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:

  • This was totally written by an alcoholic…recovered or not…. you might as well literally kiss your spouses ass

    • Absolutely. No insight at all to the damage that alcoholics do. Why the hell should their families have to tiptoe around for fear of upsetting them?

    • I think that maybe it’s because when you interact you are making things worse. Some of this made a lot of sense to me. We can’t argue with a drunk. I’m currently pissed off cause I just worked 12 hours and came home to him wasted again. But after reading this I think it’s best to wait till he’s sober. This is a pain in the butt. Like the person I love is not there anymore. Ugh.

    • Absolutely agree with that. Trying to be patient with an alcoholic spouse who drinks from early morning til late at night (apart from the expected blackouts which is the only time I get any peace). He is never sober enough to talk sensibly and is acting really weird now. I despair …. oh and also gets horrendous withdrawal symptoms if he goes more than a few hours with out alcohol yet he refuses to seek professional help!!

    • I agree.
      Have a pedicure to make yourself feel better? Most useless piece of advice ever. As if sparkly toes help one deal with life consuming stress and anxiety.

  • Husband and I own restaurant. Been for almost 20 years. He is unfortunately alcoholic now. How do I carry on running the restaurant. He is causing havoc. Drinking stock, if not, going out to buy the alcohol. Come back drunk at work. Sleeps in front of customers. He has accepted having a problem but sometimes deny having a problem. Won’t seek professional help. Hes not productive anymore. What do I do.

    • Stop owning a restaurant. its harsh but thats what will happen in the end. Stop now. or at least be prepared to. Tell him that. then do.
      Man im so sorry that sounds so harsh. Hope you are ok and it all works out.

  • I too am living with an alcoholic (my husband of nearly 15 years) we have 4 children together that recognise hes drinking habit. He drinks almost every night as soon as it gets dark he will keep going out to the shop maybe 6 times till he knows it’s enough. He rarely makes trouble as we live at his parents so he knows there’s a limit. he has been abusive to me physically and mentally. Many times but I’ve learned not to get in his way when he drinks. I just ignore it although I hate it. He clearly has a problem he won’t accept any advice from me. I’m just happy once he hits the pillow and starts snoring. I do my best not to wake him. It’s affecting me mentally physically and financially. I’m fed up but love him too. I feel very stuck. I just hope he can change

    • Hello Maria. He will not change unless things change. You may not realize it but from my experience, stability in an alcoholics life is in some way enabling their behavior. Keeping the same lifestyle they live in every day comfortability will not wake up an alcoholic unless something makes them wake up. Luckily my husband admitted his addiction but sadly he went and relapsed several times . But in order for him to truly hit rock bottom I had to leave him. It’s unthinkable but I was enabling the behavior because I KNEW he was drinking again and wasting his life away and killing himself and our family. He needed help.

    • Amy is right, he will not change unless things change and making things change is very, very hard. I tried begging, screaming at him, telling him that he was selfish, useless, hurting me and our kids and I even disappeared for a night to try to frighten him but these things and my anger quickly became part of the “normal” pattern. The main problem is that he refused to accept that he had a problem. He rarely drank spirits but he drank a huge amount of beer and wine and wouldn’t listen when I pointed out that the number of alcohol units added up to the same as bottles of spirits. Recently things have changed because he tried to cut down the amount he drank and this led to withdrawal symptoms including shaking, sweating, vomiting and eventually fits. He had been drinking too much for too long and his body was dependent on the alcohol. Neither of us expected the first fit and it was terrifying. I called the ambulance, the hospital did many tests and concluded it was probably alcohol withdrawal. They said he should get help to stop drinking but he decided he could just cut down a bit on his own. Three months later it happened again and this time he had two fits an hour apart. Its impossible to describe how terrifying this was, during the second fit I was certain he was dying. After another trip to the hospital he is now on day four of not drinking and taking a handful of drugs which prevent fits and keep him calm. I am hoping this time the drinking is finished for good because I think this is the last chance for both of us. Unfortunately I think he still doesn’t appreciate how bad this is for me because when someone has a fit they don’t see it or even realise what has happened. I find it very difficult to sleep now because the fits happened at night in bed and I’m afraid to leave him on his own in case he has another fit and hurts himself – I felt trapped before but this is in some ways even worse. Except for the hope that there is now an end in sight.

