How to Deal with an Alcoholic Spouse

Having a partner who is struggling with alcohol addiction can come with challenges that may have a massive impact on a person’s life.

If your spouse has an alcohol addiction or alcohol use disorder, this blog may help you understand the nature of this addiction and what you can do about it.

What Is Alcohol Addiction?

The first key to learning how to deal with a spouse who suffers from addiction is to identify that they have an issue with alcohol consumption. It is then essential to understand the issues caused by alcohol dependency.

Alcohol addiction or alcohol dependence is a chronic and progressive disease that affects millions and can sometimes be fatal.

It is a relapsing disorder that is associated with a loss of control over alcohol intake, compulsive alcohol drinking, and negative states when alcohol is not available. An alcohol use disorder (AUD) is characterized by the impaired ability to stop drinking despite negative consequences. AUD can be mild, moderate, or severe and can have consequences that affect health, social, personal, occupational, and family life.

Signs of Alcohol Addiction

Alcohol use disorder is a disease of the brain, which means that when a person has alcohol dependency, it is not so easy to just quit drinking, especially not without professional treatment. Your spouse may be unable or unwilling to stop or may have tried to quit without success.

Whichever the case, if you can relate to the following warning signs, your spouse may need help for their alcohol addiction:

  • Showing no signs of trying to stop drinking
  • Compulsively seeking alcohol
  • Not seeing any problem with their drinking despite severe consequences
  • Unpredictable behavior
  • Cloudy judgment
  • Risky behavior, like driving drunk
  • Financial problems due to spending money on alcohol
  • Being secretive about their alcohol consumption
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Being in a negative emotional state when alcohol is not available

Often people who are addicted to alcohol leave those they love with broken promises, relationships, and financial issues. It is important to know that when someone is truly addicted to alcohol, their brain chemistry may change to the point that they are surprised by their own choices; they may not be in control of their own decision-making.

An expectation that may seem reasonable to you, may be totally unreasonable for a spouse suffering from addiction, and they may seem completely surprised by your reactions.

The Effects of Substance Abuse

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) rates alcohol as the most frequently used and misused substance in the United States.

The effects of any substance abuse on a partner can be devastating. Perhaps the most devastating of alcohol abuse is intimate partner violence. Both physical and emotional abuse are included in intimate partner violence, and it is not always alcohol that causes the abuse.

The effects of alcohol may however play a role in making abuse worse. Alcohol abuse can escalate violent behaviors and often leads to domestic violence and abuse. Unfortunately, this often does not change or subside, despite promises. Experiencing abuse may make living with an alcoholic partner impossible, and a person may have to leave.

Usually, when a partner is leaving, they are most vulnerable to being abused as abuse is usually about control. When the abused partner leaves, the abuser’s fear of losing control over him or her is triggered, and this often causes an escalation of dangerous behavior.

Mental Health

Living with a spouse’s addiction also means that their out-of-control drinking puts a person at risk for mental health issues. Being at greater risk for emotional or verbal abuse, a person may suffer anxiety, depression, or suicidal thoughts.

A person may struggle to socialize as they may avoid friends and family out of embarrassment, and they may find that their own health is deteriorating as they spend most of their attention on their spouse.

Family Members

A person who is addicted to alcohol may be so obsessed with drinking that he or she ignores the needs of other family members. Meanwhile, family members develop symptoms of codependency.

The children of those suffering from addiction usually struggle with anxiety and depression and have great difficulty in developing healthy relationships. By witnessing the effects of alcohol abuse, they may suffer trauma and are three times as likely to abuse alcohol when they are adults.

Many family members try everything that they can to make their loved ones quit drinking, but it usually results in leaving them lonely, frustrated, and hurt. It is also easy for family members to take the broken promises, accusations, aggression, or lies personally. They may suffer from guilt and blame themselves for their loved one’s behavior for many years.

Loved ones of people addicted to alcohol usually find themselves continually picking up the pieces, as they are more at risk for mental health disorders, anger issues, PTSD, or substance abuse.

How Can I Deal with My Alcoholic Spouse?

According to the National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse, 14.5 million people in the United States over the age of twelve had an alcohol use disorder in 2019. If your spouse is dealing with alcohol use disorder, it is crucial to seek outside help and support, especially from people with experience in confronting substance abuse.

One of the keys to dealing with alcohol dependency in a family is staying focused on the present situation. Unfortunately, alcohol dependence does not reach a specific level and stays there or decreases. It will progressively become worse until the person seeks help.

If your partner does not want to attend alcohol rehab, or does not follow through on their continuing care plan after treatment, or has no interest in personal growth, they may not be ready for the chance now, or ever.

Problem drinking is manageable, and someone’s behavior may change, but a spouse is likely to find a lot of resistance. At the same time, a spouse may be very willing, but change will not be possible without professional treatment.


The first and most important thing is to remove yourself and other family members from any form of abuse that can escalate. It may seem that one or two behaviors were odd, and you may write it off as a once-off event, but before you know it, you could be in a full-blown abusive relationship.

Of course, leaving your spouse is not easy, and many people stay due to circumstances that have to do with their security. For example, a person may have concerns over the custody of the children, or your spouse may be supporting you and your family financially. Many partners are scared of the reaction they may receive to the news that they are leaving, or fear that their partners may not be able to live without them.

Unacceptable behavior should not be tolerated, and it is important to know that a person has choices in protecting themselves and their children from any form of abuse. Hurtful or negative comments addressed toward a spouse or their children should not be allowed, as they can cause long-lasting damage to their child’s psyche and leave them with emotional scars.

In the case that someone is unsure whether they should leave or stay, they can ensure that they get social support from a trustworthy person.

