7 Tips to Help You Deal with an Alcoholic Spouse

By Andrew Macia | Published 9/1/2019 161

Man's hand reaching for glass of whisky (alcoholic spouse)

Living with an alcoholic is traumatic but there are ways to cope so that life becomes better (Photo source: iStock)

When someone you love suffers from an addiction, it can tear you apart. What’s more, the mere presence of the addiction completely removes your ability to communicate honestly. Being married to an alcoholic spouse is even worse. There are so many feelings involved. And, the people you love have the power to hurt you more than anyone else in your life.

Living with an alcoholic is traumatic. You’re affected from the time you wake up in the morning to the time you go to sleep at night. Still, when you know how to deal with your alcoholic spouse, life can become better. In fact, it may even lead to your spouse getting the help that’s needed to recover.

With that in mind, here are seven tips that you must read, review, and remember to help you cope with your alcoholic spouse.

1. Remember that severe alcoholism is a disease

It is very hard to believe that your spouse is no longer making an active choice to drink. However, when someone is an alcoholic, the choice to drink is no longer within their control, at least to some extent.

When problem drinking becomes severe, it is given the diagnosis of alcohol use disorder(AUD). It is considered to be a chronic relapsing brain disorder. It is characterized by the inability to stop or even cut back on heavy alcohol use even if there are adverse social, work, or health consequences.[1]

In order to fully understand this, it can be helpful to think of the way that you think of any other disease, such as cancer, heart disease, or a serious mental illness. Like those diseases, addiction is a complex disease process with biological, psychological, social, and environmental components.[2]

It is possible to make a choice to recover from alcoholism, particularly with treatment. In fact, according to a 2019 study on AUD, a quarter of individuals achieved either abstinent recovery (not drinking alcohol at all) or non-abstinent recovery (defined as asymptomatic low-risk drinking) without the benefit of treatment. However, a much greater percentage were able to stop drinking (43.2%) or cut back significantly (12.3%) if they received treatment.[3]

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), more than a third of U.S. adults who were dependent on alcohol are now in full recovery. So, recovery is possible as long as your spouse is willing. Further, that may eventually be the case, even if it isn’t right now.

However, until the individual makes the decision to deal with their drinking, the disease of AUD remains unabated.

2. Don’t become angry

Your instinct is to respond to your spouse with anger when you know he or she has been drinking. It becomes tiring to cope with the stress. At times, it may even become unbearable.

Even so, maintain a sense of peace and patience. It may help to find a friend you can vent to about your anger. However, try to avoid targeting your spouse with those feelings. It may help to continually remind yourself that what you’re really angry at is the disease, not your spouse.

Remember, a good temper is much more likely to have a positive effect on your spouse in the long run. What you really want to accomplish is recovery from the disease of alcoholism. Maintaining a positive attitude, even if you eventually have to leave your spouse, is the best way to achieve that.

3. Focus on yourself

If you allow it to, your spouse’s alcoholism will take over your life. In fact, in a 2013 study by the University of Buffalo in New York and supported by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, it was found that 50% of all marriages that involve one alcoholic spouse end in divorce.

There is nothing you can do to change your spouse’s alcoholism. That type of change has to come from within him or her.

However, what you can do is make sure you’re taking good care of yourself. Invest in your relationships with other people, with your children, and with your extended family members. Treat yourself to something you enjoy on occasion in order to give yourself a break from the turmoil at home. For instance, get a pedicure or enjoy a night out at the movies with friends. Doing these things will give you the stamina and resolve you need during this difficult time.

4. Have a simple, honest discussion but do it the right way

It’s good to talk about how your spouse’s alcoholism is affecting you, and your marriage, but make sure you choose your words carefully.

Statements that begin with “You always…” or “You make it hard to…” are only going to make your spouse defensive. Instead, choose “I” statements to convey how you feel, such as, “I’m having a difficult time sleeping at night because of the late nights you’re keeping.” Be gentle, but be firm in your statements. Above all, don’t become angry or accusing.

5. Don’t enable your alcoholic spouse or try to prevent consequences

One of the mistakes many people make is enabling their alcoholic spouses or trying to prevent consequences from occurring. This does nothing to solve the problem. Instead, it only prevents your spouse from experiencing the results of his or her actions that could eventually lead to recovery.

6. Allow your spouse to explain his or her life choices to others

Your spouse may ask you to lie for him or her or try to cover up a bad choice involving alcohol. Politely decline to do so. Remember that it is not your job to shed a good light on your spouse. Refusing to do so forces him or her to take responsibility. This may lead to a quicker recovery.

