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:

  • After reading the comments I’ve been through what most on here are going through. Been with my partner just over a year! Feels like 10! I’ve tried everything but nothing works. Anger has built up, I’m not someone who swears and have been described as placid, however I’m at the end of my tether. He disappeared for a few hours last night and spent over £100. First he apologised and now he says there’s nothing wrong with his behaviour. I’ve just kicked him out! He has done this before twice and left me here by myself for weeks with no money! Enough is enough. It’s a choice he makes and he can live with those choices. I will not ruin my life because he DOESNT want to change. I’ve heard sorry time and time again but weeks and months later the same cycle. He even deliberately causes arguments so he can leave and have Alcohol and then blames me! Also found out he is taking drugs aswell. A new addiction to deal with! I don’t think so. My advice to anyone here is to put YOURSELF first. I love myself more than I love him and will not let him take me down with him. It’s very hard living with such an individual. My love and respect goes out to those who’ve lived with this for many years as I could only cope a year! He is disrespectful, rude, forgetful, emotionally abusive, brakes promises, abandons, lies, wastes money, swears, laughs in my face and the list can go on! How can a person not get angry? Angry at allowing this to happen to yourself, angry at believing there will be change but nothing changes, angry because your SO deep down is a loving caring person but chooses to throw their life away and all you feel is helpless. I’m crying as I write this as I have been left with no choice but to end the relationship. Someone mentioned it being genetic however no one in my SO family drinks and all have stable jobs! He told me he started drinking in his late 20’s as he enjoyed it and 20 years on he is an Alcoholic! Genetic I think not! Choice he makes.

    • I really no how u feel I’ve just took my stuff after 5 years we went out tonight and in front of my not his children he was flirting with a women he works with and touching her leg when we left I soon give it to him he said he’s done nothing wrong I’ve heard that for 5 years finding texts chatting up staff where he works well Im loving to the core but I’m done with loving someone who don’t love me the way I deserve to be loved I’m better off alone

    • My partner is drinking 8 cans a beer a day 2 before work and 6 when he gets home more when he’s off work

    • I have been married to my husband for 33 years. He has always been a big drinker he would come home from work and drink a 30 pack of beer all by himself night after night. His drinking always bothered me, but over the past two years it has been bothering much much more. I was very busy with our 3 daughters when they were young so I think that is how I got through all those years. Now they are all over 21 and now have grandchildren. He drinks every night tries to hide it, really after 33 years I know when you have had a shot. I feel sad, lonely and unworthy. We talk about 30 minutes in a whole week, because I get up early so I can see and talk to my sober husband before work. He is selfish its all about him, what money gets spent on, what we are doing, we never do anything I want, if drinking isn’t involved then we are not doing it. Like you my husbands also hangs on other women or has to touch them if we go out, and if I say something to him he says, I have known her for years, I grew up with her. O, you did they why after 33 years if you are such great friends why have I not met those women? I dont sleep at night because of the drinking, my whole day revolves around his drinking, it is always on my mind. I have a hard time thinking about anything else. I feel his alcoholism controls my life. My opinion is I dont think alcoholism is a disease it’s a choice, sorry. People get addicted to smoking and we don’t say they have a disease they have a choice. My Mother had a disease its called cancer and she didn’t have a choice, she didn’t walk into a store and pick up a bottle of cancer. Well there is a lot more to my story, however Im looking for advice on how to deal with the alcoholic that doesn’t even know I exist.

    • My husband has been sober for 5 months after 20 years of daily heavy drinking. I am so proud of him for that! For years I dealt with him passing out random places, stumbling around with the children watching, staying up until wee hours of the morning, then whining and wanting me to hold him the next day because he didnt feel good, forgetting things that happened the night before, watching porn, calling sex lines, the list goes on. He then did some things so horrific that I made him leave. That is when he vowed to stop drinking. He said all the things he did was because of the alchohol and he would never touch it again. He said his family was more important than drinking, so I let him come back. He did wonderful for a few months. We had the perfect marriage, he was a brand new, wonderful man that I have always wanted, and things were so great!!! Hunting season is upon us and, just as I feared, it’s a huge trigger. He’s struggling. Pouting because he wants beer. Has convinced himself that he can drink casually. He’s upset with me because to him I am the reason he can’t have a drink. He hates that I’m making him choose his family or alchohol. I need advice on what to do. I’m wearing down, as I feel that I’m fighting a losing battle. He hasn’t drank, but he is becoming resentful towards me because I am making him choose me or the alchohol. What do I do? Stand my ground? Let him go drink? I feel my marriage is being ruined with or without the drinking at this point. He refuses to go back to counseling, and thinks AA is stupid. I’ve heardabout Al-Anon and wondering if I should go for myself. He says we are arguing even while hes not drinking, and doesnt understand that it’s because he wants something that has ruined our family. I cant understand how he would ever want it again after what it caused, but I’m not an alcoholic, so I will probably never understand that. I pray and pray and pray for God to intervene, and I’d appreciate your advice and prayers as well. I said all that to say HELLLLLPPPP!!!!!