    • Thanks very much John P W and Janie and everyone else who contributes here for your sympathy and understanding. 3 weeks have now gone by since the fits and my husband isn’t drinking. He cheated a couple of times during the fortnight when he was supported with gradually reducing drugs but just a little bit and now he has given up completely and he says he thinks he’s beaten it. Its still early days and due to covid restrictions on our lives temptations are reduced i.e. we are not going out to restaurants or to friends houses where others are drinking. So, I’m just praying it lasts and trying to keep positive without being foolishly optimistic – time will tell. One issue is he’s started smoking, having given up 30 years ago, as he says it helps with not drinking. Its a bit worrying as he will eventually have to give that up again but oh well, one step at a time. Stay safe and strong everyone xx

  • I have dealt with alcoholism all my life and the funny thing is I don’t drink, my dad did and I Married one. We have been married come Jan. 20,21 31 years. I have come to the conclusion he will die an alcoholic, he will never stop. I tried for years to help him change and prayed daily for misery to stop. I will always have to deal with his disease but.. I have learned to do my own things. Go when I want to, make plans without him. Just started living with my rules. Basically he can kiss my ass now. I have learned to stand up for myself and dish it right back. He doesn’t like it and I really don’t care anymore. I do love him, always will be a good wife. But I know one day will come I will not have to deal with his disease anymore. That’s his choice for hurting his own health not mine. I’m happier and learned to stand up for myself because I’m not responsible for HIS actions. Only mine.

  • My husband and I have been married over 20 yrs. Alcohol has been are only issue, ever. I left once, the first time he got drunk and ran me over with a 4wheeler. He didnt remember a thing the next day. He quit drinking and I went back, took about 6 months. Few years later he starts drinking again. Problems arise… we nearly call it quits but get help instead. He promises to no longer drink. Time passes and we do a lot of talking and he convinces me he is not an alcoholic, just a mean drunk. Promises that he will only have 1 occasionally and if I ever feel uncomfortable he will stop and we will always talk openly about alchohol. Throughout the years I am frequently telling him I am uncomfortable…. 1 has turned into 1or2… that has become no more then 3…. now perhaps 4 or so if spreadout through the day and he has eaten but still… he will NEVER get drunk again. This Thanksgiving he got drunk. We had been texting back and forth all day, happy flirty little msg. I have been sick and he told me he would watch a movie and cuddle just going to spend a little time in shop with his brother first. He didnt come inside until 2am and was drunk as hell. I left, went to my moms. I dont know what to do. He finally has admitted he is an alcoholic and promises he is done drinking and he has a problem. I just dont know if I can do it anymore. I love him, always have… always will I imagine but I dont trust him and cant depend on him. I’m not sure I can ever feel the same or get back was has been broken one too many times. I need what most people never want…. advice.

    • Hi Michele, I assume you were asking to talk to the author but that is not possible. Also, we do not give medical advice or try to practice medicine on this site.

      Do you have regular healthcare? Perhaps you could contact your PCP. Or, if you are the partner of an alcoholic spouse, try contracting alanon.

    • Hi Michele. you can talk to me if you like, im not a weirdo.

      Hope you are ok.

    • Been married to my alcoholic spouse for over 20 years. He always enjoyed a drink but was kind, loving, and would go out of his way to help anyone. In the last 3/4 years his drink problem has spiraled out of control, affecting work, social, and our own relationship.

      He doesn’t work now (his choice) and drains our bank balance by drinking morning, noon and night. I have tried to follow the guidelines of al-anon but I’m not a saint and lose patience often. He has promised countless times to sort himself and when he does I have the sweet caring husband back but it never lasts.

      Every time he falls off the wagon it gets worse and I really think it’s affected his brain now. He is now demanding sex when he’s awake which makes me feel worthless. When I try to explain the reasons why I can’t he just stares for a minute or so then repeats himself. I’m in floods of tears writing this and feel I’m living with a stranger.

      His personal hygiene is rock bottom and he doesn’t care about anything except having copious amounts of drink. I also feel any love I had for him has died yet at the same time a small part of me Hope’s that he will see what he’s doing to us and try to get back on the wagon.

