7 Tips to Help You Deal with an Alcoholic Spouse

By Andrew Macia | Published 9/1/2019 157

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:

  • Wow, Many stories are similar to mine. Married 25+ years, and used to have some fun times drinking together. I’m getting older and hardly drink anymore. I like to feel good and have a clear head the next day. The past few years are driving me nuts. I refuse to go out with him anymore as it too embarrassing and he acts like nothing is wrong. I ask him to avoid drinking until we’re at the restaurant, but nope he’s already had a few by the time I get home from work. He is a good guy, always a hard worker and only drinks in the afternoon and evening, and that’s mostly every day. He wonders why we don’t talk anymore and I tell him it’s because he forgets everything I say and it’s a waste of my time and effort to bother. I cannot watch tv because he talks constantly. If I’m in bed asleep, he comes in and begins chatting up a storm and wakes me up all the time. I’m exhausted at work. I swear if I had a knife near my bed, he’d be dead! As like I see from other postings, we get our peace when they pass out. I can’t help but be angry when he acts sorry and is nice and maybe I get a sober day until it begins again. I feel better to read all the other stories and that I’m not alone when dealing with these same issues. Thank you.

    • I can so relate to you. Your story really helped me feel justified in my feelings. How stupid is that. I needed someone else to justify my feelings because my husband always says I over exaggerate and blow things out of proportion. After years and years of me losing respect for him and myself I finally want to seek help for me. If he doesn’t want to fix himself that is his problem. I am almost 50 and feel like I don’t want to waste my time. He refuses to go to counseling doesn’t think he has a problem, and is infuriated with me for suggesting I go to Alan on. He thinks because he doesn’t physically abuse me I’m not affect by his drinking. Have you sought help in any other forum?

    • Sound like Adult ADHD which my husband has. Calmly let him know he’s talking too much – just keep doing it, he’ll get it and try to stop.
      Adderall helps.
      my husband drinks every day – he accepts the limit i impose on the beers he can pour down his throat thank God. i accept i cannot change him, but i will not allow his dis-function to destroy my home or my life. best wishes and God bless
      #PrayerWorks

  • I have 4 children in which 2 are his. i’ve been with him since my 8 year old was 6 months old. I now am living in his house his mom left him after passing away from cancer. When we started our relationship he just had came out of jail for fraud . I’ve known him for years was a friend of my fathers. My father passed away 6 years ago. He has always been drinking since he got out of jail. I never honestly realized it. He’s a good man. He helps with the kids and is always home. When he drinks he is very irritable. He holds grudges about things that happened 3 weeks ago and stays angry. He no longer wants sex. Lately he has been yelling at the kids a lot. He’s 38 , im 31. I work full time an i come home cook/clean/laundry. I feel so alone. We don’t do anything special that normal couples seem to do. We never “hang out” . i mean its understandable because we have tons of kids… but i feel like the drunk him hates me. He snarles an slams the fridge and i’m always in trouble it seems. I want to cheat on him because i want more sex.. but i don’t because i love him. I dont want to leave. I am financially stable with him , and i love him a lot. I get so confused because i’m young and i know i could go be with someone else. But everyone has their issues you know. We aren’t legally married but seems like it. He’s not affectionate. He drinks in the morning while at work.. he’s an electrician. His boss also drinks and is his best friend . They all day drink and hang out. I feel like i’m not cool . I dont drink like he does. i can’t handle alcohol . .. my stomach cant handle it for whatever reason and i haven’t built a tolerance to it. I feel like i’m the house woman. I’m just there. i sleep on the couch because he denies me of sex. He’s had pancreatitis a lot of times and now take hydrocodone to deal with those stomach pains from it.What should i do???? sometimes i feel like he’s cheating on me, but then i realize its his alcohol! It’s just beer -tall cans not even hard liquor.

    • I feel like you just wrote my life word for word !! I mean everything! Even from the 4 kids, 2 being his! Im so sorry for you but I’m glad to hear I am not alone.

    • Well i am sad to hear that i’m not alone lol. Today he says he is going to stop drinking and this week he was going to be sober. I cannot wait to see if he pulls through. it’s only the 10000000th time he’s said it. i even put him on my insurance cuz i thought he was going to get help, ended up cancelling him off of it since he never did. Being a mom alone is a struggle, on top of it … .not having that special connection anymore -it’s hard as hell. Try and focus on the kids and doing things to make yourself feel better. he will see that you are changing.. doing more for yourself. We deserve to be happy but first it has to be from within .. not from them. So on that note i plan on starting the gym sometime and getting my housework done at night to leave early in the morning to be on time for work. All of his drinking has affected me i almost feel like i don’t have a personal life. just mom. I am so happy we can spill our feeling out on this website and remain anonymous . When you talk to other people about it , they say oh just move on. Not that easy. Kris we in this together ! F them kids[not really bad joke lol] F that drunk[ not really , hope they change] -it’s time for you!

  • Hello sir please help me my husband drinking too much every day . Please help me to stop his drinking.

