Dealing with an alcoholic spouse and when to seek help


The severity of alcoholism’s effects on family life can range from mild to serious, and sometimes mild alcohol misuse can spiral out of control into more severe, dangerous conditions. Witnessing someone you care about fall victim to alcoholism can be a painful sight to see, but sometimes there’s nothing you can do to stop it. The best thing you can do is be there for them in whatever capacity you can and understand that it’s a disease, not a choice. But what happens when the person struggling is your spouse or significant other? How might alcohol affect your relationship and cohabitating dynamic? We’re here to help you on your journey—with or without your partner—to seek the help you need to maintain healthy boundaries.

Alcohol and Relationships

Being married to an alcoholic can prove to be a struggle with distrust, health complications, and a fear for safety. When your significant other drinks, they become a different person, who can exhibit depressed, abusive, or out of control behavior. The trouble is, being married to an alcoholic in denial means you can’t do much besides lookout for the safety and wellbeing of your family. Some may feel comfortable intervening with their partner’s addiction, but others may not and that is OK. You may find yourself exhausted, frustrated, and pushed beyond your limits—these are valid feelings and this is when you need to seek help. How do you get to that point though?


How to deal with an alcoholic spouse

Traits of an Alcoholic

When trying to determine whether or not you’re married to or dating an alcoholic, there are some key traits and behaviors that you can keep your eyes open for. Alcoholics may:

  • Drink alone
  • Have blackouts
  • Experience troubles with relationships at home and at work
  • Drink only to get drunk
  • Drink at scheduled times
  • Hide alcohol
  • Lose interest in activities they once found enjoyable

The Path to Alcoholism

While some alcoholism can be tied to genetics, many forms are developed over time. Here are some risk factors that can lead to an alcohol addiction:

  • Binge drink regularly
  • Drinking from a young age
  • A family history of alcohol abuse
  • Mental illness
  • Peer pressure

Things You Should Not Do

While there are few things you can do when your significant other is an alcoholic, there are certainly many things that you should not do on the road to recovery.

Blame Yourself

You can’t blame yourself for your partner’s actions, pain, and addiction—be kind to yourself. An alcoholic partner may blame you for their drinking problem, but with the exception of codependent relationships, it ultimately is not your fault. You are both hurting in different ways, but you need to understand that the disease has taken over and you shouldn’t take it personally—look out for your own happiness and safety.

Control It

It may be hard to not want to cure your partner’s addiction, but it’s important that you don’t try. Attempting to cure your partner is a controlling behavior that may push them away more. Trying to control an alcoholic spouse’s drinking through monitoring, scolding, shaming, and coercing will just cause them to spiral out of control. In some cases, these types of attempts to cure alcoholism at home may be dangerous for both involved.

Make Excuses

Accepting the bad behavior of alcoholic partners doesn’t allow them to be held accountable for their actions. Alcoholism is a disease that is hard to come to terms with—a partner may be inclined to quickly excuse their behavior as “not them” and assuring people that “they’re never like this.” Covering up their addiction like this will enable them and unfortunately only make things worse—this is often how codependency begins. Enabling alcoholic partners can be anything from paying off substance abuse-caused debt or driving them to bars to prevent drunk driving.

When is it Time to Get Help?

Maintaining healthy boundaries is one of the most crucial aspects of helping a loved one recover from alcoholism. It’s critical to know when to seek help for yourself. Some may find it challenging or scary to intervene with a partner’s addiction—there’s a chance they won’t be receptive—but allowing their alcoholism to spiral out of control without seeking help for yourself can damage your relationship beyond repair. Alcoholism ruins relationships and it can be challenging to stand by an alcoholic partner without knowing what you can do for them; try to visit a therapist before making decisions about the future of your relationship. As an unbiased third party, a therapist or counselor is qualified to give you the best advice regarding whether you should stay or go. If the relationship is abusive in nature, it may be best to separate at least temporarily until your partner has sought help. Bringing the relationship back from the brink requires both parties to work together with professional and community support systems.

Support Spaces

Locating a safe place to heal and recover apart from your partner can help to create those healthy boundaries. Spouses may turn to other sources to help them through their suffering relationship. There are a variety of support groups open to family and spouses of alcoholic partners. These groups can help victims and sober spouses by offering advice, recommending therapists, suggesting other resources, and ultimately providing a space to heal. Some of these groups include:

  • AI-Anon
  • Nar-Anon
  • Dual Recovery Anonymous
  • Adult Children of Alcoholics Al-Anon
  • National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

Relationship Recovery

If you seek out treatment for your alcoholic partner, it’s important to note that recovery is a long process and even after professional treatment and counseling, it isn’t over. Treatment is only effective if the struggling person has a solid support network and access to communities and services for recovering alcoholics. At Oregon Trail Recovery, we not only offer professional treatment programs, but also the community support systems needed to continue on the road to recovery after treatment is complete.

Begin the Healing Process

Call us for more information about living with an alcoholic spouse.