Relationship with an Alcoholic

Relationship with an Alcoholic

Many people in the US drink alcohol on a regular basis. Despite it being socially acceptable alcohol abuse can be dangerous particularly if you are at risk of developing an addiction. Alcohol use disorders can affect physical and mental illness, cause relationship breakdowns, and leads to increased crime and hospital admissions.

If you are in a relationship with an alcoholic you may want to understand more about what they are going through and how you can help. We will discuss how dependency and addiction develop and how they affect relationships. We will also talk about what you can do to support a loved one, how to look after yourself, and when you might make the difficult decision to leave.

There are a lot of stigmas that surround addiction which makes it a difficult topic, both those who suffer from it and their loved ones can feel shame and guilt. This stigma puts blame on individuals rather than the disease and is a barrier to seeking support.

What is Alcohol?

Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant that is widely consumed across the US. The 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health showed that two-thirds of Americans reported drinking alcohol in the last year. Alcohol abuse is also relatively common: twenty-five percent of those who took part in the survey reported binge drinking in the last month and six percent reported consistently taking part in excessive drinking in the last month.

Alcohol works by increasing the activity of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the central nervous. This is the main inhibitory neurotransmitter, so it causes depression of the nervous system including sedation. Alcohol also causes increased activity of dopamine and opioids in the brain which leads to feelings of happiness and relaxation.

Alcohol Dependence and Addiction

Alcohol use is socially acceptable behavior across the US. However, it is an addictive substance that can lead to alcohol abuse, dependence, and addiction. Physical and psychological dependence on alcohol tends to develop gradually the more you abuse it. There are chemical changes in your body and brain that result in them thinking they cannot function normally without alcohol. When you quit you experience unpleasant and potentially fatal withdrawal symptoms.

Alcohol addiction is usually close behind. The National Institute on Drug Abuse defines addiction as a brain disease that causes you to compulsively seek out and take the substance to which you are addicted despite adverse consequences. Not all people who abuse alcohol will develop dependence and addiction but there are factors that make you more prone to developing an addiction. These include genetics, underlying mental health disorders, childhood abuse, and being exposed to alcohol through friends or family.

Addiction is commonly treated as a moral failing but should be treated with the same empathy and care as any other disease. In 2019, 14.5 million people who were twelve or older had an alcohol use disorder.

Signs of Alcohol Addiction

The first step to getting support for alcohol addiction is recognizing that there is a problem. If you are in a relationship with an alcoholic you may also be in denial. The following are some common signs of addiction to look out for.

  • Lying or hiding their drinking
  • Unable to stop when they start drinking
  • Risk-taking such as drinking before driving or work
  • Neglecting responsibilities such as at work or school
  • Struggling to maintain healthy relationships
  • Experiencing withdrawal when they stop drinking
  • Trying to quit but not managing

The Effect of Alcohol Addiction on Relationships

Alcohol can cause strain on relationships by affecting the behavior and mental and physical health of the person with the addiction. Commonly it can cause problems with intimacy and trust and can put a lot of stress on the other partner as they deal with the majority of household responsibilities as well as worrying about their partner.


When someone has an alcohol addiction it will tend to become the most important thing in their life. This means that they often lose interest in activities they once enjoyed. Your loved one may no longer enjoy doing activities that you used to do together such as going on walks or watching films. These moments of quality time are important for bonding and helping you feel close to each other so it could make you feel emotionally distant from each other.

This could feel even worse if your partner has also stopped being intimate with you due to a decreased sex drive. As intimacy is important in a romantic relationship, you may feel a drop in confidence and doubt whether your partner finds you attractive or loves you. It is important to remember that it is the alcohol that has caused this.

While it does not happen in all relationships in which one partner has an alcohol addiction, there is a link between abusive behavior and alcohol abuse. A 2012 study showed that men who are dependent on alcohol are more likely to be violent toward their wives. If you are experiencing verbal, emotional, physical, or sexual abuse you reach out for support. While your partner may not have abused you without the alcohol, you need to look after yourself.


Alcohol abuse makes people more likely to lie and cheat in a relationship which can affect trust. Perhaps they lie because they are fearful of your response if they show you the extent of their problem or they are experiencing shame and guilt due to the stigma surrounding it. They may make constant excuses for why they are absent or why money is going missing which can lead you to worry about where they are, what they are doing, and who they are with.

