Living With an Alcoholic: Nobody Talks About It Outloud
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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. You cannot blame alcohol for everything. Even addicted people have their sober moments when they can be themselves. It is in these moments that you need to talk and listen to your 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 you DO deserve a better life than living with an alcoholic. If the alcoholic spouse agrees with you – it is a very promising sign. If both of you truly believe that help is needed and possible, you can get the help and work things out. You and your spouse need 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.
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How to Live With An Alcoholic Spouse
There are a few ways you can live with an alcoholic:
- Don’t blame yourself.
- Don’t lie about your partner’s alcohol problems.
- Don’t attempt to control or cure it.
- Don’t tolerate abusively behaviors.
- Don’t do things that will enable your partner to drink.
Get help and education
You can do two things:
- Get external help. Maybe you are ashamed your household situation and sorry for your 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 for helping people to get out of it.
- Education yourself. 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 you read 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, to share your experience and learn from each other.
Let’s say it again: you and your 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 you can do. You cannot change people against their will. If the individual is a threat to your physical safety, you and especially your kids should move to a safe environment.
You 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 (and you) think. Staying In a household where their sober spouse takes over all 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 you and your child’s safety, it is strongly advised that you move to a safe environment. Through this, you are 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. The point is to make the addicted person understand, that you fully commit to living your own, independent adult life. Of course, you 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 how to deal with living with alcoholic loved ones. It is a long process, and you will need to learn to adapt to changes. You will need to change your perspective and your attitude.
Here are some things you should and some that you should NOT do. Read them several times or print them out.
Don’t Blame Yourself
Alcoholics often try to put the fault of their drinking on other people or circumstances. Because you are the closest, you will most likely get the most attacks. Whenever your alcoholic spouse tries to tell you that you are the reason the drink – don’t believe it. Everyone has problems, but not everyone ends up an alcoholic. And that is because alcoholism is an addiction. You alcohol-dependent spouse probably feels bad about his/her drinking too and might find any excuse for it. But it is only to make them feel better.
Remember: unless you are forcing someone to drink, YOU ARE NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR THEIR DRINKING.
Do Not Cover For It
You might feel ashamed for your spouse or your situation. But hiding of lying about your partner’s alcohol problem is not making it any good. In fact, it is contributing to denial. It is your reality, be true to it. Hiding it from the outside world, you create a safe bubble for the alcoholic to continue drinking. In a way, it makes you seem approving the drinking at some point.
Do Not Try To Control or To Cure It
You or other close ones might surely be tempted to try everything you can to stop your spouse from drinking. Maybe you throw out or hide the alcohol, or you 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, you need to know, that alcohol withdrawal effects can be extremely dangerous, so never try to put your 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. You need to make it clear if a behavior was inadmissible for you. Abusive behavior is not acceptable sober, nor is it acceptable when being drunk. Be firm about that. Otherwise, you 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 you can unknowingly do it.
- Denying the problem. If you do not talk about you having a problem with your spouse’s drinking, or you accept his/her bad behavior, you tacitly approve it.
- Hiding it from others. Covering up for an alcoholic makes you 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, you take away occasions to assume full responsibility for their drinking.
And What Should You Do?
Look After Yourself
Most importantly, take care of yourself. It is unsure how much you can do to help with your spouse’s alcohol recovery. So instead, focus on what you can do for you.
Don’t let someone else’s problem dominate your life, even if it’s your spouse. Watch out for your own physical and mental wellness. Besides, you might inspire your husband or wife to do likewise.
And if it gets dangerous, if your husband or wife emotionally or physically abuses you or your children – it is time to leave. Think about your and your children’s safety first.
What are support groups for spouses of alcoholics?
There are existing support groups for families of alcoholics. These are called Al-Anon Groups. If you join these groups, you will meet people who are also having struggles with their alcoholic relatives. You will receive the support that you need to cope with your problems.
Start Living In The Present
You married that wonderful person, and you keep looking back to these golden days. But that only distracts you from real life. You have an actual problem here and now. Don’t deny the beautiful memories, but don’t let them distract you from reality.
Similarly, there is no point in moaning about bad choices and disappointments. Focus on what you can do NOW.
Get Help Immediately
You can offer the alcoholic spouse help, for example in finding treatment programs. But if your partner does not want your or anyone else’s help – do something for yourself.
- 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. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4664018/
- 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.
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