Living With An Alcoholic: Nobody Talks About It Outloud

Last Updated: April 10, 2020

Authored by Nena Messina, Ph.D.

Many alcoholic spouses don’t know how to deal with living with an alcoholic husband or wife. They love their partners or feel a moral obligation to support them. Exactly, as they did, when they got married. Often people stay and suffer in silence and hope for the problem to go away somehow. But that doesn’t lead anywhere. If you do nothing, nothing will change, or it will get worse for you and the whole family.
The problem is that alcohol and drugs can completely change someone. It all depends on the situation.
If the alcoholic acknowledges the problem, asks for help, and actively tries to overcome the addiction – of course, they deserve support and help.

But if someone becomes violent or dangerous and doesn’t care about the impact of alcoholism on his or her loved ones – that is a different story. That might not be the alcohol speaking, but the person. One cannot blame alcohol for everything. Even addicted people have their sober moments when they can be themselves. It is in these moments that one needs to talk and listen to a spouse. Is he or she aware of the impact or danger or his/her behavior? Does he/she truly want to overcome alcohol addiction and have a better life?

Because everyone does deserve a better life than living with an alcoholic. If the alcoholic spouse agrees – it is an auspicious sign. If both truly believe that help is needed and possible, one can get the help and work things out. A couple needs to be aware that it is not only about his or her alcohol addiction. It is about everyone that has to deal with it: the spouse, children, family, friends. Even neighbors and co-workers.

How to Live With An Alcoholic Spouse?

There are a few ways one can live with an alcoholic:

  • Don’t blame onerself.
  • Don’t lie about a partner’s alcohol problems.
  • Don’t attempt to control or cure it.
  • Don’t tolerate abusive behaviors.
  • Don’t do things that will enable a partner to drink.

Get help and education

One can do two things:

  • Get external help. Maybe one is ashamed of a household situation and sorry for a spouse. That is understandable but will hardly change anything. Especially professionals are not there to judge. They are not only used to these situations, but they are here to help people to get out of it.
  • Educate onerself. Find resources to educate Find books, attend conferences or meetings related to alcoholism. A lot of information out there on the internet, too, but be sure one reads from reliable sources.
  • Meet like-minded people. Visit Al-Anon Family Groups. These are support groups for people whose family members or friends are alcoholics. It is an excellent way to meet people in similar situations, share experience, and learn from each other.


Let’s say it again: ather spouse and children don’t deserve living in a toxic environment. That is not the purpose of marriage or family. If there is no goodwill from the addict, there is not much more one can do. No one can change people against their will. If the individual is a threat to physical safety, the rest family should move to a safe environment.

One might wonder: what if my spouse gets violent but regrets it in sober moments?

The fact is, many alcoholics are more capable of handling their life than they think. Staying In a household where their sober spouse takes overall responsibility keeps the alcoholic in a position of passivity. Most of the time, it becomes a vicious circle when the alcoholic’s husband/wife begins to keep control and accountability for the alcoholic. That might seem like taking care, but in fact, it puts the alcoholic in a position of powerlessness. He or she might easily blame the alcohol for their lack of willpower.

Should I leave my alcoholic spouse?

If an alcoholic is a threat to family members’ safety, it is strongly advised that they move to a safe environment. Through this, one is also helping them take responsibility for their actions and make them aware that they need to change.

Sometimes the best solution to break that vicious cycle is to leave the household. Don’t be alarmed: it does not mean to abandon the spouse. But it means that the alcoholic now has the best possibility to relearn living on his/her own.  Of course, one can standby, check in on him/her, and assist in various ways.

As with any addiction recovery, it will take some time, maybe months or even years. It now depends on the alcoholic’s personality, character, and choices.

Living With An Alcoholic Spouse – What Not To Do?

Every person and every situation are unique, so there is no universal method of how to deal with living with alcoholic loved ones. It is a long process, and one will need to learn to adapt to changes. One will need to change the perspective and attitude.

What Not To Do

Here are some things one should and some that should NOT do. Read them several times or print them out.

Don’t Blame Oneself

Alcoholics often try to put the fault of their drinking on other people or circumstances. Because one is the closest, they will most likely get the most attacks. Whenever an alcoholic spouse tries to tell that another one is the reason to drink – don’t believe it. Everyone has problems, but not everyone ends up an alcoholic. And that is because alcoholism is an addiction. An alcohol-dependent spouse probably feels terrible about his/her drinking too and might find any excuse for it. But it is only to make them feel better.

Remember: unless one is forcing someone to drink, THIS PERSON IS NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR THEIR DRINKING.