Trust is essential in a healthy relationship so when it is missing this can lead to a relationship breakdown. It may cause you to feel alone and isolated and increase feelings of disappointment and resentment. You may even blame yourself for your loved one’s addiction.

Alcohol affects your loved one’s behavioral health so can change the way they treat you. One way it can do this is by making them more manipulative. When they are faced with difficult questions about their drinking they may blame others. They may also guilt-trip you or threaten self-harm if you refuse to help them with things that enable their drinking such as giving them money. This can also affect your trust in them because they have become unpredictable and unpleasant to you.


It is likely that you will worry about your loved one’s health and well-being if they have a drinking problem. It is also common that you are left with the majority of the household and financial responsibilities which can increase stress. This build-up of stress may affect your mental and physical health.

Alcohol abuse can also put financial stress on a relationship. This is in terms of how expensive it is to maintain the amount of alcohol they drink and also because it is common for people to lose their job when they have an alcohol use disorder. This places you under more stress as you need to support the household yourself.

How to Manage and Help a Relationship with an Alcoholic

It is important to remember that if you are in a relationship with an alcoholic they can change. Addiction is a disease so they can get better with treatment. However, this is not easy, and your partner needs to be open to getting help. Unfortunately, fifty-nine percent of people who successfully complete treatment within one year will need to return to treatment within six months and most people who do achieve long-term sobriety will relapse at least once during their recovery journey.

While being hopeful that your partner can get help and your relationship can improve, you also need to be aware that there is only so much that you can do. If they do not want to get help and your relationship is struggling, there may come a point when there is nothing more you can do. We will discuss some things you can do to help your loved one.

Why They May Not Accept Your Help

It can be difficult when you are trying to help your loved one with something which is making you both suffer when they do not accept your support. There are many reasons that they may resist your help including:

  • Denial – it can be difficult to accept that you have a problem when there is so much stigma surrounding addiction. If your loved one is high functioning they may compare themselves to others who are suffering more to show that they do not have a problem.
  • Pride – they may believe that they do not need anyone else to recover. Pride could also play into their denial.
  • Fear – they may have already tried to quit and had a bad experience in rehab which makes them scared to go back. They may also be fearful of withdrawal symptoms.
  • Cost – rehab can be expensive so they may not think they can afford it and therefore feel that there is no chance that they can recover.

Speaking with your Loved One

When you speak with your loved one about their drinking it is important that you approach them without judgment or blame. The most important thing is that they trust that you have their best interests at heart so they are comfortable opening up with you and are more likely to accept your help. Active listening can help to build trust. It is a technique in which you listen closely, without distraction or judgment repeating back or paraphrasing what they have said to make sure that you understand.

This will make your loved one more likely to believe that you understand what they are experiencing and want to help them. When someone has an alcohol use disorder it is not possible to have one drink and stop at that, so you can also show your support by telling them that you will stop drinking too.

While being calm and empathetic it is important not to downplay how you are affected by their drinking habits. Make sure you express how you are feeling and how your loved one’s drinking is affecting you. You could start by asking if they have noticed any effects of their drinking on themselves or on you. You can then probe gently to see if they are aware of the effect their drinking has before you speak about your experience. Be aware that they may still be defensive and deny the effects of their drinking.

Professional Help

Professionals can also help either before your loved one has accepted they need help or afterward. Interventions can sometimes be helpful if they are done carefully. There are specialists who can help with this, speaking with you about your loved one and options that might be most likely to work with them. They may also take part in the intervention itself as it is sometimes helpful to have a mediator involved if things get heated.

Professional help is also useful if your loved one is considering seeking help. Each person’s addiction and recovery are different so having a plan which suits your loved one’s individual needs could make all the difference. A professional can help you by speaking about treatment options and providing a plan for how to hold each other accountable in your roles for your loved one’s recovery.

Looking After Yourself and Others

Ultimately you need to take care of yourself. You could consider joining a support group for family and friends of people with alcohol addiction. You may also wish to seek help through therapy. These methods can help you develop tools to not feel guilty about what is happening. It can also help you to set goals and boundaries for yourself so that your loved one’s addiction is not the only thing in your life.

