Married to an Alcoholic: Learning to Support a Partner with Alcohol Use Disorder

Learning to Support a Partner with Alcohol Use Disorder
Published:
December 21, 2023
|   Updated:
February 5, 2024

Living with an alcoholic spouse can be an extremely difficult situation to navigate. You may feel scared, frustrated, and even guilty about your partner's choices. Oftentimes, self-blame takes over and disallows you to see that your spouse's Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) is, in fact, not the effect of you or your decisions. 

You may find yourselves at a crossroads with only two directions: divorcing your spouse or helping them find treatment for their addiction. While we acknowledge how strenuous helping your alcoholic partner can be on you and your own health, there are many tools you can utilize to create positive change and find happiness again in your marriage.

If you are looking for treatment methods to help support both yourself and your alcoholic partner through this difficult time in your marriage, keep reading below.

How Do I Know if My Spouse is an Alcoholic?  

If you suspect your spouse or partner has Alcohol Use Disorder, there are signs and symptoms that may be present in their lives.

While this list is non-exhaustive, these are the most common signs that someone is struggling with excessive drinking.

 

A couple having an argument over alcohol use disorder in the relationship

Behavioral Signs

Your spouse's change in behavior may be the first sign that they are struggling with alcohol addiction. Some behavioral signs include:

  • Drinking to intoxication or blackout every time they consume alcohol
  • Ignoring or forgetting responsibilities, like work or school pick-up
  • A drastic change in behavior, including lying, defensiveness, or sneakiness
  • Stealing or misusing money
  • Drinking at inappropriate times or environments, like first thing in the morning or in the workplace
  • Losing or ruining relationships
  • Spending time with a new or unusual social group

 

Woman stressed out due to being married to an alcoholic

Physical Signs

While not all physical symptoms may mean your spouse is suffering from alcoholism, being paired with any of the above behavioral signs should be a cause for concern. Physical symptoms include:

  • Sudden and unexpected weight gain or weight loss
  • Unexpected physical injuries like broken bones or excessive bruises or cuts
  • Excessive shaking or sweating
  • Change in speech, like slurring of words or speaking too slowly or too quickly
  • Discoloration, specifically extreme redness, in an individual's face and/or eyes
  • Little to no physical energy
  • Disheveled clothing and/or appearance

The Impact of Living with an Alcoholic Partner

Living with an alcoholic spouse affects many different aspects of both of your lives. The following are the most common issues people living with an alcoholic husband or wife experience:

Woman worried about finances

Financial Issues

Being an alcoholic can quickly deplete an individual's money. When you’re married to an alcoholic, this can affect your entire family unit.

These financial issues may be obvious, or in some serious cases, spouses of alcoholics are unaware of the debt or money trouble their partner has put their family in. Being married or having shared finances with a long-term partner who suffers from AUD means that you also must live with the consequences of any financial issues caused.

While financial stress is serious enough, it can also lead to more issues within the relationship.

 

A dad taking care of two kids while working from home

Unfair Delegation of Domestic Duties

Drinking alcohol causes a person to experience physical and cognitive imbalances, which can then lead to an inability to fulfill domestic or household responsibilities that are required of an individual.

If your spouse is intoxicated, their “normal” duties tend to fall to the wayside as they are not of immediate importance. Additionally, being hungover and suffering from the consequences of continuous drinking results in an individual feeling sick and unable to fulfill their responsibilities, even when not under the influence. 

This causes the non-alcoholic spouse to take on the extra responsibilities to keep their household running. If you live with an alcoholic partner, you may be forced to pick up the slack to ensure your household, and potentially your family, can keep moving forward. This unfair delegation causes stress and resentment toward the alcoholic partner.

Mental Health Decline

People who are married to alcoholics tend to suffer from self-blame and negative thoughts. Many believe that their spouse's drinking issues are a direct reflection of themselves and feel as if it is their job to remedy the situation. 

Often, this leads to higher rates of anxiety and depression. Trying to live a “normal” life, staying true to your other responsibilities, and worrying about your spouse's drinking is extremely overwhelming. It is not unusual to feel mentally overwhelmed if you are navigating life with an alcoholic partner because it is an overwhelming way to live.