7. If your alcoholic spouse is interested in getting professional help, encourage this to happen quickly

Eventually, your spouse may come to you and express an interest in recovery. This is the time to encourage him or her to do so. You can provide website links or phone numbers to help. It is important to act fast because the determination to get help can fade as quickly as it appeared.

The bottom line when it comes to coping with an alcoholic spouse

Living with an alcoholic spouse might be one of the biggest challenges you’ve ever undertaken. However, if you follow these tips, you’ll find that you may be able to cope better.

  • remember that alcoholism is a disease
  • keep your anger at bay
  • focus on yourself
  • discuss the problem calmly, honestly, and rationally
  • don’t enable
  • act quickly when professional help is sought,

Are you living with an alcoholic spouse? What tips or advice would you give someone who is going through this experience right now?

References:

  1. Alcohol use disorder. National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohols-effects-health/alcohol-use-disorder. Accessed 12/12/20
  2. Kimball T. Is Cancer A Moral Failing? What About Addiction? The Doctor Weighs In 2020 June 14. https://thedoctorweighsin.com/is-cancer-a-moral-failing/
  3. Fan AZ, Sanchen PC, Zhang H et al. Prevalence and Correlates of Past-Year Recovery   From DSM-5 Alcohol Use Disorder: Results From National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions-III. Alcohol Clin Exp Res, 2019 Nov;43(11):2406-2420. DOI 10.1111/acer.14192. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31580502/>
       

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This story was first published Nov. 12, 2016, it has been updated for republication.

Andrew Macia

Andrew Macia Is an entrepreneur with an online business. He is also a certified drug and alcohol counselor. He has been sober for more than 10 years.

Comments:

  • Thank you to everyone before me who posted. Addiction attacks not just the user but everyone they know. we’ve lost friends, I’ve been so embarrassed, he blacks out and says I’m lying, his mother is an idiot- says he’s fine. I can relate to almost every post on here. Dr. Jekyll mr. Hyde, “high functioning” aka everyone else gets Jekyll and I get stuck with Hyde. I think what I find the worst is the rambling, the incessant talking talking talking to the point I don’t even have to answer when he asks me a question, he just keeps on talking. I’m tired, I’m exhausted, my “caring emotions” are exhausted to the point I don’t care about much now. I know you all are too, where’s the help for us? The tired, mentally, emotionally, physically and financially exhausted? Why don’t They have to tiptoe around US after their behavior instead of the other way around? It’s like being married to a three year old who happens to go to work. But who gets stuck doing 95% of the household duties? The spouse. If I don’t want to live in filth I have to clean up after myself, my husband, and Mr. Hyde, and Hyde is a slob. And I work more than him, not sure if the cleaning discrepancy is a gender thing or an alcoholic thing or both. I would lose my mind if ever I came home to a spotless house and dinner, once! It’s also my “fault” aka intelligence that we don’t have kids. I love being blamed for that one, I’ve told him for five years (been together ten) if he would quit drinking I would like to have a kid but bringing one into the world with an alcoholic spouse to me means I am signing up to be a single mom, and that’s too hard, I can’t do it. I’m already drowning I can’t imagine adding one more (huge) responsibility to my plate. I can’t afford counseling, my insurance copay is 75$ a visit. So I guess I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing trying to help myself online until I snap.

    • Wow @Vanessa – that’s like a page taken from my own life – and am sure many more out there are in the same situation. In my case, the three year old doesn’t even have a job. Although he did stay more sober when he was employed, he’s obstinate when working with others, and always makes it sound like everyone is “against him”. At one point, he also mentioned having a kid…because he thought it would help HIM straighten himself out and stop drinking! I asked if he was crazy, because at that point, we had hardly any money, and (still) have no insurance. Who knows, maybe it really would’ve straightened him out, but I largely feel that it’s an internal battle with himself, and not a valid reason for having a kid. Finding any type of real help or remedy for these situations seems impossible – probably because the alcoholic is the one who needs to find reasons to change, while we are just stuck suffering the consequences.

  • Wow. I can feel the anger, frustration, sadness and disappointment in each posting below. And I am right there with all of you. I clicked on this site to find much needed help as with all of you. I feel helpless, like most. My story: married to an alcoholic- he has past trauma and the way his brain is wired, he uses alcohol and weed to feel “normal.” With him for 23 years, married and we are both in our mid 40’s. He is a high functioning alcoholic and since he works and does things around the house, he feels he doesn’t have a problem. Although at times he says he wants to stop drinking. The issue with him he cannot stop drinking and turns from being an awesome, funny man when he is sober to an overly talkative, say anything, confrontational jerk. I call it Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde – its like I am with a complete stranger at night. I do not keep quiet on how I feel or about what he is doing, I can set him off when he drinks at night because I get so mad and dont want to deal with it. He promises to stop but doesnt – he drinks every day and lies to me about it and hides his beer tall cans. He just doesnt want to hear it from me. I have tried being quiet and watching what I say to saying whats on my mind and telling him he cant drink in the house. No matter what I do he still finds a way to drink, its the alcoholic selfish way.

    I used to drink too, and lost my parents both to alcoholism. So it is extra traumatic for me to deal with this day in and day out. For me you could say I was predisposed to being an alcoholic because both my parents had it in them and died from it. But, I was able to combat it without rehab or counseling. For me, it was my faith and my love for Jesus Christ that got me out of it. It took years for me it was not overnight. I still deal with depression and my husband’s alcoholism, but I was able to personally fight and win over alcoholism in my own life.

    I still do not know what I am going to do, for I want a divorce but then I do not want a divorce. I worry about my sanity and life and simply do not want to deal with this any longer. But, I come from divorce and I vowed to never get divorced unless he cheats on me. And I feel for my partner especially since I used to be an alcoholic and I understand the disease or selfish choices, whatever you wish to call it. That when you are in the depths of alcoholism it tricks you and you cant see it for what it is. I know I am called to pray for him and for our marriage and attack this thing with my faith. I know what I should be doing.

    But why I am here right now is due to the extreme anger I have toward my husband and what he is doing to himself and to me and our relationship. Him knowing how traumatized I was/am on how my parents died and he is still drinking. Its hard, I need help. I am going to get counseling for myself and he has agreed to get marriage counseling. He refuses to get treatment for alcoholism and said he has to do it his way. Which is not working.

    Sorry for the long post. I just wanted to thank you all for your posts, they are not for nothing. My heart goes out to you all and makes me realize I am not alone even though it feels like I am. This thing we are all dealing with is heavy. Even me as a Christian and I rely on my faith and prayers, I have to admit when things get dark and heavy with this, at times I want it to end. I wish God to please take me and I really just want to go. I check out and just want it to end, because I feel so helpless.

    But, let us not give up and if anything not give up on ourselves. We are all in a crappy situation, but we know we cannot change anyone, but ourselves. Lets take care of our mental and physical and pray and try to keep a positive outlook. May Jesus be with you.

    • For Tina, “All things work out for good for those that love the Lord” Through the trials now, this can seem like impossible outcomes, especially when we are in dark valleys. I too have a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde and I know that whilst Jekyll loves me, Hyde hates my guts! But know that there are fellow saints that struggle with you!!! I will be praying for you, your spouse and your marriage! One day, we will see Jesus and hear the words “well done my faithful servant”!! If you can, find a good church, one that believes in the Bible as the inerrant Word of God, and who believe in Jesus as having been crucified and risen because He is the Son of God and 1 part of the Trinity! Find fellow believers who believe in being there for each other, praying for one another and carrying each others burdens! Bless you and keep turning to Jesus! May His peace and comfort see you through these dark times!

    • Please don’t be delusional, by all means love the Lord and JC, but when dealing with an alcoholic spouse, you’re kidding yourself if you think faith is going to sort it out, it’s not…. I have found there’s only one person to turn to, and that’s yourself, writing this stuff on here maybe gets some frustrations off my chest, but I know nothing will change, I just have my own strength of character to put up with the abuse, it’s all I can do, praying relieves nothing, achieves nothing, we just have to be realists.

    • Gotta love the god squad.
      You should leave. Change it. Then when you do get a Jesus Tattoo, so you can keep strong. Praise be baby.