Do Not Cover For It

One might feel ashamed for the spouse or situation. But hiding of lying about the partner’s alcohol problem is not making it any good. It is contributing to denial. It is a reality, be right to it. Hiding it from the outside world, one creates a safe bubble for the alcoholic to continue drinking. In a way, it makes one seem approving the drinking at some point.

Do Not Try To Control or To Cure It

A family member or other close ones might surely be tempted to try everything they can to stop a spouse from drinking. Maybe one throws out or hide the alcohol, or punish him/her for drinking.

But negative incentives or punishments will not make the alcoholic stop. Worse, he/she will likely feel frustrated, humiliated, lonely, resentful, and angry. They will end up feeling even worse, and that adds another reason to drinking.

Also, one needs to know that alcohol withdrawal effects can be hazardous, so never try to put an alcoholic spouse through detoxification alone. That needs to be done in a medical setting.

Do Not Accept Inadmissible Behavior

People say or do random things under alcohol influence. However, that is not an excuse for it. One needs to make it clear if a behavior was inadmissible. Abusive conduct is not acceptable sober, nor is it acceptable when being drunk. Be firm about that. Otherwise, one will end up in an abusive, toxic relationship.

Do Not Enable Drinking

That might sound surprising: how am I enabling my spouse’s drinking if I’m suffering from it? Well, there are several ways one can unknowingly do it.

  • Denying the problem. If one does not talk about having a problem with a spouse’s drinking or accept his/her bad behavior, one tacitly approves it.
  • Hiding it from others. Covering up for an alcoholic makes one a partner in crime in his/her eyes. It also gives a message of understanding and approving, as weird as it sounds.
  • Giving a hand. Never buy alcohol or have a drink with alcoholics. Don’t cover for their If they messed up something because of drinking, let them handle it themselves after they sober up. Otherwise, one takes away occasions to assume full responsibility for their drinking.

And What Should One Do?

Look After Oneself

Most importantly, take care of oneself. It is unsure how much one can do to help with a spouse’s alcohol recovery. So instead, focus on what one can do.


What To Do

Don’t let someone else’s problem dominate one’s life, even if it’s a spouse. Watch out for their own physical and mental wellness. Besides, one might inspire a husband or wife to do likewise.

And if it gets dangerous, if a husband or wife emotionally or physically abuses family members – it is time to leave. Think about family members’ safety first.

What are the support groups for spouses of alcoholics?

There are existing support groups for families of alcoholics. These are called Al-Anon Groups. If one joins these groups, they will meet people who are also having struggles with their alcoholic relatives. They will receive the support one needed to cope with the problems.

Start Living In The Present

One married that wonderful person, and keep looking back to these golden days. But that only distracts from real life. One has an actual problem here and now. Don’t deny the beautiful memories, but don’t let them distract from reality.

Similarly, there is no point in moaning about bad choices and disappointments. Focus on what can be done NOW.

Get Help Immediately

One can offer the alcoholic spouse help, for example, in finding treatment programs. But if a partner does not want anyone else’s help – try to find professional help.

Page Sources

  1. Lima-Rodríguez JS, Guerra-Martín MD, Domínguez-Sánchez I, Lima-Serrano M. Alcoholic patients' response to their disease: perspective of patients and family. Rev Lat Am Enfermagem. 2015 Nov-Dec;23(6):1165-72.
  2. Rodríguez-Díaz FJ, Bringas-Molleda C, Villa Moral-Jiménez MV, Pérez-Sánchez B, Ovejero-Bernal A. Relationship between psychoactive substance use and family maltreatment: a prison population analysis. Anales Psicol. 2013;29(2):360–367.

Published on: March 9th, 2018

Updated on: April 10th, 2020

About Author

Nena Messina, Ph.D.

Nena Messina is a specialist in drug-related domestic violence. She devoted her life to the study of the connection between crime, mental health, and substance abuse. Apart from her work as management at addiction center, Nena regularly takes part in the educational program as a lecturer.