Sticking with your partner could be important for their recovery if they are open to change. However, as mentioned, there is only so much you can do if someone is not open to support and change. There may come a point where you are unsure if you can stay in the relationship. It could be that they are emotionally or physically hurting you or other family members such as your children. It is not an easy decision when you love someone and know that what they are suffering from is a disease. You may feel that leaving is abandoning them in a time of need. Some people are scared to leave especially if their partner has become abusive.

Signs you may need to leave:

  • There is domestic violence
  • They are unfaithful or constantly lying
  • They do not show signs of wanting help or change after a prolonged period
  • You start to become co-dependent on them
  • You are enabling their drinking e.g., giving them money, ignoring, or justifying behaviors, lying to friends and family, avoiding confrontation
  • They are continually denying they have a problem

Substance Abuse Treatment

The first step once your loved one has sought treatment is detoxing. This is where you stop taking the substance and manage withdrawal symptoms. Since alcohol dependence can be both physical and psychological, symptoms can also be both. The exact symptoms you experience and the severity of them will depend on how heavily and for how long you have been drinking and also on your physical and psychological health.

Common Withdrawal Symptoms

  • Headaches
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Tremors
  • Aches and pains
  • Sweating
  • Increased heart rate
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Alcohol cravings
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures
  • Delirium tremens

The longer and more heavily you have been drinking, the worse your withdrawal symptoms are likely to be. Delirium tremens is a particularly nasty withdrawal effect that can be fatal. Symptoms of delirium tremens include high blood pressure, fever, hallucinations, and seizures. It is seizures that typically cause it to be fatal, though this only occurs in a small percentage of cases.

Treatment Options

Since alcohol withdrawal can be unpleasant and even fatal, it is recommended that you take part in inpatient treatment. With inpatient care, you will be monitored twenty-four hours so that your withdrawal symptoms can be managed. If you experience bad psychological symptoms a psychologist will be available to make sure you get the support your need to get through the process.

For those who have responsibilities that mean they cannot take two to six weeks out to take part in inpatient care, outpatient care is an option at many centers. This may also suit people who have not been drinking so heavily or for so long. You will still get medical support and will have access to a twenty-four-hour helpline if you have any problems. Both types of treatment will offer you substitute medication if needed.

You receive a substitute drug that acts in a similar way to alcohol so that your withdrawal symptoms are less intense. Benzodiazepines are often used as they also work by increasing the activity of GABA. Since they are also addictive, it is important that they are only used for a short time during the initial acute stages of withdrawal.


Detoxing is not the end of the recovery process. You may experience post-acute withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety, depression, and cravings. These can last for weeks and even months and are more likely in those who have severe and long-lasting addiction problems. It is therefore important to receive aftercare which is offered by most addiction treatment centers.

Aftercare can help you to manage post-acute withdrawal symptoms through therapy, support groups, and medication if needed. Therapy and support groups can help you get to the bottom of why you developed an alcohol use disorder in the first place and what triggers you have for relapsing. For example, if there are any mental health concerns these can be treated to reduce the chances of using alcohol to self-medicate again.

Family therapy can also be very helpful if your loved one is comfortable with you and other family members being involved in their recovery. Family therapy helps to mend relationships that have been affected by the addiction. It allows a safe space for communication and understanding among all members of the family. It can also help to work out what everyone needs for recovery to work, for example, what boundaries need to be put in place and what support your loved one needs. They may need you to drive them to the treatment center when they are feeling low on motivation.

Contact Us Today

At Crossroads Centre Antigua, we understand that it is difficult to seek treatment for alcohol addiction and we provide tailored care so that the recovery journey is as comfortable and easy as possible. We create your treatment program to your individual needs: if you are suffering from a co-occurring mental health disorder we treat both and if you started drinking following a traumatic event, we provide support for this.

Our support includes:

  • Individual and group therapy
  • Trauma therapy
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Yoga and fitness training
  • Nutritional counseling

Please visit our website or call us at 1-888-452-0091 from the US, 1-800-783-9631 from the UK, or 1-268-562-0035 from all other countries. We are happy to speak with you about any wishes or concerns about the recovery process and what we offer. Get in contact today to find out more about alcohol rehab.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *