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:

  • Agatha, my feelings exactly. I love my partner. He was an alcoholic when we met 12 years ago – I thought I could save him (imagine that!). He only drinks in evenings but he gets drunk every day. He is never violent but he loves being a nuisance. Days when I could really do with his support are the very days when he will get more drunk and be a burden.
    I have read through the advice here and all I can think is: are you serious? My partner has had my firm support for over 10 years and he is only getting worse. He has just burnt our dinner in the oven. I turned it off and took our dog out. While I was out, he turned the oven back on. Our dog has an infected wound on her neck. The only time I touch it is after I scrubbed my hands clean. I caught him in time before he touched her wound with dirty hands. That’s after telling him several times not to do it because it would make things worse for her. The advice about not preventing the consequences? The only time I did was when he wanted to cycle back home completely drunk in the middle of the night and having to cross a main road on his bicycle.
    Living with an alcoholic doesn’t necessarily mean being exposed to violence. My partner has never raised his hand at me. But just like you Agatha, I have used foul language with mine, and have thrown objects at him
    I knew they wouldn’t hurt him, but I wish I wasn’t driven to the point when I am so frustrated that throwing things at him or telling him horrible things is the only way to vent my anger.

    • My husband is exactly same. Over it tbh.
      Over being the dad the mum and the taxi

  • I feel the same and its so difficult for me because I am new here … I came far from the other side of the world to get married and live with him here .. he was a good person, caring and responsible until disaster come when his father died and was followed by his twin brother a few months after that. it really shook him up and from then on he started to drink and get drunk. I have no friends, family and I don’t know many things here, life is miserable and I never thought it would happen to me here .. sometimes, I feels i just want to leave, but leaving would feels as bad as staying … who will take care of him and our dogs and cat if I leave … I don’t know why I let him ruin my life, I feel like I’m trapped here … he should be someone I can rely on but instead I have to strugling alone and wake him up from his addictions .. i don’t know whats gonna happened if he lost his job and i unable to work here.. 😔

  • Thank you very much priest of love priest kala for helping me anyway, told me that he was no longer interested in marriage, I could not say what leads to this cause, we never had a real fight that could lead to such a decision. I was much worse than I could not continue. One afternoon, I was at home talking online with a close friend, reading an article, and seeing a comment about a married woman. It really struck me because I never thought it was possible, I thought and tried. So I did whatever he asked me and after the last seven days my husband came and asked me to forgive him that he wanted us to meet and that he now has more than five years. now we are a happy family. I am really grateful for this help for what it is for me, I mean her kindness.

  • I’ve read through a lot of these comments. I too am at the end of my rope with my wife. We’ve been married less than a year, but have known each other/dated since Jan 2016. She’s been good for months, then WHAM it’s a constant struggle. I will try to do the “detach with love” but I don’t see any specific examples. I don’t even want to be around her. Even now as I type, she’s out getting more alcohol. I know getting angry at her only makes things worse and causes a worse confrontation. I am resentful, everyone tells ME I have to go to meetings. I’m not the one with the problem. She promised me when we got married, she had this beat. She’s already had a DUI, totaled her brand new car, had an interlock device (which as been removed). She has other lawsuits against her, but she continues to drink and hurt the ones that love her. She’s lost a few jobs, and I fear, she’s going to lose the current one too. I need help NOW.

    • HEY JOHN I AM IN THE SAME BOAT YOU ARE IN I WISH I HAD THE ANSWER BUT I AM AT A LOSS I WANT TO LEAVE HER BUT I DONT KNOW HOW

  • She’s drunk again and wants sex. Passes out after an argument, wakes up and like nothing happened wants sex …..repeat….repeat, what the hell do I do? Love her not leaving.

  • Very familiar advice to spouses of alcoholics and very, very frustrating! Don’t get angry??? yes I try that sometimes but the next day I will explode and be screaming abuse at him. I never thought I would hear such language and vitriol coming from my own mouth and directed at the man I have loved for nearly 45 years. It makes me ashamed and exhausted and god knows what the neighbours must think! He has never been violent to me but I have recently hit him and there are days when I just want to hurt him. His disease is turning me into a monster! I do not have tips or advice to offer to others, I wish I did, I’m lost and I feel so sorry for the rest of you who are in a similar situation. I hope things get better for you.

    • I know how you feel. My wife starts drinking wine in the morning and then through out the day. I have tried everything, today I blew up at her. I came home from shopping for groceries and broth on the stove was boiling and she is in another room taking a nap. It really pisses me off the way she hurts me with her behavior, have been married for 41 yrs and this has been off and on for 30 yrs. I feel like I am at the end of my rope.

    • Maybe the only way out is on the end of a rope… you could be me, your description is my life as well, if I left home my wife would never cope on her own, she would just keep drinking till she has another seizure, that would probably be the end.

    • MB: Please get help. There is light ahead, and you can find it. Please call the suicide hotline. You are on a hard road, but there are people who can help you. You are the author of your own story.

    • Just want to let you know I guess I’m considered a monster to because it’s doing the same thing to me I’m going through exactly the same thing!!!

    • I have become a monster too!! I’m going through the exact same thing!!! I will say this it feels so good to know I’m not the only one feeling these horrible feelings are used to not even curse or get upset like this it’s unbelievable how it does affect the other partner it’s really hard because I feel like it’s not my problem so why should I suffer and have to babysit and go through all of this but at the same time I can’t leave because I do love him it’s been 13 years it really does make you feel confused and I’m usually someone that’s on point and I have direction right now I’m just a mess sitting on the couch watching my life fade away and feeling ugly and fat because I’ve gained about 30 pounds I don’t know what to do I’m currently looking for help but again why should I be the one having to add more to my plate huh

    • Laura, if it’s been 13 years you are probably still relatively young, please don’t accept that your life is over. I know you are worried by the weight gain, I eat when upset and depressed too, but 30 pounds isn’t so much. Currently my life is much better, it may be temporary but he’s been sober for two weeks. I eventually, after many many years, put my wedding ring on one end of the table and a bottle at the other and said choose. At first he kept saying I want both, like a little kid, but after several days of me crying all the time and the bedroom being locked at night things changed. I just hope it lasts this time. Look after yourself x

    • I’m trying Agatha I’m just getting so weak and I am such a strong woman I’ve never been with somebody with this problem I have no family members that I’ve had this type of problem I drink on occasion so it’s hard for me to relate and understand I have had a rough life too but I don’t Use cigarettes alcohol drugs as a healing point I don’t understand but it’s not that I’m not wanting to understand I just don’t know how to fix it or what to do I know I can’t change him he hast to want to help himself but it’s just crazy to me how I always try to talk about it and he gets an attitude I try to read about it and help him we’ve been to numerous doctors after his head injury he wants to continue his life as if everything is like before his accident So not only am I dealing with a head trauma Spouse but he makes me feel like I’m the bad guy when I try to tell him it doesn’t do him any good to drink it’s hurting me it’s affecting ourI feel terrible because I want better things in life I want to travel I want to be the person I used to be I want to have friends I want to go kayaking I want to do things and I just don’t want to go with him because it’s always about drinking and then he is not the person that I’m in love with I honestly feel that if he can’t get help we won’t last I’m 47 I feel as if I have wasted the best years of my life 😒

    • Laura, I will resist the temptation to advise you to leave as only you can decide if that is what you must do. However, you are not “the bad guy” for wanting to help him and for wanting more out of life and 47 is not so old. Since retiring I have met several couples who had lost their partners through divorce or death but then met and married new partners in their 60s or 70s and are now extremely happy. Good luck x

    • When you go out together as you mentioned it becomes about drinking. Do the friends that you both are engaging in having a few drinks around a campfire and he joins them? I still don’t understand why most women have a problem if their husband has a few drinks at night, in his own home and not endangering anyone? If he is not abusing you, or missing work or creating any other problems why does it bother you if he has a few drinks at night? Is it just the fact that he’s “drinking” that bothers you? Do you feel that in some way that by him drinking and getting a bit tipsy that he’s doing something that you feel you are not part of? Can you explain in concrete terms how your husbands drinking is adversely affecting the quality of your marriage? You say that you want to go out and do things like kayaking. Is your husband sober the majority of the day? Have you asked him to take you out kayaking? I don’t mean to be disrespectful, it’s strange how you sound ready to throw your marriage away without actual any “damage” to you.

    • When you go out together as you mentioned it becomes about drinking. Do the friends that you both are engaging in having a few drinks around a campfire and he joins them? I still don’t understand why most women have a problem if their husband has a few drinks at night, in his own home and not endangering anyone? If he is not abusing you, or missing work or creating any other problems why does it bother you if he has a few drinks at night? Is it just the fact that he’s “drinking” that bothers you? Do you feel that in some way that by him drinking and getting a bit tipsy that he’s doing something that you feel you are not part of? Can you explain in concrete terms how your husbands drinking is adversely affecting the quality of your marriage? You say that you want to go out and do things like kayaking. Is your husband sober the majority of the day? Have you asked him to take you out kayaking? Strange how you sound ready to throw your marriage away without actual any “damage” to you.

    • Joe- i had to laugh a little about your post. Mostly because I find myself interrogating myself with that kind of thinking, I ask myself why his drinking bothers me so much? What’s it hurting? All guys like drinking maybe it’s not that big of a deal? Here’s my answer…. first, when my husbands drunk I hate his personality! He’s rude, embarrassing, immature, loud, confrontational, reckless and annoying. Secondly, when I can’t stand his personality I don’t enjoy his company let alone want to be sexual in anyway! Third, I don’t enjoy raising my kids by myself and hearing them cry because “daddy never wants to do anything with us”. ( alcoholics only enjoy activities that involve getting drunk) so no trick or treating, no apple picking, no zoo, no hiking ect…. I want a friend, lover and partner. Not a foolish, slobbering drunk. And yes a couple beers by a campfire would be wonderful…not 6 tall 7&7’s in 2 hours.