Leave a comment

  • Dan parker
    Hi .I just wondered if any one could help .I live with my sister and mother .my sister is an alcoholic. Has been for two years. She stays in bed and drinks everyday .been to hospital because of it and refuses help .all I want is for her to stop .she’s 28 years old but dont think she will live to see her 30s .if she dont get what she wants she gets violent. What can we do ?
  • ann
    Go to regular Al-anon meetings and if there are teenagers in the home, there is Al-ateen. Get support now.
  • Tandy Treseder
    My husband is alcohol dependent, only for around 6-8 months but so seriously the doc says if he hasn’t stopped by the of the year he’ll be dead. This has had no effect on my husband and I came home from work to find him steaming drunk, he hasn’t eaten properly for about 4 weeks. I don’t know what to do!
    • Jenny
      Hi, I sympathise. My husband almost died a year ago, he somehow pulled through it and started drinking again weeks after came out of hospital. I’m so frustrated, and angry and the disappointment is gut wrenching. I’ve been to some Al-Anon groups but they weren’t for me. I’ve come to realise all the crying, shouting and screaming doesn’t make the blindest bit of a difference, so I’m trying to focus on myself. I struggle though as I am the sole earner, he thinks its acceptable so sit in my home drinking while I’m putting in 60hrs a week. Time is running out and I’ve told him if he doesn’t stop then he’s out, I just hope I have the strength to stick to it.
      • Donna
        Hi, I feel the same about the meetings although I haven’t been to any, just don’t think it’s my thing. I did get the strength to kick my alcoholic husband out, he went into rehab as a resort for 6months and done amazing, we had some counselling and he moved back in 6weeks ago after being sober for 7months.. but as you’ve probably guessed he got steaming drunk last weekend. I’m trying to find the strength to get rid AGAIN, I feel tricked
      • AMazer
        Jenny, I am sorry for the situation you’re in. It sounds like you’re a lot like me…a strong-willed woman, a go-getter, the one who does it all for the family. What I am reading on a lot of these online websites is that women like us tend to control our environments so much that we have taken any responsibility from our husbands, leaving them with no reason to want to be a better person. If we cook, clean, do laundry, do the dishes, take care of the kids, check homework, grocery shop, transport, work, and do everything else under the sun….what does that leave our husband to be responsible for? If he’s not busy helping to be part of the helping household then he has plenty of time to drink…while we are running circles around him and resenting him. Change your roles. Allow his the opportunity to take on some household responsibilities, make it known you are thankful for his help because it allows you to spend more quality time with him. He has to feel like he has a purpose. And for God’s sake, he needs to get a job and be contributing to the family dynamic. If you allow his behaviors to continue without giving him the opportunity to contribute, you’re only enabling his problem.
  • susan kilpatrick
    i love my partner very much he as been to detox a couple of times he seems to go on a two day drinking then dont talk much for a couple of days i sussed out he talks to me nice when he needs a drink hes done well to what he used to be that im proud of him for this but im also going through depression does he really love me am i a convinience i dont know anymore
  • Lisbeth Adsets-Moseley
    HELP – my husband drinks – too much – and behind my back – and lies all the time – he has been to a hospital- but as soon as he got his car keys back (from me – I have taken them again) he buys alcohol and hides it??? do not ask me where?? The lies are the worst
  • D Perera
    Hi, My husband is also an alcoholic. He says he get body pains when he is not drunk and he needs to drink everyday. But when he is drunk he is very violent so that I had to leave him with my 3 months baby. Now it’s been over one year till I left him. He always wanted me near with him. But I still cannot trust him again. I am so worried about my baby. She is 18 months now. She doesn’t even know if she has daddy!! Still my husband drinks everyday. He spends all income to drink alcohol. Whenever he has money he go to the bar. I really love him and like to live a happy family life with him and ny little daughter. I don’t know what to do. I don’t earn much. I still don’t work. My father takes care of me and my daughter. Don’t know what to do.
  • joan
    The first thing about dealing with someone who has been drinking is to understand that they are not the person they are when they’re sober. Whatever good sense and reason they might have in the cold light of day, this sensibility will desert them after a few drinks. Trying to talk to someone under the influence of alcohol is difficult, whether they’re a fun, sociable kind of drinker or a moody and aggressive drunk. Alcohol switches off normal behaviour and trying to reason with a drunk person is not going to work. I always imagined an alcoholic as a hammered guy, who piss his pants and get drunk every day. But my husband was a high-functioning alcoholic with no outward signs of calamity. But on the inside, he was slowly dying. His drinking wasn’t getting worse as time passed, but his alcohol-induced depression was becoming debilitating and deadly. To me, my friends, neighbors, and most of my family, he was productive and helpful and gave all indications that we were happy. He did what He was supposed to do. He was a high-functioning alcoholic, and He played the role magnificently. I always knew, that something is wrong, but he never got me to talk about it, he was in denial. I read a book by Ellen Petersen, which helped me to find a way to speak with my him. Now we both are on recovery, both supporting each other, changing our lives, and our love is bigger than ever!