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?


  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.


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    • Editor note: We removed identifiers for this so-called voodoo man but published this to make the point: DO NOT EVER DO ANYTHING LIKE THIS. NOT ONLY IS IT ILLEGAL BUT IT WILL NOT SOLVE EVEN ONE OF YOUR PROBLEMS. Call a therapist instead or join Alanon.

  • Hello, I have been married for 17 years and my husband has a good side however he is a functioning alcoholic, and has been for about 4 years now. Due to arguments in the past about his drinking, he now hides it. I find empty cans of cider all over the house and garden. He drinks on his way home from work and you can tell as soon as he walks in, he is very moody and irritable and makes excuses to keep going to the shop so he can have a drink. I have tried everything in the last 4 years and it has totally changed the marriage. I feel like his mother, like I can not have a drink with him on a Saturday (I drink once a week). He can be so loving when sober but very selfish when drinking. At the weekend, I had enough and asked him to leave so he has gone to stay with this sister, who is also an alcoholic. He has been saying for the 10000000th time he promises to change however did not do to the AA meeting today, and is still in denial. Think I am fighting a losing battle. Its very difficult to not have him at home, I do love him but I need to find the strength to stay strong. Any tips? I am trying to remain focused on me and the children but can not get it out of my head

    • Always remain calm when ever you want to talk to him about his drinking problems , try to go on you tube and watch few videos on the supplements an alcoholic needs to be taking to be helping him reduce the way his drinking it , you will be shocked when you start giving him all the supplements he will reduce the in take of the alcohol, the after that need to start telling him when is more of him self about see his GP so he can still help him with the medication that will make him to stop completely . I hope this helps

    • Claire,
      I am living the same life. Tired of being in the position of his mother, and I read not to enable, but I am sick to think he is drinking and driving on the way home and could hurt someone… a child, a mom, a dad. We have been doing this for 2 years and I don’t know what to do anymore. My daughter said if she found out he was drinking again, that my granddaughter can’t come stay with us. My heart is ripping apart. Ok, it’s a disease, but he is choosing not to recover. He keeps saying that it is not about me, but it is affecting EVERYTHING about us! I wanted to be married to him until I died.. and now I wish sometimes God would allow one of us to die, so this would end.

  • Never stay with an alcoholic it will damage you emotionally. The longer you stay the more damaged you become. It will hurt to leave but you have to do it to take care of your needs. I was broken when I left I was ready to commit suicide because I felt so worthless. I invested all my time and emotional support on him. I believed he would heal with my help.
    His father was an alcoholic and he was an alcoholic from the age of 14. I met him when he was 50. He was in debt his friends were the other alcoholics in the pub. It was so embarrassing to admit I loved this man and my self esteem was so low I let him treat me so badly. I still love him but would rather live with the pain of a broken heart than watch him drink one more beer. Walk away for your sanity. God give me the serenity to accept the things I can not change the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference. If these experts can’t cure alcoholism than how the hell do you think you can. God bless you all

  • How are you supposed to “take care of yourself” when your life is literally consumed by his selfishness? When you are either dealing with him, cleaning up his mess or steeling yourself in preparation for his next mess

  • So basically I am supposed to endure Jeckyll & Hyde until HE decides to stop being a selfish child & to be a responsible adult? IF he decides? Meanwhile my daughter & I are absolutely miserable & have to put up with his screaming & cussing, threats & horrible behavior???? It’s even more difficult bc as so many of you have stated – everyone else in his life mostly has to deal only with Dr Jeckyll – so no one truly understands the monster that lives just below the surface.

    • Wow I agree with you 100 %. This article suggests doing things that are extremely difficult to actually do. Living with an Alcoholic is absolutely horrible.

    • My husband is a good person with a good heart who know God is real he loves me but he drinks a lot he use to drink every other day but he drinks every day I gave up a long time ago I can’t help him he have to help his self I use to be so worry about him but now I don’t I gave him to God

    • Sounds exactly like the life my daughter and I are living. Been married for 15 years. He is the nicest person in the morning and then will start drinking about noon. By 4:00 Mr. Hide takes over and we spend the entire night absolutely miserable. He is obnoxious, vulgar, short fuse, and gets to the point where he can’t remember what just happened 5 minutes ago. He demands all of this attention and it just ruins the damn night. He will eventually get to where he is falling down and can’t stand up and will eventually pass out. If I’m really lucky, he will then wake up a few hours later and pee on something. Just awful!

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