    • You need to focus on you . Your family, your happiness and not on him and his crap. He wants to live like that tell him that is entirely up to him. Tell him if thats what he wants to do with the rest of his life and live like a drunk , it’s his life. . his decision. You focus on you . You tell him that you aren’t concerned with what his decision is either . That you wont clean up after him anymore if that’s what he wants. You need a hobby, and to change focus. Our significant other’s are not are happiness. We need to make ourselves happy! Take care of you feelings and emotions and remember this is our only time here . I am changing focus and starting to do more things for me. Avoid using harsh words and just smile and wave. he will be confused and you wont have the guilt that you might be the problem cuz u said this or that.

  • I have been with my husband for 12 years, he has always drank and I used to enjoy a drink as well until I quit smoking and then at the same time stopped all alcohol. I never realised how dependent my husband was on alcohol until I stopped myself. Over the last few years he is getting worse, one day drunk one day hungover but still a “ functioning alcoholic”. I feel like I’m married to a child and he is a pathological liar.
    Just a few things he has done;
    He sold my mothers wedding ring to buy beer,
    Still a P plate driver – recently lost his license for speeding didn’t tell me kept driving got caught driving disqualified now has to go to court.
    And because he was drunk on Friday he left open my budgie cage to change her water and now she is missing.
    His stupidity is driving me insane. I’m full of hurt and resentment, I’m depressed and really unhappy. Living with an alcoholic is like living in a nightmare.

    • Louise After the night I’ve had moving all my life at 930 pm I’m laying here awake and that made me laugh I no it’s not funny but thank u I don’t feel so alone because I’ve just lost my mother

    • I’ve been with my AA (alcoholic asshole) for 32 years. The last 10 have been miserable. He is drunk EVERY night. I’ve had enough, but can’t get the courage to leave. He is hostile, short fused, I can’t say anything to him about anything without getting yelled at. Honestly, I don’t care how the alcoholic “feels”, it’s THEIR problem and they drag innocent people into it. If he drinks and drives and kills someone, or even just gets a license suspension, it going to cost ME everything I have worked for. They should change the laws so spouses can’t lose their homes, savings and anything else if the alcoholic fucks up. He got a DUI 15 years ago in another state…cost US a fortune for the lawyer fees. I’m just done. I’m embarrassed . No one close to me knows he’s an alcoholic, I don’t think he even knows. Everyone thinks he’s just a swell guy, they don’t know the truth.

    • I know how you feel everyone thinks my husband is the greatest guy, because he is so funny when he drinks. I have no support from anyone in our lives, because they are all drinkers and dont see a problem with it. I told his sister not to break out the fireball when my husband is over, so what does she do, breaks out the fireball everytime, even after I tell her how bad I have it at home. I guess my mistake to think another alcoholic would listen to me. My husband lies all the time, and he thinks I’m stupid and I am far from that. I catch him in every single lie, so what’s he do tells another lie to try and cover it up. He doesn’t know me very well after 33 years. I guess.the alcohol real destroyed his brain cells. I have recently decided to go about my own life and let him sit home a do what he does. I wont lie it hurts to know I cant spend time with the man I married, because it would be meaningless anyway. In the past we had so much fun together. All our friends would say to me you guys have such a great relationship my sister-in-law being on of them. I have a hard time finding joy in anything, it is sad to say but I dont even find joy when I’m with my 2 Granddaughters who are 6 and 9. Any advice would be great.

    • I could write the same. I thought this was a partnership, I made choices based on what he agreed to and promised… 32 years later and I’m just waiting for the ticking time bomb to destroy my life…

  • How is it possible to hold anger in?

    And why the fuck should i ?

    Just tonight he pulls down my pajama pants while im trying to cook dinner cause he’ s drunk. I tell him no as our 14 year old is 10 feet away in the next room. Gets pissed off and starts the usual “you never want sex anymore”. I have lots of sex with him did he just forget again?…no he is just drunk

    He cant maintain an erection and hasn’t been able to for the last 5 years. Sex is really not what it used to be but he still thinks the drink is not to blame…he is 44 now and has been an alcoholic since his mad party days at college.

    DUI multiple times and jail time!

    I have supported him the whole time we have been married. I moved to the US to be with him ….long distance relationship so i only have myself to blame as he kept his addiction secret for a very long time.