Potential Legal Problems

While not everyone who suffers from alcoholism has trouble with the law, many often do. Because alcohol’s nature is to loosen an individual's inhibitions, people who over-drink continuously have a higher chance of breaking the law.

If your partner or spouse is an alcoholic and runs into legal issues, you may also reap the consequences of those actions. These consequences may be both emotional and/or financial as you help your partner get through whatever issues with the law they may have committed.

Unfulfilling Social Life

People who suffer from alcoholism may have a difficult time mingling with society. Or, if they do continue to socialize, they often need to excessively drink to feel like “themselves” or to comfortably attend events.

This directly affects the non-alcoholics social life. You may feel like you must bargain to get your partner to events or ask them to monitor their drinking. Or, once at a social event, you may feel stressed and anxious about your partner's behavior leaving you feeling unfilled at every outing. It may also lead to a lack of individual social life as leaving your partner alone at home can cause more stress and anxiety than it's worth to attend an event. 

You may feel alone, isolated, and unable to have a semblance of social life if you are living with an alcoholic spouse.

 

 

 

Man comforting his partner

How to Speak to Your Partner About Alcoholism

Knowing how to approach your husband or wife about their alcohol abuse can be a delicate situation to navigate. You desperately want them to be healthy but may be nervous about setting them off or pushing them away during the conversation. Fortunately, there are ways to approach your spouse about their alcohol addiction that have a higher chance of eliciting a positive reaction.

Come Prepared

It is crucial that you approach your husband or wife with the knowledge and understanding of Alcohol Use Disorder and the type of care that is required to manage this disease.

 Alcoholism is characterized as a chronic disease and, therefore, should be approached with the same tender support that would come if your spouse was diagnosed with a different chronic condition, like diabetes, for example.

 Learning about the disease model of AUD and what kind of treatment is required to sustain sobriety will equip you with both the knowledge and empathy needed to get your partner the help they need. Being educated will additionally help you learn how to navigate these next steps your family is, hopefully, about to take.

Remain Neutral or Positive

While you may be hurt or frustrated by your spouse's addiction and actions, it is crucial that you remain neutral or even positive when approaching your partner about their drinking. 

It is natural for your husband or wife to become angry and/or defensive when approached about their alcohol misuse. Suffering from this disease produces a lot of guilt and shame, which often leads partners to dismiss the severity of their addiction. When you approach the conversation with love, understanding, and a deep desire to simply see your partner at their healthiest, productive conversations are much more likely to follow.

Give Specifics

When you approach your partner about your concerns, it is crucial that you are able to bring specific examples of how their drinking has negatively affected both of your lives. This will help show your partner the severity of their disease and the consequences you’ve both been experiencing. Additionally, having a list of specific resources or treatment methods for achieving sobriety can help your partner have a visual of what the next steps may actually look like. 

In doing so, your partner is less likely to find fault with your reasoning for wanting to find them support. Approaching the conversation with logic and specificity can help them look at their alcohol abuse through a less emotional lens, even though the process can be increasingly emotional.

How to Help an Alcoholic Partner

There are many treatment resources available to you and your spouse when they are ready to work toward sobriety. With AUD being classified as a chronic disease, it is crucial that your spouse has multiple tools to help them navigate recovery through the remainder of their life.

Utilizing multiple resources on this list instead of just one can streamline recovery, as alcohol abuse requires consistent and constant care.

Depending on lifestyle, budget, and severity of their disease, finding what works best for your spouse may take some time and adjustment. However, with the following resources in their life, they are much more likely to live an alcohol-free life. 

Rehabilitation

If your husband or wife has a severe case of Alcohol Use Disorder, rehabilitation may be the best first step in recovery. Rehabilitation or treatment centers offer overhaul programs to help their clients find the root of their drinking issues while giving them the tools to continue their recovery once they have completed the program.

Each program is different, and completing research on what would be best for your spouse is a great first step when gathering information to approach them about receiving help.

