What to Do and How to Cope When You Have an Alcoholic Spouse

When one partner is battling alcoholism, it takes a huge toll on the marriage. Read on to learn what to do and how to cope when you have an alcoholic spouse.

Are you concerned your spouse might be alcoholic?

One in eight Americans meets the criteria for alcoholism. That’s a staggering number, but it also makes it clear that many people must also be living with an alcoholic partner or spouse.

For those people, living with an alcoholic partner raises many questions, from the health of their marriage to their physical safety.

But alcoholism is a thorny subject. It’s often difficult to know what to do.

Below, we’re talking about what you can do to cope with an alcoholic spouse.

Is It Alcoholism?

It’s easy to miss the early signs of alcoholism. Some people only realize their partner is an alcoholic when the problem is deeply entrenched.

Perhaps your partner has always enjoyed a drink. You might be accustomed to seeing them with a bottle in their hand.

Slowly, this habit builds until their personality begins to shift or they start to fall short of their responsibilities. Without knowing it, you’ve ended up living with an alcoholic.

Alcoholism emerges for a huge variety of reasons. Sometimes it’s a pattern of behavior that grows more intense with time. Or it could begin in response to an emotional downturn, such as the death of a friend or parent.

If you’re trying to determine whether your spouse is alcoholic, you need to look closely at their behavior.

Partners often become aware of the problem when their alcoholic spouse begins to become derelict in their responsibilities. They might fail to look after the kids properly or miss turning up to work.

One of the surest signs of alcoholism is the dramatic shift in behavior it can cause. Alcoholics often become defensive, emotional, and agitated compared to their previous selves.

Also look for signs that your partner is trying to hide their problem. An alcoholic spouse might only drink when you’re not around, perhaps even hiding their empty bottles.

One of the more dangerous alcoholic tendencies is relying on alcohol even where it’s completely inappropriate. Drink-driving is one of the most common examples of this behavior.

Ultimately, the deep stages of alcoholism boil down to the avoidance of sobriety. The alcoholic’s life seems to revolve drinking or taking actions to get their next drink.

Acknowledging the Problem

Before either of you can take any real action, you both need to acknowledge the problem.

For your part, you may need to unpick your behavior in recent months. Have you enabled it by shifting the blame to external people or events? Have you covered up for them?

These might be signs that you’ve contributed to the problem without even realizing. But once you acknowledge this, you can move on to addressing it directly.

Alcoholism will test the level of effective communication in your marriage. You need to have a frank, open, and honest conversation about the condition and how it’s affecting your relationship.

This is also a chance to let your partner open up about it. They may admit they’ve been struggling to cope.

But they could also slip into denial and fail to meet the problem head-on.

Give your partner time to think about what you’ve said. Many people with an addiction don’t think of themselves in those terms, and they’ll need time to adjust.

But don’t let them sweep the conversation under the rug, either. Set a defined time period you feel is fair, and then broach the subject again.

Try to keep your emotions in check. It’s important that your partner understands how they’re affecting you without emotion overwhelming the conversation.

“Alocholism” is a loaded term. Your alcoholic spouse might refuse that label, but even acknowledging that there’s a drinking problem is a huge step toward resolving it.

Building a Support Network

Living with an alcoholic spouse can take a huge toll on you. When there’s an alcoholic in a marriage, both people suffer from the symptoms.

That’s why it’s vital to have your own support network. You need an outlet and emotional support – especially as your partner might no longer play that role in your life.

Try talking about the problems you’re facing with friends and family. Be honest and open about how you’re feeling.

You can also find more specialized support. There are plenty of support groups available for partners with an alcoholic spouse. These are safe places for people with similar struggles, so you can find a deeper level of understanding than you might from family or friends.

If you have any reason to fear your partner’s behavior, you should note some phone numbers for various helplines you can call in your area.

Getting Professional Help

Alongside your personal support network, the two of you will also need to get professional help.

Alcoholism is a disease and an addiction. In the majority of cases, alcoholics need professional help to overcome their addiction.

Professional help takes many forms. The most obvious is through speaking to doctors and therapists, who can offer guidance and counseling to overcome the addiction. They’ll help identify underlying causes and patterns of behavior that could contribute to alcoholism.

Marriage counseling can help carry your marriage through this rough patch. Like most of the challenges you’ll face, this will only pay off if you’re both engaged with the outcome.

But if you are both determined to keep your marriage going, it could help promote a healthier environment for you both.

Your alcoholic spouse can also check into a rehab center for more intense levels of help. Rehab centers will pull no punches explaining the problems caused by alcohol abuse.

They’ll use proven techniques to guide your alcoholic spouse toward recovery.

You can read more here about state-funded rehab.

Living With An Alcoholic

Living with an alcoholic may put a serious strain on your relationship, even if you’re working through the problem. Bearing these few tips in mind could make things a little easier:

Communicate Sober

If you want a serious discussion with your spouse, communicate with them while they’re sober. When drunk, they’re likely to be a different person, and you’ll be lucky if they remember the conversation at all.

Control Your Emotions

It’s one thing to tell your partner they make you feel angry, it’s another to enter a shouting match with them. Living with an alcoholic demands a great amount of personal control to not sink to their worst level.

Protect Yourself

If you ever feel like you or your family are in danger from your spouse, it’s important you immediately remove yourself from the situation and secure your own safety first. Ensure you have a plan if you think there’s a chance your partner presents a risk to you.


If your spouse does open up to you about the problems they’re facing, then listen. This will be hard for them to admit or discuss, so do your best to understand what they’re going through.

Listening also provides you with a chance to understand the key factors in play in your spouse’s behavior. You might even notice things they’ve missed. Listening gives you the best possible chance to help them.

Remind Yourself It’s a Disease

Despite their best intentions, alcoholics are often unable to control their condition. When drinking problems progress far enough, they become diseases and addictions. In effect, your alcoholic spouse fights against their own brain.

It’s important to remember that they’re struggling, too. This comes with one major caveat, however: your spouse is responsible for acknowledging the problem and seeking help. This is the aspect of their behavior which remains completely under their control.

If Nothing Works

If your partner won’t engage with their problem or if you feel threatened, it could be time to place your own life first.

Even in a marriage, you’re not responsible for the wellbeing and health of another person. You can’t force an individual to overcome their problems if they’re unwilling. But you are responsible for your own health.

If you have children, you also need to think seriously about the impact of your spouse’s alcoholism. If you or your children ever feel threatened, you should seek immediate help.

Should your alcoholic spouse refuse to take control of their own health, you may need to reconsider your relationship.

This is a huge step, but if you feel you’ve exhausted all your options then you need to consider what you want the rest of your life to look like. You’re always entitled to your own happiness.

Regain Control With an Alcoholic Spouse

Many of these tips come back to the same basic idea: you need to regain control over your life when you’re living with an alcoholic spouse. Your relationship forms a huge part of that life.

You’ll need to be realistic, practical, and honest to resolve the problem.

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