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Alcoholic Spouse: How to Cope + Get Your Partner Help

Last Updated: December 21, 2023

Editorial Policy | Research Policy

How Can You Help Someone You Love?

Do you have a significant other struggling with alcohol misuse? If so, you can take steps to help them while maintaining your own mental health and wellness. It’s important to understand that even though you may be able to help your partner, you’re not the cure nor the cause of their substance misuse issues. Even so, you can positively contribute to their recovery while thinking about your own healing process.

Tips for Coping with an Alcoholic Spouse

Living with someone dependent on alcohol can be physically and emotionally draining. You may find that it’s stressful to deal with a spouse who struggles with alcohol misuse while also practicing self-care. However, there are certain coping strategies you can rely on if you have a spouse or partner who misuses alcohol. 

Set Boundaries

There may be times when you have to say no or take a step back. It can be one of the most challenging things you do if you have a partner who is addicted to alcohol. Still, if you step in every time there’s an issue, you risk being an enabler. Setting boundaries can serve as more of a motivation for a person to make a change.

Seek Support

Having a group of people you trust and who you can share your struggles and experiences with is critical. Along with friends or close family members, you could also find support in a group like Al-Anon. Al-Anon is a support group for loved ones of people who struggle with alcohol. You could also seek support from a therapist.

Practice Self-Care

Self-care is a coping approach. You might practice self-care physically, spiritually, or emotionally. You could find activities or hobbies that relieve stress and help you feel your best even when facing challenges. Meditation and exercise are examples of good self-care strategies.

How to Address the Problem with an Alcoholic Spouse

It’s intimidating to think about bringing up the subject of alcohol when your partner is dependent or addicted to it. Still, there are things you can do to feel empowered as you go into the conversation.

Avoid Alcohol

It is a good idea to personally avoid the use of alcohol in the home. Otherwise, it can make it easier for your spouse to justify their misuse. You can offer to help your spouse by doing activities together that do not involve alcohol. If your loved one does opt to seek help for their drinking, they’re going to need to return home to a supportive, alcohol-free environment.

Exude Empathy

When you’re speaking to someone who’s struggling with alcohol, you never want to blame, shout or judge. It’s hard because you’ve probably gone through a lot of pain as a result of the person’s drinking. However, your partner is probably already feeling a lot of fear and shame, so if you come from a place of empathy rather than negativity, they’re more likely to respond well.

Express How You Feel

Be specific and prepared to talk about why you’re worried about your partner. You also want to try to offer concrete suggestions for making a change. You want to let them know their drinking impacts you and other people in the household. When you keep the conversation on you rather than the other person, it can help them grasp the emotional impact of their drinking.

Plant Ideas

Don’t try to rush into creating a plan or set up unrealistic expectations. Instead, plant some achievable ideas initially. For example, if your spouse is open to change, maybe you encourage small steps first, like contacting their primary care provider to discuss their options. It’s also a good idea to look into addiction treatment programs before you talk to your spouse so that if they decide they’d like to think about getting help, you can show them the support available to them.

Practice Patience

Be patient and willing to listen, and give your spouse the time they might need to process your conversation. Try not to lose your temper or rush them into anything they’re unprepared to do. Even if they say they want to cut down or stop drinking, again, give some time for reflection.

What If My Spouse Is in Denial?

Denial is a psychological defense mechanism. It can be used to self-protect when facing reality is too difficult or stressful. Denial is an unconscious process in alcohol use disorders. There are many reasons for denial, including shame.

If your spouse is in denial, one of the most important things you can do is avoid enabling their negative behaviors. You may not even realize that you aren’t fully ready to accept your loved one has a problem with drinking, and you could be inadvertently rationalizing their addiction or excusing it.

If your spouse is in denial, talk with them openly without judgment. Ask open-ended questions about the effects of alcohol on their life, and try to help them access outside professional support. People with an alcohol use disorder can sometimes be more receptive to hearing from an expert or outside person rather than their spouse or loved one.

Factors for Developing An Alcohol Use Disorder

Developing an alcohol use disorder is influenced by a combination of factors. Risk factors associated with developing an alcohol use disorder include:

Genetics

Researchers have found evidence that genetic factors play a significant role in alcohol dependence susceptibility. If someone has a family history of alcohol addiction, they may be at a higher risk themselves.

Stress

Traumatic life experiences, including the loss of a loved one or relationship, financial stress, or physical or emotional abuse, raise the risk of developing problematic alcohol use patterns.

Age They Started Drinking

People exposed to alcohol at earlier ages, whether through family or societal influences, have an increased risk of developing an AUD.

Mental Health Conditions

Personality and behavioral traits, such as impulsivity and a lack of self-control,  can contribute to alcohol use disorders. Co-occurring mental health conditions like anxiety, bipolar disorder or depression increase the risk of alcohol abuse, too. Some people might turn to alcohol as a way to self-medicate a mental health condition.

Negative Effects of Alcoholism on Marriage

Alcohol addiction and misuse can have severe adverse effects on relationships, especially intimate ones like marriage. Alcohol use disorders affect the individual and their spouse in ways that include:

Emotional Effects

If you’re living with a partner who has an addiction, it can cause emotional distress. This may contribute to mental health symptoms like anxiety, depression and isolation for the non-drinking spouse. There’s often an impact on communication, making it hard for spouses to understand each other and express themselves.

Physical Effects

The physical effects of alcoholism are extensive. Alcohol abuse can lead to health issues such as liver disease, mental health disorders and cardiovascular problems. The declining health of the spouse with the alcohol use disorder creates further strain for the other person and on the marriage in general. Alcohol misuse can cause a breakdown in physical and emotional intimacy. It can even lead to severe consequences like an increased risk of domestic violence.

Financial Effects

Alcoholism can create financial consequences in different ways, including spending too much money on alcohol, increased healthcare costs or potential legal issues. It can cause job loss, furthering financial strain.

How to Know When It’s Time to Let Go

Deciding it’s time to let go of a marriage impacted by alcohol abuse is incredibly difficult, and there’s not one answer that will work for everyone. Even so, some of the signs it could be time to let go include:

  • Safety concerns, especially if alcohol use is leading to abuse or creating an unsafe environment for you, your children or anyone in the household
  • A refusal to seek help or acknowledge a problem
  • Repeated relapses
  • You’re experiencing exhaustion or burnout and need to prioritize your own well-being

Seeking Treatment for an Alcoholic Spouse

Before speaking with your spouse, it’s a good idea, as mentioned, to research treatment program options. The Recovery Village Kansas City Drug and Alcohol Rehab is a leading addiction treatment program, and we can help you learn more and prepare to have a conversation with your partner about treatment. Reach out to one of our Recovery Advocates to learn more.

Sources

Rodriguez, Lindsey M., Overup, Camilla S., and Neighbors, Clayton. “Perceptions of Partners’ Problematic Alcohol Use Affect Relationship Outcomes Beyond Partner Self-Reported Drinking: Alcohol Use in Committed Romantic Relationships.” NIH National Library of Medicine, September 2013. Accessed December 13, 2023.

Shuckit, Marc A., et al. “Characteristics associated with denial of problem drinking among two generations of individuals with alcohol use disorders.” NIH National Library of Medicine, December 2021. Accessed December 13, 2023.

NIH National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Risk Factors: Varied Vulnerability to Alcohol-Related Harm.” September 22, 2023. Accessed December 13, 2023.

Sharma, Nitasha, et al. “Living with an alcoholic partner: Problems faced and coping strategies used by wives of alcoholic clients.” Industrial Psychiatry Journal, 2016. Accessed December 13, 2023.