Depending on the severity of your spouse's case, detoxification may be necessary, and many treatment centers offer the service. The most common programs last 30 or 60 days and can be either inpatient or outpatient. Different methodologies may also be used depending on the program, but regardless, these centers approach the disease with long-term sobriety in mind.

 

 

Man blowing into a Soberlink Device

Soberlink

Soberlink’s Alcohol Monitoring System is an excellent tool for your spouse to utilize alone or in conjunction with other treatment resources due to its user-friendly technology and ability to assist its users with consistent support throughout their recovery journey.

Soberlink's Remote Breathalyzer is not your average breathalyzer; it is an all-encompassing recovery system that helps its users stay sober while promoting consistent accountability throughout the process.

 

Soberlink text alert

Soberlink’s system allows its users to schedule daily tests depending on their own needs and lifestyle. These test results are sent directly to the user's phone in an easy-to-read and color-coded chart that can then be shared with those in their support circle, including you, their spouse.

With its state-of-the-art technology, including facial recognition and built-in tamper detection, Soberlink’s alcohol monitoring system is safe, discrete, and provides an honest record of a loved one’s alcohol use.

Finding a place for Soberlink in your spouse's recovery plan can help you feel more aware of their drinking habits while simultaneously assisting your partner with a demonstrative way to practice accountability. Through this journey, your spouse can have tangible evidence of their improvement and, in turn, provide you and other family members in your circle peace of mind along with a foundation to rebuild trust. 

 

Support group session to practice accountability

Support Groups 

Finding a safe place for your husband or wife to speak about their past, present, and possible future stressors in relation to alcohol is crucial to helping them stay true to recovery. This is why support groups are so important for people who are trying to overcome their drinking issues. 

These groups offer a sanctuary of anonymity, advice, and relationships that all are working toward a common goal. People find that support groups remind them they are not alone, they are not bad people, and more importantly, they are so much more than their disease. 

There are many support groups available for your spouse and most of them are free of cost. While Alcoholics Anonymous tends to be the most widely known, it is not your partner's only option. Other popular and successful support groups include SMART Recovery and LifeRing Recovery.

 

Couple therapy session

Therapy

Regardless of what treatment options your husband or wife chooses, pairing some type of therapy with a psychologist can be extremely beneficial to helping them sustain long-lasting recovery.

Additionally, couples therapy may be a great place to start to help you and your spouse get on the same page again about the struggles your family is facing. Having a non-biased professional listen to your tribulations can help guide you toward a place of peace and happiness again in your marriage.

When looking for a therapist, ensure that they are addiction-focused as they will be your most beneficial resource and have the proper knowledge on what kind of psychological care those with addiction need specifically.

Find Self Support

Navigating a loved one's addiction is always an emotional and strenuous journey. When that loved one is your life partner, it can feel almost too overwhelming to bear. This is why it is crucial that you not only find support for your spouse, but for yourself as well.

If you are looking for a community of others who have experienced the trauma of loving someone with alcoholism, Al-Anon is a productive place to start. Similar to AA, it is a free and anonymous program that allows participants to discuss the struggles they’ve faced while navigating life with alcoholic loved ones. 

While Al-Anon is not necessary, finding people who can support you through this will be extremely beneficial to both your physical and mental health. Whether it be family, friends, a therapist, or a support group, ensure you also have support through this difficult time in your life.

About Soberlink

Soberlink is a highly trusted tool designed to remotely confirm someone's BAC or blood alcohol content in a simple and reliable way. Since 2011, the Soberlink system has been the leader in alcohol monitoring for Family Law, Addiction Treatment, and Workplace compliance monitoring. Soberlink’s handheld breathalyzer uses facial recognition, similar to the facial recognition technology on your phone, confirming your identity when you take the test and ensuring it's really you without needing someone else to check. Plus, it sends immediate results to specified contacts’ phones or emails, proving sobriety and providing peace of mind. The device is also smart enough to detect if someone tries to trick or beat the test, ensuring the results are always trustworthy. Finally, it uses AI to create easy-to-understand testing reports, saving you or a loved one from having to filter through pages of data to track progress. In short, Soberlink makes the whole process of remote alcohol testing more convenient, quick, and reliable.

 

Learn More About Soberlink

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