  • My husband drinks beer everyday after work. Binge drinks on his days off. This behavior prevents me from productive functioning as friends cannot understand how I got caught up in this disease.
    Leave, stay, walk, run who has an answer for a seventy two year old married to a 61 year old man set in his ways where alcohol is King?

    • Omg, SJ Palmer, I feel your pain! My Latino (machismo) husband is 46 and I am 65. Alcohol is king with him too. And so is going to the bar with his co-workers (I am never invited). Our libidos do not match (bad choice on my part lol). I am in tears for 2 hours before he eventually arrives home, not knowing whether he will shove or push me or start an argument. The other day he told me not to antagonize him if he comes home drunk. And that he won’t remember anything he said to me.
      I read that as, “I have no intention to change, just put up with my behaviour”! I have told him that I have a bag packed, in my car, and will go to a women’s shelter if he touches me again while under the influence. Many family members are urging me to leave him. Yes, it is tough because he makes good money and is a totally caring person when sober.

  • I had posted a couple of times previously, but I tell you what has happened, my wife has stopped drinking totally, just suddenly 5 weeks ago, I can’t believe it but it’s true, no seizures, no real withdrawal symptoms just stopped, my life is returning to normal, no arguments just a really happy situation, you may think that she was not really an alcoholic, but believe me she was at stage 4 … I guess the reason for posting this is to give hope to all those long suffering spouses, there can be light at the end of the tunnel, don’t give up hope…..

  • I just hear extreme judgement from you All and that you are Saints with No Flaws and You didn’t contribute to the person’s addiction in anyway or the stress you create so they can’t get better , no one wants to be an addict, no one, it’s a hell you could never imagine, just get over yourselves , take the log out of your own eyes first your all probably headed for Judgement day quicker than a broken person in addiction , Comments like everyone of yours is the main reason people can’t quit because the mountain
    Of blame put on us the gossip the judgement and that’s it’s all our fault is a hole too deep to ever get out of , so Poor all you , and all you’ve done and all you’ve been through, polish on your halos so they are brighter

    • It is a shame that CW decided to troll the people who have commented here. The original article addressed spouses of alcoholics and offered them advice. Many of us have responded by trying to explain that the advice, though well intentioned, is not very helpful because it is almost impossible to follow. However, it does help a little bit to be able to share experiences and frustrations with people who are going through the same horrible time as yourself, so it is sad to find someone trying to prevent this from being a safe space for sharing our pain. Sadly CW’s comments are typical of an alcoholic in that they seek to blame someone else, usually someone who cares and would like to help, and they spitefully seek to hurt and belittle that person or people in order to shut them up and to protect their habit.

    • I could’nt agree with you more. why do they always do that? its just like an alcoholic to blame everyone else. we are the only people that stick with them through all their relapses and bullshit and when we make a mistake its inconcieveable that we should be forgiven. Afterall we are always expected to forgive and forget everything that was done to us by them.if we have no one to talk to. How are we supposed to express how we feel. Atleast with this website we can communicate with other people who can identify with us.

    • Agatha your answer is spot on. I could not put it better myself, certainly I would have put it far less politely or nicely then you have did. One thing rings true with me especially, typical of alcoholic, blaming the whole world but themselves. My struggle ith the alcoholic I love continues… all the best for all of you people.

    • This is to CW….if the alcohol abuser is causing the issues, they need to fix it. Otherwise, the spouses or innocent children who are not to blame for those choices, have to scramble around to survive life with them. You are wrong!

    • Ah there’s too many sides to this, it’s not black and white.

      I’m the drinker in my relationship. I’m level 3, and reading these comments here keep me on the wagon. (2 months now)

      I am going through anxiety and depression over the past 3 years and I drink/do drugs to stop my brain hurting me.
      I realise this and I realise I need help, I’m trying to find it. But alcohol is addictive and society tells everyone to drink to manage their life, it’s a lie, like the smoking lie, (calms you etc) look how the pubs have glamorised booze, it’s acceptable to get drunk. I am having to re learn and recognise why I’m like this. I’ve learnt I started drinking to hide my real self years ago, and it worked. For years and years (so I thought) but now when I’m older all the crap is still there, I haven’t dealt with it, my dads death, or anything traumatic. You get used to hiding and dulling your thoughts inside a booze haze.

      The stories on here are so sad, alcohol can take everything from you and society then says it’s your fault for having a character fault. (Alcoholic)
      I’m currently helping my brother who’s (soon to be ex) wife is level 4 dependant and Abusive. There is no easy answer, he’s had to walk away and take the kids with him.

      Love to everyone going through tough times with all this. Remember everyone is going through a journey.

    • So proud of you for posting. Just the self awareness to hear from someone who is struggling is amazing. My husband cannot find that awareness, and swings between rare moments of honesty to denial and lies. The lying is the absolute hardest and will eventually end us. Appreciate everything you shared.

    • thankyou,
      After reading through here I am humbled and saddened by all your stories and pain.
      Love to you all. you all are going through so much.

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