    He has only had a few part time short term jobs although he now has a full time job at minimum pay and STILL buys his pint of Southern Comfort to drink in the car on the way home…..when he manages to remember where he lives. Cant see him keeping this shitty job for long to be honest

    Fed up of the lies

    Fed up of the broken promises

    Fed up of being made to feel like a neurotic fool

    He has short term memory loss now i notice and gets the shakes and agitation if he stops drinking for longer than 2 days.

    Im on antidepressants and benzos as i got depression and had panic attacks ( thought i was having a heart attack, thought i was dying) so my battle with his addiction is ruining my own health and happiness and it’s affecting our kiddo which is not fair so yes im angry and no i wont be holding any of my anger in.

    I dont drive in the US and we live in the arse end of nowhere, surrounded by cornfields, i work from home so i am lonely and i am alone apart from the kiddo.

    All my income goes to everything apart from his car and gas, right now i cant afford to purchase a car. I didnt like driving much when i lived in the UK i would often catch a bus…..i was spoilt living there i realize that now

    So im stuck and not sure what to do about my husband or second child as i call him…tonight he also ripped the plastic tray out of the fridge sending all my jars and ketchups flying, broke the shelf and basically threw a wobbler cause i had chucked his beer away.

    So try staying calm through that shit is impossible while the 14 year old is upset witnessing that tantrum from his 44 year old dad.

    Calm…um no…i wanted to rip his addled ugly head off and jump up and down on him until something broke. He is turning me into a monster with violent thoughts….i just cleaned his mess up and hugged my kid instead as screaming as apparently that only makes me feel better.

    You know prior to the last few years it wasn’t so bad, it really wasn’t but now he is circling the drain and really losing the plot. He no longer tries, i think he is giving up on himself and on us and there is not a damn thing i can do that i havent already tried. That makes me angry and sad because you will never meet a nicer man than my husband when he is sober!!

    • I’m so sorry you put so much into this relationship I did too I nursed his parents while they was dieing helped him move when they died I’ve left about 5 times and 5 times he begs me to go back and he will cut down he will pay me more attention we can go swimming holidays then I go back and everything’s goes back to how it was before give him 2 weeks to go back to old ways my brain after losing my angel mum has hurt me so much I said when was the last time u put your arm around me to say come on darling no u walk through the door and I hear the can go fuck that ladies we got to start putting ourself first one life we get

    • Louise I agree. Telling us to hold our anger in isn’t the answer! Why should we? So it drives us insane? I call b.s. on that advice!

  • This was an eye-opening set of comments. One thing it made clear is how much suffering alcohol creates–though, curiously, none of that suffering is blamed on alcohol, only on “alcoholics.” Looks like the alcohol industry has done a great job shifting responsibility from its addictive product to those most harmed by it.

    Another thing these comments make clear is that, as a culture, we’ve done a lousy job explaining what an alcohol dependence is (medically, psychologically, socially) and and even lousier job communicating the range of options available to people coping with one–either their own or one suffered by a loved one. Many of the comments reflect views of addiction that are almost a century out of date, which I blame, not on the writers, but on a media reluctant to cover alcohol addiction. For hard cases like some partners described here, there are new harm-reduction methods that are far more successful than white-knuckle abstinence or AA.

    Finally, the pain and rage on this page should not be something people have to deal with alone. While I’m not a fan of Alanon’s outmoded ideas about addiction, the organization nonetheless remains a place where partners of alcohol dependents can find support. I know several here say, “Alcohol is not MY problem; why should I go to meetings?” and the answer is to help yourself feel better. The isolation expressed here is a terrible thing; why wouldn’t you want to talk to others who understand your struggles and may even have a nugget of wisdom to offer?

    • Thank you for this thoughtful comment. I agree, there is not nearly enough written about advances in the science and treatment of addiction. We have many articles on addiction written by an addiction specialist as well as one that I wrote about a new approach. Here are the links:

      1. Listing of all of our addiction articles: https://thedoctorweighsin.com/tag/substance-abuse-addiction/

      2. A company with a new approach to treating alcohol addiction: https://thedoctorweighsin.com/alcohol-rehab-app/

    • Your comment isn’t really helpful, honestly. I would love to deal with the range or negative emotions I feel as a result of my husband’s addiction, which is why I search the web. There’s no way I could do alanon- I am not codependent, and my fuse is a little too short right now to sit quietly through that kind of talk. We have been to many therapists, who all say the same thing: I have to be patient. Useless. That’s not actionable. I need tangible options.

    • I couldn’t agree more. How long are we expected two take all the abuse and sit idly by well they embarrass you & themselves in front of friends and family over and over again. When is it time for him to take responsibility for his life? Me going and talking about it with other people doesn’t change a thing with him. What needs to happen to break the pattern?

    • I normally don’t respond to responses like yours, but I actually want to help you and your spouse, so I’m going to answer your last question as well as I can. If I can’t reach you with facts and genuine concern, then we may simply be so different that I can’t reach you at all, which would make us . . . Americans, I guess.