Avoid Blame

Many people take the blame for their spouse’s alcohol problem. They may think that if they complained less, or if they could earn more, keep the house cleaner, or give their partner stress relief, their partner would not have a drinking problem. No one can make another person drink too much, especially to the point that they develop an alcohol use disorder.

This kind of thinking can be harmful to a person and does not help in solving the problem. As with any substance use disorder, it is vital not to take someone else’s alcohol abuse personally.

Avoid Enabling Behavior

To enable means doing or sometimes not doing things which make encourage or make it easier for a person to continue their drinking problem. Even though enabling behavior does not cause alcohol use disorder, it helps perpetuate it.

So what happens when a person enables their partner’s alcohol addiction? The exact answer depends on each situation. Usually, the person addicted to alcohol does not feel the pain, and focus is taken off of their behavior so they keep doing it.

People who are addicted to alcohol usually do not want anyone to be aware of their level of alcohol consumption. They fear that if someone understood the extent of their problem, they may interfere and try to help. When family members cover up a person’s drinking or make excuses for them, they keep the person with the alcohol use disorder in denial. It is important to not encourage your partner’s ‘hiding’ in their consumption of alcohol and avoid making excuses for them.

Providing an alcoholic partner with alcohol should be off-limits. That includes giving them money for alcohol or involving them in social situations that can encourage drinking. Excusing your partner’s drinking habits or his behaviors when under the influence is a form of enabling. Instead, realize that these behaviors are proof that alcohol abuse can cause huge relationship troubles.

Educate Yourself

It is impossible to know how to deal with your loved one’s alcoholism without understanding what it is, and what treatment options are available. Take time to learn about alcohol use disorders and treatment programs.

There are coping strategies, which involve behavioral and psychological efforts to tolerate, minimize, reduce or master the stress associated with their wife or husband’s drinking. These coping methods have a problem-focused side, which involves action to provide relief in stressful situations, and an emotion-focused side, where efforts are made to handle and manage emotional consequences. A person could join a support group for partners of those addicted, which is a great source of learning these coping mechanisms.

Try to Talk

It may be uncomfortable, but it is very important to talk about your wife or husband’s drinking. Discussing the consequences for yourself and your family as well as what you would like your spouse to do about it can be crucial.

Timing is essential when deciding to talk, so a person should make sure that there are no distractions, and that it is a time when their partner is sober and not hungover.

Take Care of Yourself

Learning how to deal with an alcoholic spouse as well as managing to look after yourself can be stressful. A person’s mental health takes a toll when their spouse is constantly drinking. Making choices that are good for your own physical and mental health can save you.

While a person can not force their partner into treatment for alcohol abuse, they also can not do the work for them. Holding boundaries is especially important, and that includes taking care of mental health. Talking to a mental health professional can help someone address their fears and start to understand what it is they need in order to move on, whether that means leaving their spouse or staying with them.

Find Help

Apart from speaking to family members and friends, a person may want to join support groups. Here, someone gets the chance to speak to others who have an alcoholic husband or wife or have had experiences of alcohol abuse in family members. Usually, addiction treatment programs offer family therapy and support groups for the loved ones of those battling addiction.

Someone may want to see a therapist for individual therapy too. This can help a person and can provide a lot of support, especially when a person feels embarrassed or ashamed to share their problem with relatives or strangers.

Take a Step Back

It is very difficult for loved ones to accept that the best thing they may do in some situations is nothing. This is particularly hard when their partner’s substance abuse has landed them in jail or caused them to lose a job.

Until a person with an alcohol addiction starts to contemplate quitting, their partner’s actions will be met with resistance. As someone can not force their partner to take up addiction treatment, they should not use their time or focus their energy on controlling or trying to stop their partner’s drinking. Taking a step back can be very hard, for when a spouse can not control their own drinking, someone else certainly can not do it for them either.

Attempting to control your alcoholic husband or wife’s drinking may exhaust you. Instead of obsessively monitoring a spouse’s drinking, attempting to get rid of their alcohol, lecturing them, forbidding them from drinking, or begging them to stop drinking, it may be healthier to actively release control over their alcohol abuse.

In this way, a person shifts the focus from their reaction to the spouse’s behavior to the spouse and his actual behavior. A wife or husband may only feel the need to change once they experience their own pain and realize their own behavior. Usually, it is at a crisis point that people admit they have a problem and may reach out for help.

The moment that family members rush in to help or rescue the person from this crisis, it may delay the person’s decision to help. By allowing natural consequences to occur, meaning by letting the crisis happen, a person may give their partner the push to contemplate overcoming addiction.

Treatment Options for Alcohol Addiction

Luckily, substance abuse treatment is available. Finding addiction treatment and professional medical advice is key to your spouse’s recovery.

Most treatment facilities for alcohol treatment will have a detox program, whereby a person’s body gets rid of the alcohol and its toxins gradually and with medical support.

Thereafter, a residential treatment program offers various kinds of therapy to ensure that a person has a chance for maintaining sobriety. This includes behavioral therapy, which is the most common among therapies to treat alcohol use disorders and other substance use disorders.

Behavioral therapy uncovers the reason for starting an addiction in the first place, by addressing any co-occurring or underlying mental health problems. It also helps to build skills in resisting alcohol use, replaces drinking with healthy habits, and helps their problem-solving abilities.

Treatment programs usually offer family therapy, whereby all members of the family can express how they feel and the family unit is supported.

Where Can I Find a Treatment Facility?

Crossroads Antigua is here to help. Our caring and experienced staff will ensure that anyone dealing with alcohol abuse and addiction, as well as their loved ones, receives the best possible treatment.

From a medically assisted detox to our family program, individualized care in our serene setting ensures that you get the help you need to overcome addiction.

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