      Each morning when I hear the door open and close, my heart sinks into despair again as I know he’s heading for the store to buy more booze for the day (I think this is when I’m at my lowest). I have recently retired and dread to think this how my remaining years will pan out but don’t want to leave my home to live in a rented flat/bedsits. My resentment towards him grows daily …. sorry I just needed to get this off my chest. Xxx

    • Hi Janie, you sound similar to me. My husband and I have had a lot of trauma in our lives over the past 5 yrs and instead of working though this together he has taken a turn in the road and turned to drink. He went off spirits and back on spirits. He says he needs another 12 months to sort things out. He also says our love life is non existent but who wants to have sexual with someone who doesn’t shower, shave brush his teeth. He is also suffering from depression and high blood pressure. He has come off all medication and won’t seek any help or counselling Last night, he verbally abused me in writing with notes round the house. I’ve decided I’ve had enough and I’m going to move out. It might not be the home I’ve created but at least I will not have the stress, be happier and start getting on with my life. After the letters I feel strong enough to say enough is enough and I’m seeing on these posts leaving them seems to be the best routes. I’m not staying any longer and become the person who is the one who will suffer. I love him with all my heart as he is the kindest, selfless person you would meet but I’m thinking of myself. Not sure if this has helped. I’m also on the cusp of retiring Xx

    • Hi Suze, it has helped just to know there are others who understand. Hope your move goes well and good luck xx

    • Hi Janie. This sounds so familiar 😢 I can’t believe I’ve put up with this and watched it grow for over 30 years. I feel like a fool. I was so naive when I first married. Now, when I complain that’s even one of the things he accuses me of, “but that’s how I’ve always been, what’s wrong with you all of a sudden”.
      He’s now retired because his health no longer allowed him to work. I carry most of the financial burden, but I don’t want to loose my house, my family? I hate when I read about enabling, our lives are entangled, I’m not willing to fall to “rock bottom” with him, so what choice is there?

  • ******UPDATE*************

    I have decided to leave my alcoholic boyfriend who i love very much. It was Thanksgiving and my sister who just came out of rehab needed somewhere to stay for a couple of weeks until she received her first pay check from her $9.50 hour job she just started. My boyfriend agreed to letting her stay for 2 weeks. she had been there 4 days on thanksgiving and to me everything seemed to be going well. My boyfriend decided to drink all day on thanksgiving and didnt want to eat until Dinner was ready. We get to my aunts and we all start eating he said he didn’t want to eat just yet. He continued to drink-and this is just beer-budlight platinums… and after i ate he says to me -i’m ready to go-we have 2 children together. I said we just got here i don’t want to just leave yet i’d like to help clean up and he says,”get your sh*t together”, i replied,”what do you mean get my Sh*T together,” he said,” if you dont know what that means you must be the dumbest B***h in the house.” i was so upset, i said ,”whatever if you want to leave then you leave then you haven’t even ate!”- He goes home, we leave shortly after that my sister and i-and the children. I get to the house and he’s upset because i was in the car for so long sitting texting my cousin with my daughter asleep in the car seat. He yells at me to bring her inside and put her to bed,calling me names…. and gets in my face screaming at me. my sister tells the kids to come in the room with her, he gets upset and tells her to shut up mind her business next thing you know he’s grabbing her shirt telling her to get out his house and go find somewhere else to live. I then decided i didnt want that type of life for my kids and moved over the weekend. this is so very hard for me to do . One income 17$ , i have my sister who has not been working more than 3 weeks… hopefully she helps once she gets paid. I love him to death . he is completely different sober-biggest teddy bear nicest guy you could ever meet. it’s almost as if there are 2 people in him. He also told me to move out. That night he was kickin my sister broke her glasses , my sister called the police on him and the gave him a court date i guess. I am so over the drama. I was stable there- only paid 400 a month to stay with my boyfriend in utilites- his moms house is paid off. 2 bedroom studio type of home. I also have two other kids from prev. relationship who are older than my 2 younger who were with their father the night all this happened. He sometimes gets this way. .. when drinking . Upset over little things , holds grudges. i have no furniture in my new apartment now starting all over and no christmas tree for my kids. i am terribly sad. . but strong and starting over. Not repeating the going back to him pattern not even for sex. everyone please pray for me. he is not a bad person – his habbit brings out the ugly in him sometimes-and not always but when it happens the disresepct is unbearable. Name calling in front of my kids. Sometimes you have to pay for peace.

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