    • Most of the advice you find online is honestly complete BS, and doesn’t work at all when dealing with alcoholics. I hear all this nonsense about “not getting angry” and you’re absolutely right, how can you NOT feel resentful and angry, once you’ve reached wit’s end?!
      Good support systems don’t just appear over night. I basically have nobody, and even if I did, it wouldn’t make his drinking problem magically go away. Like someone else said in the comments, it isn’t ME who needs to be wasting time going to meetings. I already work, plus operate a small home business, and am too exhausted at day’s end to even exercise. It’s all I can do to cook a semi-healthy dinner, which of course, alcoholic husband does not eat because he’s too f’d up. I hear all this nonsense about “not getting angry” and you’re absolutely right, how can you NOT feel resentful and angry?!

      I also see things like “have a good support system”, or “find ways to take care of yourself”, and the ever-popular “don’t ever let the alcoholic change who you are”. Quite often, all of that is impossible when you’re living with a drunk.. He’s unemployed and has a slew of health issues, most of which stem from his drinking. He says he wants to taper down, but never puts in the effort. I’ve tried every type of encouragement, beratement, anger, peace, love, lack of love, silence, entertainment blah blah… nothing works, because he clearly does not want it to work. Every ache, pain, sadness, happiness, song, event, etc make him want to drink.

      And “don’t let a loved one’s alcohol abuse change you”?! That’s the biggest joke of all! It’s impossible to not live in constant stress, fear, worry, or suspicion. If alcohol is not present in the house, I need to either go buy it to shut him up, or leave the house and wander around town until 10pm when he finally goes to sleep. I can’t stay in peace and quiet in my own house, or handle my home business work without him constantly hounding me, or pounding on the door, until I buy alcohol for him. I also like alcohol, but rather than drinking daily, prefer having a few drinks on Friday or Saturday after a long work week. However, I can’t even keep 1 bottle in plain sight, I need to keep finding new hiding places for it, lest he searches all day and gets drunk while I’m at work. By the time I get home, he’s a slurring blathering fool who then tries to lie about drinking.
      He thinks AA is useless (and I kind of agree) because it focuses on all this religious business, and telling other people about your drinking issues. He actually went to a similar program for a different substance abuse problem 20 years ago, and said it did nothing but allow him to meet a bunch of other people who were even more addicted than himself. I think psychiatry may help him get to the root, so maybe that’s the answer. He’s one of those who needs to be held accountable by other people (but not me), and it often feels like if is left alone without a companion all day, he does nothing but want to drink. The man is 45 years old! I should not feel like his mother, or babysitter, or nurse; yet somehow I end up being all 3 in some sick rotating cycle.
      Ugh sorry for the long rant, I just feel so absolutely done with this, and can find no viable answers online for what to do!

    • I totally agree with you. There is no way that you cannot and not supposed to feel angry. They make you hate them and they bring out all the bitterness. They are liars and selfish human beings. I cannot believe that everyone that has written in is experiencing the same thing that I am. It’s comforting to know that all alcoholic s behave in the same way. My partner drinks to a point of liver failure and until he has a rash all over his body and then he will decide to stop and go to the doctor or spend a fortune on meds at the chemist all in the while I have to constantly be his fucking nurse day and night with no peace. He will stop only to feel better and then go back to it . It fucking enrages me because I feel used and abused by him all of the time. I am at his fucking beck and call 24/7. And I am the one who is always saving him and he knows and I know that he takes full advantage of that. Sorry for the language.but my level of frustration is so high.i don’t tell him anything. I don’t confide in him and I share nothing will happen him. He lies to my face and make me smell his mouth to prove to me that he didn’t drink. I feel as a Christian God has got no love for me and he is his favourite because he allows him to get away with everything. I know I am not a bad person and I look after my pets and everyone else. I try to do the best that I can to be good and kind which is more than I can say for him. He is heartless and an abuser and he is only good to those who do not deserve his goodness.the only thing I do is just wait for him to pass out FOR A WHILE ONLY so I can get some peace. Then the nightmare starts all over again.

    • Wow, Sesh. Your frustration sounds similar to mine. At this point I see my husband, 98% of the time, as a drunk. I get so angry and I have tried to watch my words but the anger just comes out. He thinks he is handling his liquor and stance but now after three drinks it shows all in his eyes.

      I have started to leave him alone during his private drinking fiesta and then soon after he’s passed out on the sofa or bed. Sad to say this is my peace time. But what I really hate is the need he feels to take a shower when he can barely stand. Then I have to stop what I am doing to pick him up off the shower floor or bathroom rug.

      I didn’t sign up to marry a drunk. I have expressed my feelings and my limits but yet, he doesn’t care. My vows sad better or for worst but how much of the worse am I to take?

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