experience.

People who care for problem drinkers sometimes have to struggle to get the recognition and support they're entitled to.

“They have not always been perceived as ‘legitimate’ carers,” says Drew Lindon of The Princess Royal Trust for Carers.

“But it is clear from the legislation and the National Carers Strategy that carers of problem drinkers should be recognised as carers,” he says.

You have legal rights as a carer if you provide regular and substantial unpaid care for someone who may be entitled to community care services.

For example, you are entitled to a carer's assessment and may be entitled to carers' services (including breaks), whether or not the person you care for receives any services. 

Carers who don't meet their local authority's criteria for getting support may still be able to get help from local voluntary services, such as Carers Centres. To find your local Carers Centre, go to The Princess Royal Trust for Carers website.

Your wellbeing
The shame often associated with alcoholism, as well as denial, can be an obstacle to getting help.

“The stigma will affect both the alcoholic and the carer,” says Lindon. “It can affect their ability to ask for and get help.”

Being a carer is hard work and, with so much to do, it can be difficult to find quality time for yourself.

Staying well and healthy increases your ability to look after someone. But no one can plan for every eventuality and we all get ill sometimes.

See Taking care of yourself in Carers Direct for ideas on keeping well, including advice on healthy eating, exercise, sleep and taking a break.

“Carers for alcoholics need to be seen as partners in care,” says Lindon. “They are an essential part of the care and treatment process. They need and deserve support for themselves.

“If carers are not supported and their health suffers, who will support the person they are caring for? The health and social care system would not survive without carers' support.”

Getting help
The first place to go to for support will depend on your circumstances, but Lindon advises contacting your council’s social services department or a local Carers Centre.

Carers Centres can help you get access to services and benefits through your local authority, and can give you information about other useful organisations.

Most carers have a legal right to an assessment of their needs. It's your chance to discuss with your local authority's social services department the help you need with caring.

Discuss what type of support will help you maintain your own health and enable you to balance caring with the other areas of your life, such as work and family.

Social services departments use the assessment to decide what help would be useful for you, although they're not legally bound to provide this support. But the support they may provide includes benefits, such as Carer's Allowance, and grants for breaks or to make caring easier.

“The carer's assessment takes into account your needs as a carer and your aspirations as an individual,” says Lindon.

Before your assessment, think carefully about what kind of support you and the person you care for need. You can get help with preparing for a carer's assessment from Carers Direct or your local Carers Centre.

The benefits system is complex and it’s a good idea to get specialist advice about what you're entitled to and how to fill in any claim forms. Carers Direct, alcohol support charities and carers’ organisations can help.

Resources and support groups

  • Carers Direct has information, advice and support for carers on all aspects of caring, from financial and legal issues to respite care and access to local services. Call the free helpline on 0808 802 0202 or ask a question by email.
  • The Princess Royal Trust for Carers is the largest provider of carers' support services in the UK. Through its network of 144 Carers Centres and websites, including, the trust provides information, advice and support services to 368,000 carers, including 20,000 young carers.
  • Crossroads Care provides breaks for carers across England through a network of local schemes. The charity offers a range of activities and support to help reduce the feeling of isolation that many carers experience. Services vary depending on the local branch.
  • Al-Anon Family Groups offer support to people affected by someone else’s drinking. Around 800 groups meet weekly around the UK to offer understanding and encouragement, and to share their experience of dealing with their common problem.
  • Al-Anon incorporates Alateen, an organisation for young people, aged between 12 and 20, who have been affected by someone else’s drinking, usually a parent.
  • Adfam provides direct support to families through publications, training, prison visitors’ centres, outreach work and information about local support services. Their website has information to help families deal with the problems they face.

Last reviewed: 18/09/2009

Next review due: 18/09/2011