Caring for an alcoholic

Advice and support if you're caring for an alcoholic, including getting help and looking after yourself.

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 (now the Carers Trust).

"But it is clear from the legislation and the National Carers Strategy that people who take care 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 carer centres and services, use our service directory.

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 nobody can plan for every eventuality and we all get ill sometimes. Read about carers' breaks and respite care for advice on getting help with caring for someone and breaks from caring.

"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 the help you need with caring with your local authority's social services department.

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 NHS Choices or your local Carers' Centre.

The benefits system is complex. 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

  • NHS Choices' Care and support section 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 Carers Direct helpline on 0300 123 1053 or ask a question by email.
  • Carers Trust is the largest provider of carers' support services in the UK. Through its network of 144 Carers Centres and websites, including Babble for young carers, the trust provides information, advice and support services to 368,000 carers, including 20,000 young carers.
  • 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 share their experience of dealing with their common problem.
  • Adfam provides direct support to families through publications, training, prison visitors' centres, outreach work and information about local support services. The charity's website has information to help families deal with the problems they face.
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