Helping Your Spouse Overcome Alcohol Addiction

How To Help Your Spouse Through Alcoholism

Alcoholism is one of the most dangerous addictions. Prolonged alcohol abuse takes a very heavy toll on the body and mind and can easily disrupt every aspect of a person’s life. When a spouse sees his or her partner struggling with alcoholism it can create a kind of cognitive dissonance that can potentially make the issue last longer than it should; on the one hand, a spouse loves and supports his or her partner and wants him or her to be happy, but on the other hand, the spouse living with an alcoholic partner likely experiences a wide range of negative effects from the other spouse’s alcoholism.

Understanding The Danger Of Alcoholism

Alcoholism progresses very rapidly. While some addictions can take years to reach critical levels, alcoholism can progress to life-threatening stages within a few months of heavy, consistent alcohol abuse. Some people manage to maintain a semblance of normalcy while nursing a serious alcohol habit, and these “high-functioning alcoholics” quickly discover this is not a tenable lifestyle. Eventually, a person struggling with alcoholism will need to confront the effects the habit has had on his or her life, especially when it comes to his or her marriage.

Alcohol In A Marriage

Spouses of alcoholics struggle in various ways:

  • The alcoholic spouse may neglect to pay bills on time, jeopardizing the family’s financial stability.
  • An alcoholic may burn through the couple’s savings to pay for alcohol.
  • An alcoholic might lose his or her job, escalating the family’s financial problems.
  • Alcoholism is a major contributing factor to domestic violence rates. Spouses of alcoholics are more likely to suffer domestic violence than spouses of non-alcoholics.
  • Alcoholism can cause personality changes, and a spouse of an alcoholic may start seeing his or her partner as a different person.
  • Even when alcoholism does not lead to outright physical abuse it can still cause the alcoholic to be more critical and emotionally abusive toward his or her spouse.
  • Alcoholism can easily interfere with a parent’s ability to care for a child, placing an extraordinary level of responsibility on the sober partner when it comes to caring for the couple’s children.

These are just a few examples of how alcoholism can negatively influence a marriage. In addition to economic instability and a higher chance of domestic violence, alcoholism can also erode the connection between married spouses and deteriorate their relationship.

Alcoholism Progression

Spouses should serve as checks and balances for one another. When one spouse falls into a potentially dangerous pattern of alcohol abuse, the other spouse has a responsibility to address the issue and offer constructive support without falling into the trap of enabling the habit and allowing it to continue.

Alcoholism may start apparently innocently, but alcoholism progresses very rapidly. As a person continues to abuse alcohol, he or she will build a tolerance and require more alcohol to feel the desired effects. A married person sees his or her spouse come home from work every day and open a beer, mix a cocktail, or pour a glass of wine and think nothing of it; he or she just had a stressful day and needs to unwind. However, this creates a habit. Once the person builds the connection between alcohol and stress relief, he or she may feel unable to de-stress without alcohol. One drink after work becomes two, and before long the person is no longer simply decompressing after stressful days at work, he or she is nursing an alcohol addiction.

Watch For Potential Dangers For Spouses

The best way for married people to help their spouses overcome alcoholism is to catch it and address it as early as possible. Stay alert for signs that your spouse’s alcohol use has progressed beyond reasonable levels. If you notice your spouse self-medicating with alcohol try and start a conversation and do not be afraid of voicing your concerns.

Spouses of people struggling with alcohol abuse must also know when to draw the line when it comes to an alcoholic spouse’s behavior. If an alcoholic partner fritters away all of the couple’s savings or starts displaying scary or violent behavior, it is absolutely essential to take appropriate steps to solve the problem before it escalates.

Seeking Treatment Together

Marriage is a partnership. When you vowed to love your spouse “for better or worse,” that includes his or her struggle with alcoholism. Marriage counseling often plays a significant role in alcohol addiction treatment and you should approach these sessions with enthusiasm and hope. Be honest about how your spouse’s alcohol habit has impacted your life and express your strong desire to see him or her recover. Addiction is incredibly alienating, and a person struggling with addiction likely feels isolated and out of touch with those closest to him or her. Keep lines of communication open and make sure your spouse knows you are with him or her for the long haul and are ready to handle the challenges of recovery and living in sobriety after rehab.

What To Expect From Rehab And Recovery

The first step of any substance abuse recovery plan is detox, during which the patient undergoes medical treatment to flush out the last of the alcohol from his or her system and repair the physical damage done by prolonged alcohol abuse. This may entail a long-term inpatient treatment period or an outpatient program that allows the patient to maintain a career and everyday life. Regardless of what type of treatment program your spouse enters, be prepared to be an active part of the program.

You may have the option of attending family counseling sessions or group therapy sessions at your spouse’s rehab facility. Your spouse’s treatment team will likely ask you for assistance for various stages of the recovery process, so make sure you are available to help in any way you can. Participating in the recovery process can also help the spouse of a person with an alcohol addiction realize that he or she is not to blame for his or her spouse’s addiction. However, the spouse may need to confront past behaviors that may have enabled the addiction, and the recovery process may reveal underlying issues in a marriage the couple must address together.

Make An Ongoing Commitment To Sobriety

Substance abuse recovery does not end once a patient finishes rehab. He or she may have undergone detox and learned new coping techniques to avoid drinking in the future, but the reality is that recovery is an ongoing commitment to living a healthier lifestyle. If your spouse enters rehab you should, of course, prepare to provide as much assistance as possible throughout the recovery process, but you should also expect to make some serious changes in your lifestyle following rehab to ensure your spouse stays on track with his or her sobriety.

When a person has an alcohol addiction, his or her spouse likely experiences the effects of the addiction more acutely than anyone else, except maybe the couple’s children. While spouses of alcoholics often suffer the most severe effects of this kind of addiction, they are also in the best possible positions to help their partners recover.

Mike Loverde

With firsthand experience with addiction, Mike Loverde is now a Certified Intervention Professional (CIP), as accredited by the Association of Intervention Specialists and the Pennsylvania Certification Board. He founded Family First Intervention in 2008 and has since helped hundreds of families find intervention and addiction rehabilitation solutions.

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