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.
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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?
Well, moving away does not necessarily mean cutting all ties. If the person is dangerous to people around and has no will to cooperate, then it is a matter of safety to move.
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.
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.
Alcoholism is a severe disease, and one cannot control it if a spouse doesn’t want to. Get professional help instead. But it is up to the alcoholic to decide whether he/she wants help or not.
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.
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.
Support groups for families of alcoholics exist; they are called AI-Anon Groups. One will meet people that understand and support each other. One will realize that can cope with the problems and is not alone.
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- 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.