If you’re wondering how to help an alcoholic spouse, you’re not alone. Many people have had — and are currently having — the heartbreaking experience of loving someone with an unhealthy relationship with alcohol. Supporting an alcoholic spouse can be incredibly difficult, but it becomes possible when you have the resources and professional help you need to get through the struggle.
If you have an alcoholic spouse and are struggling to find a path towards their recovery, we’re here to help. Read below to learn how to deal with an alcoholic spouse, as well as valuable information about what alcoholism is and how to identify it in someone you love.
Signs and Symptoms of Alcoholism in a Spouse
Is your husband an alcoholic? It can be difficult to tell whether your spouse is struggling with alcoholism, but there are steps you can take to identify the problem. Look for the following symptoms:
Some of the most prominent physical symptoms of alcoholism are:
Neglecting Physical Fitness
Behavioral and Emotional Symptoms
Likewise, there are emotional and behavioral symptoms that indicate that your spouse may be an alcoholic. Even if no physical symptoms are present, behavioral symptoms like the ones listed below may be signs that your spouse is a functioning alcoholic — an alcoholic who maintains their day-to-day responsibilities while abusing alcohol.
The following are all behavioral and emotional symptoms of alcoholism:
Hiding alcohol in the home or car
Dramatic changes in eating habits
How to Get Help for an Alcoholic Spouse
If you’re wondering how to help an alcoholic spouse, know that there is hope. Start with the following steps:
Talk with your spouse about getting help while they are sober, not drunk.
Let them know the impact their excessive drinking is having on you.
Show your support and love for them and your desire to see them live a healthier life.
Try not to blame their spouse for their excessive drinking — show empathy and let them know they are on your side.
If your spouse responds with willingness to get help for their alcoholism, the following resources can be immensely helpful.
Intervention is a form of alcoholic spouse support that involves direct confrontation. In an intervention, an alcoholic person’s loved ones gently but firmly implore them to seek professional help for their addiction. An intervention can be a meaningful first step in increasing your spouse’s awareness that they have a problem and need help.
Counseling and Therapy
Counseling and therapy can help a person struggling with alcoholism get to the root cause of their dependency on alcohol. One of the most effective forms of therapy for alcoholism is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
Group Therapy and AA Meetings
Many recovering alcoholics have experienced profound life change through group therapy and Alcoholics’ Anonymous (AA) meetings. These groups offer support from peers and professionals alike and make the struggle against alcoholism a joint effort.
If you’re wondering how to help an alcoholic spouse, outpatient treatment for alcoholism is one of the best places to start. This form of treatment allows your partner to get help while living at home and maintaining their everyday responsibilities.
If your spouse is in an ongoing, intense battle with alcoholism, one of the most helpful treatment options for them is the inpatient route. Inpatient treatment involves living at a facility like Acqua Recovery and undergoing intensive care. This process can help facilitate long-term recovery.
Causes of Alcoholism in a Spouse
There are several key causes of alcoholism that may contribute to your spouse’s struggle. They include genetic factors, mental health issues and unresolved trauma, and environmental and societal factors.
Genetics can make a person significantly more susceptible to dependence on alcohol. If alcoholism runs in your spouse’s family, it may mean they are genetically predisposed to have a more addictive relationship with substances like alcohol.
Mental Health Issues and Unresolved Trauma
Alcoholism is often accompanied by coexisting mental health issues, such as anxiety or depression.
Many people use alcohol and other substances to cope with the pain caused by mental health conditions, wounds from the past, and the circumstances of life. This behavior is self-destructive and harmful to others, but knowing that mental health struggles can contribute to alcoholism can make you more empathetic to your spouse.
Environmental and Social Factors
In addition, a person’s environment and social group may make them more prone to excessive drinking. If being a functional alcoholic is the norm in a person’s social circle, they may experience pressure to drink excessively to fit in. Likewise, working or living in an alcohol-saturated environment makes dependency more likely to develop.
Effects of Having an Alcoholic Spouse in Your Life
Having an alcoholic loved one can have some painful effects, including the problems listed below.
Addiction can lead to conflict, especially when the addicted individual denies that they need help.
Physical and Mental Health
Watching someone struggle with addiction can take a toll on your mental and physical health, often causing chronic stress.
One effect of alcoholism is isolation — dependency on alcohol makes a person less likely to engage in sober relationships with others.
Alcohol is expensive, especially when consumed in excessive amounts. A spouse’s alcohol habit can therefore put serious financial strain on both of you.
Coping Strategies for Living with an Alcoholic Spouse
Below are some of the healthiest coping strategies to help you live with an alcoholic spouse.
Establish Healthy Boundaries
Boundaries can protect you from the negative effects of your spouse’s drinking habit until they can get help. If you don’t feel safe or comfortable with how they are behaving, you always have the power to say no or create physical distance.
Caring for yourself is vital when a loved one is struggling with addiction. Make sure you get enough rest, eat well, and seek support from others.
Strong Social Support from Loved Ones
Having a group of friends, family, and others to turn to can help you weather the storm of your spouse’s addiction. Never go through the struggle alone.
Whenever possible, try to avoid stressful people, situations, and tasks that can make it harder to maintain your personal equilibrium. Along with practicing self-care, avoiding triggers can help you stay resilient.
Set Realistic Goals
Recovery doesn’t happen overnight; aim to see progress in your spouse, not an immediate turnaround.
What Does Enabling an Alcoholic Mean?
Enabling an alcoholic means either actively or passively contributing to your spouse’s dependency on alcohol. This might mean encouraging them to drink or acting dismissively towards their problematic behaviors.
How Do You Get Someone To Admit They Have a Drinking Problem?
The best way to get someone to admit they have a drinking problem is to be lovingly honest about the effects of their drinking on you and their other loved ones. A combination of gentleness and honesty is key.
What is the First Line of Treatment for Alcoholism?
The first line of treatment for alcoholism is usually medication-assisted detox. This process helps an alcoholic go through the detox process without dealing with overwhelming withdrawal symptoms.
How Do You Ask Your Partner to Stop Drinking?
The best way to ask your partner to stop drinking is with gentleness and sincerity. Try to avoid blaming them for their alcoholism, and make sure to express that you want them to stop drinking because of how much you love them.
What Percentage of Marriages End in Divorce Because of Alcoholism?
According to one study published in 2014, 48.3% of those who struggled with alcoholism at some point went through a divorce. While that statistic may seem bleak, know that a marriage can still survive alcoholism.
How Acqua Recovery Can Help?
Acqua Recovery can help your spouse recover from alcoholism by providing all of the following treatments for alcoholism in a serene, beautiful environment:
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Dialectical Behavioral Therapy
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy
Internal Family Systems and Inner Child Work
Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy
Dr. Pickrell is a board-certified psychiatrist with interests in addiction and psychiatry. He strives to identify the underlying cause of substance use. His understanding of addiction as the overlapping symptoms of biopsychosocial development is the foundation to his care model. He is committed to helping both patients and families understand that addiction is a treatable medical illness. He has been involved in the treatment of addiction for the last 17 years and completed his residency training at the University of Utah.