      The help currently offered to most people with alcohol use disorders works for only a tiny fraction of the population, but, for reasons that are complex, this fact is not widely known. Researchers learn more about addiction every day, yet this knowledge rarely trickles down to the general public, who continue to believe, as you seem to, that sobriety is either: (1) a simple matter of will power or (2) a daily respite from a chronic “disease” courtesy of a 12-step program. A corollary of this belief is the equally flawed notion that, when people with addictions can’t get sober, it’s their fault.

      Regardless of how your husband’s addiction started–and researchers now agree that complex trauma plays a large part in most addictions–it has been going for many years and has, in that time, altered his brain in ways that make sobriety extremely difficult to achieve. He may need pharmacological help, and he may need to try several different medications before he finds one that helps him either quit completely or get his drinking under control. If you want to know more, visit the following website and read the three essays on harm reduction: thesoberheretic

      Follow the links in the essays before you go to your doctor for help. American physicians receive little training in any kind of addiction medicine and are generally far behind their European counterparts when it comes to treating alcohol use disorders. In my experience, people who need help must do their own research and then educate their physicians, and, yes, I can almost see the responses now, “How DARE she suggest we do even MORE!” I’ve tried to make it easier by collecting, summarizing, and analyzing the research and by linking to all my sources, but, yeah, even knowing how unfairly burdened you are, I’m suggesting you do more IF you want your partner to have a chance at getting his drinking under control.

      Actually, I take that back. I’m not suggesting anything; I’m telling you what I know in case it’s useful to you or to someone else who may be reading this exchange. But I do hope you find SOME way out of your current situation–or, at the very least, some relief in venting here.

  • Wow…reading everyone’s story is terrifying. It’s almost like having someone hold a magic mirror up and say “this is your future.” I’ve been living with an alcoholic for 2+ years. I’ve stayed with him through both in-patient and out-patient rehab. He knows how to say and do all the right things long enough for you to let your guard down and give you hope and then this thing takes over again. I’ve said many of the words I’ve read above and I’m at my breaking point. I know I can’t control him nor do I want to. I’m not his mom or babysitter. I’m supposed to be his partner. We’re supposed to be a team only I’m the only one in the ring. Guilt has prevented me from kicking him out. I don’t want to put him on the street. Strangely, he’s been doing well for the last several months. Finally, holding a job he says he enjoys. Helping me with bills and things around the house. Again, doing all the right things so I let my guard down. He disappeared Friday evening. Called at 5 hours later to be picked up. I contemplated not picking him up as I’ve done in the past with the thought being if he got himself there, he should be able to find his way back (fyi, he lost his truck because he couldn’t keep a job and pay the note). But I thought, do something different. Bring him home so he’s not out drinking all night. Maybe he’ll wake up with some clarity. By 8:30 a.m. the next morning he snuck out the same back door and was at the gas station around the corner hanging with the other drunks. I will not accept this life. I finally kicked him out…I pray that I stay true to myself. I know he’s not going to change. And if he is, he has to do it on his own. I have to take care of me. I have to start enjoying life again and not live with fear or anxiety. I want to enjoy a day/night out with friends and not worry he’s heading toward his next three-day binge. I’m tired of crying and pleading and bargaining with this disease.
    Thank you to everyone that shared their story. I can’t say this article helped but hearing from others has. I know I don’t want to spend another day, year, month living with an alcoholic.

    Lastly, to the commenter or anyone thinking what’s the problem with two or three drinks or that people are just bitching because they don’t like their significant other “tipsy”. On the contrary, I would love to be able to socially drink with my man or have a glass of wine or two with dinner, etc. My unfortunate reality, like most here, is that it never is just one or two or three. It turns into a one to three-day binge. Please be respectful. We aren’t whining about a drink or two. This alcoholism ruins lives, friendships and families.

    • I agree totally with all that you have said . My husband keeps telling me he is going to quit and get in shape ( as he has gained 35 lbs in the past year and a half ) and on and on. But then he gets a few beers in and here we go again … pulled out in front of an oncoming car and another truck and the truck beeps … and later when I confront him about it he says They had three other lanes they could have gotten in to .
      It’s never his fault . He’s been in prison for DWI before I met him . He’s a wonderful man sober … but as soon as he has gotten out of prison , I figured out , he goes right back to drinking . He fooled me big time when I met him … telling me all of these things we would do and telling me all of the right things and how beautiful I am etc etc etc . We are 3 1/2 years in now and I can’t take much more . I even find myself praying he will get pulled over for drinking and driving and they will put him back in prison just so I can get away from him .
      There is no easy answer . I hate alcohol and I wish it was never invented into a drink . I hate it .

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