    • I am with you all in this issue I told my husband he was like Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde..i honestly feel so alone in my struggles with my husband’s drinking problem. My mental health has not been doing very well and my physical health has been really bad lately. I wake up with a stomach ache that will not go away and I believe its due from stress over all this. My husband and I are middle school sweet hearts that have been have been together for 6 years now. My family moved and I lost contact with him until 6 years ago and we have been together since. I am a home maker of the age 33 and he is the bread winner age 33 as well. We both prefer it that way but im getting off topic here..long story short..and this is hard for me to say…but he drinks a pint or a pint in a half to two pints everyday. When he does he likes to argue and I always feel like i am walking on egg shells. I have told him many times how it is affecting me and that I am hurting but he doesnt seem to get it. I just dont know what to do..he tells me I can’t help him and to let him do it but “his way” is not working. He gets angry and destructive. He has never hit me or anything but he always wants to argue and gets loud when I try talking to him about his drinking. I feel really bad that I feel this way but when he does this like tonight I just think “God please let him go to sleep so i dont have to deal with it for the rest of the night”..the really messed up thing is he wakes up the next day and doesnt even remember what he said or did. When he is sober he is caring and sweet and helps anyone that needs it. He would give the shirt off his back if someone didnt have one and animals adore hi. He is always helping stray dogs and a hurt animal.. but then when he drinks he turns into a hateful, angry, destructive, unforgiving butt hole that I cant stand to be around and I have told him this on numerous occasions. I understand the weight gain issue, I have gained over 30 pounds, have stomach issues and sleeping problems and I wont go into my mental state. I love him but lately I get this anger that builds up so bad i want to hit him and I have never even been in a fight before I do not like confrontation and if given the chance will look for a peaceful solution.. I don’t keep my feelings bottled up very well. If something is wrong I tell him but I feel like i am walking on egg shells more and more. We dont really have any other issue except his drinking. I use to social drink but I stopped completely so not to be a hindrance on my husband. I even take all his liquor bottles grom the day and night before and throw them away every morning before he goes to work thinking it might be a trigger if he sees it but it doesnt seem to matter. I apologize that this is such a long lost I just dont know what else to do and I am hoping venting on here will help and I hope someone can give me some information on where to turn for support. I really hate it when he drinks and drives…he knows it bothers me really really bad and still does it. I will even hide his keys from him but if i dont give them to him he destroys the house looking for them. He always wants to go up the street to buy more 100 proof vodka and tells me he wont drink the whole pint he only wants one more shot and then he end up drinking the whole pint all in a few minutes anyway. He admitted to me today he was an alcoholic but not ready yet to stop drinking. He said he is bored with life and always wants to alter his perception. He smokes weed too and i thought at least weed doesnt make him a hateful arrogant turd but something about him drinking just brings out the worst in him. I even told him i want us to move out of Detroit and move back to the country hoping he wouldnt want to drink so much. I think it has something to due with the area we are in but im not sure. Anyway i hope someone will reach out and talk to me. I have been depressed over this for a long while now and now i stomach issues over all this and I want to sleep all day just so i dont have to deal with it. Its really taking a toll on me.

    • Angel, I am so sorry to read your story which is very familiar to so many of us who have commented here. You say you are 33. I am 65 and I hope that when you get to my age you will not have been through another 3 decades of pain. I always hesitate to give other people advice but I do have some suggestions for you. Firstly, and I know we are all sick of hearing this, try to accept that you cannot force him to stop hurting himself and you. Secondly start focusing on yourself and your own future which may or may not include him. You say you are a homemaker and that you both prefer this but this means you are imprisoning yourself and making it easy for him to carry on with his current behaviour as he has a personal in cook, cleaner and nurse always available. You need more than him in your life and you need to earn money so you can be independent of him. So start planning to get back to work and it will probably be best at first if you do not tell him you are doing this. If you need qualifications look for courses that will make you more employable and look for organisations that help women to get back into the workforce. This will probably be easier if you stay in Detroit as back in the country there may be fewer opportunities. Keeping telling yourself “I am only 33” which means you have plenty of time to build a new life and, if he can’t change, to find yourself another man and to have children but don’t delay starting your planning as time passes quickly. Stay strong and good luck x

  • Just been reading the comments on here. I’ve been married 35 years, some good, some bad, my wife has been drinking for probably 28 of these. Gradually from 1 glass, slowly increasing to god knows how much now. Anyone who is living with an alcoholic in denial will know its like living with a time bomb. She totally believes that she doesn’t have a problem and that it’s all paranoia on my side. I lost my mom 2 years ago, now receiving counselling. How am I supposed to cope with the selfish attitude of her drinking as well as my own grief. People say don’t get angry, but how do you not knowing that they are killing themselves and there feels like there is nothing you can do to help. I am at the end of my tether and feel like there is only one way out. Bye

  • I used to tell myself just talk to him tomorrow when he’s sober. He used to be apologetic about his alcoholic anger but now he just says I don’t want to talk about it gets drunk then is angry with me. If I give into his anger it will destroy me I must learn to ignore the hurtful curses he gives me when drunk. It is hard to live with someone who is two people. Jekyll and Hyde. I will try the advice in this website because ultimately you cant argue with someone who is drunk. Reading these comments I know I’m not alone. And sometimes it wouldn’t matter if your the Dali Lama if they want to lash out they will. Time to build the invisible armour shield when you discount abuse for just drunken ravings. Peace to you fellow suffers.
    Maz.

  • I’m living with an alcoholic spouse that is killing me slowly. I feel nothing but despair and defeat. At 52 years old, I never thought my life would end up like this. All I do is work my ass off because he’s out of work more than in work and bills have to be paid. So when I come home from work feeling exhausted the last thing I want to deal with is a completely inebriated asshole. I’m so beyond embarrassed I can hardly look at my neighbors. My friends have all but left my life and I don’t dare invite anyone over because I never know when he’s going to be drunk and nasty, actually a complete asshole! He has no friends except one friend that he drinks with that doesn’t even want to hang out with him most of the time. I have two friends left who will actually talk to me on a regular basis. They won’t even come to my house because of him. He’s physically, mentally , emotionally and financially abusive. I’m done being a punching bag and feeling like shit about myself because of his disease. I’ve tried everything short of having him committed against his will. However, that may be coming soon. I know his liver is failing and he’s only 46. He doesn’t care about anything or anyone. I can’t even go away for a day because he won’t even take care of our dogs. He gets so drunk that he has no recollection of the previous day or anything that he’s done or said. I just wish God would take me now. This is a horrible feeling not having any peace in my home, not being able to relax after work. Having to come home and then cook, clean, take care of the three dogs, do all the laundry, dishes, and take care of everything else with very little help. No matter what I do, it’s all in vain because nothing will every change. As I’m typing he is sitting across the table and chastising me. I’m completely defeated and death would be welcomed. I have a grown son who rarely comes over because of my spouse’s drinking. I have to go to work everyday wondering what bar will the car be at today? Is there any money left in our joint account or did he drink it all away before I can make the bills? I’m struggling so bad that I’ve often thought that suicide may be a solution for me. I love myself and my family too much to ever be that selfish. I feel as though he won’t wake up one of these days and It initially makes me sad, but after thinking about it for awhile it may be a relief.

    • My story is so much like yours. I’m so lost with all of it.

    • I identify with you immediately because I have dogs and no children and my partner is an alcoholic. He is a pissed out drunk every single day of our life. Been with him for 25 years. He bring his drunk friends every single day and all I do is cool for them and I am the only female among drunk men. He gives me no peace. Every single night he has heartburn and vomits and coughs his guts out and I have to stay awake because if I don’t he abuses me from morning till night for months on end. No exaggeration. My dogs are stressed and upset and I love them more than anything else in the world. I have decided to retreat into my shell by only doing everything that he asks and not communicating with him about how I feel because I know that he has no feelings and he is heartless. I feel so bad for wishing that something would happen to him but I can’t take it anymore. I have no love for him all is feel is anger and resentment and bitterness. I have to keep quiet to keep the peace because I have no where to go and he is a violent destructive bully that only shouts and screams and fights. I wish I could never open my eyes again . At least I know I will have some peace and I will be with my dogs and my mum( she is 82). Or I just wish he could find another woman so I can have an excuse to leave but I will die without my dogs.

  • I have been married 43 yrs to a severe alcoholic. Oh sure he was dry for a long while but is back at it right where he left off… He went into shale only to come out and stop again only made it 6 most this time around and has continued daily to drink. He sobers up only when he knows Ill be home from work I can’t tolerate this behaviour any longer. I have asked him to leave and he digs his feet in and tells me to get out he isn’t leaving HIS home.. I see where your calling this a disease. Ha. well I have a disease also its called cancer, my life isn’t turned upside down in a bottle. I had to get some help for my disease. Sad to see he has the choice to stay sober and feels its ok to make me continue to have more stress then I can stand. Im miserable and have a lot of things to work out with me before I can find my peace Im also an enabler. when I needed him the most he chose his bottle to over helpings so much for 43 yrs a person you were to look up to one that was to be there for you one that was to be the strong person well that surely didn’t happen. Im the one taking care of the household and my disease and I get no help out of him I come home e to daily a drunk some one that cant even get up and walk straight his drinking had caused him to have 3 serious accidents so far. I have come home to 2 inch gash over his eye then next day he fell again and his entire face was black and blue and. just 2 days ago drunk again he sliced his finger to the bone came home from work to find a note he was at the hospital. So I ask how much more does it take to get away from some one like him why cant I make that move. I have a very serious disease Im battling also but at least Im battling it,. So you may all call his a disease but geez when do they help themselves.

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