Living With an Alcoholic Spouse


Published On: January 19, 2024

It can be scary seeing a loved one living with alcohol use disorder and not knowing how to help.

You might feel as though you need to fix the problem, help hide the issue, or be angry that you’re even in this situation in the first place.

As alcoholism isn’t talked about openly, you might also be feeling quite alone. But this story is quite prevalent throughout the UK.

How Do I Know if My Partner is an Alcoholic?

An elderly couple on a bench looking over hills

Alcohol use disorder is a medical condition which causes impaired restraint to stop or control how much or how often a person drinks alcohol.

Alcohol abuse, dependence, addiction, and ‘alcoholism’ all fall under this category.

Some of the main symptoms are:

  • Drinking more or for longer than intended
  • Trying but failing to cut down
  • Spending a lot of time either drinking or recovering from a hangover
  • Thinking about alcohol compulsively
  • Neglecting or finding it hard to complete responsibilities as a result of drinking[1]

For more information about living with an alcoholic spouse, simply reach out to our 24/7, confidential hotline on 0800 111 4108.

How Does Living with an Alcoholic Spouse Affect Partners?

A woman sitting on the floor looking sad

In a study of wives of alcoholics, researchers found that 70% of wives felt anxious often, 60% felt mentally disturbed often and 50% reported frustration.

This led them to ignore their physical health, experience sleep problems, socialise less and increased feelings of shame.[2]

Research indicates that between 25% and 50% of instances of domestic abuse involved the perpetrator drinking at the time of assault.[3]

If you’ve been a victim of domestic abuse or you feel unsafe, please reach out for help.

How Does Living with an Alcoholic Parent Affect Children?

Parent and child family

If you have children, it’s important to consider what effect a parent with alcohol use disorder can have on their young life.

Researchers found during a study that children of alcoholic parents were more likely to experience:

  1. Less money and lower economic status
  2. Poor school performance
  3. Spending more time watching TV and less time exercising
  4. Eating unhealthy food like sweets, fast food and soft drinks
  5. Higher substance use
  6. Mental health difficulties like emotional problems, mental disorders and suicidal tendencies[4]

For more information about living with an alcoholic spouse, simply reach out to our 24/7, confidential hotline on 0800 111 4108.

What Should I Do When Living with an Alcoholic Partner?

A man sitting with a female therapist who is holding a clipboard

Take Care of Yourself

Looking after your own mental health will put you in a better position to help others, so don’t feel guilty taking ‘me-time’.

It’s important to know that your well-being is as valuable as your partner.

  • Continue your hobbies and passions – this builds self-esteem and will give you a positive outlook
  • Get counselling and open up to your loved ones – therapy has good success rates at improving mental health, but even a chat with a friend can boost your mood
  • Spend time with people who care about you – you may feel that your partner is your whole world, but spending time with others can show you that you’re loved and you can get through these hard times

Set Boundaries

Your home is a space you should feel comfortable in, and if this environment becomes stressful, it can be really hard to relax, leading to more problems.

A few good ground rules when living with an alcoholic are:

  • No alcohol at home – this keeps the problem out of your personal space, so you don’t have to be confronted with it 24/7
  • No abusive language or behaviour – alcohol can cause behavioural changes, but you shouldn’t have to put up with any harmful words or actions
  • No drinking partners in the house – this again compartmentalises your home as a safe space which is not for drinking

Find a Support Group

Group discussion around a table

It helps to know that you’re not alone. The groups listed below offer help not only for people in addiction, but families, carers, and those affected by the issue too.

  • Al-Anon – this charity specifically for alcoholism is an open space for even distant family members and friends to meet and share a common bond
  • Alateen – an off-shoot of Al-Anon for teenage family and friends of alcoholics
  • FRANK – this support service supports people who use drugs (including alcohol) and their parents or carers
  • Families Anonymous – these online and face-to-face support meetings are for the family and friends of people facing a drug or alcohol problem

For more information about living with an alcoholic spouse, simply reach out to our 24/7, confidential hotline on 0800 111 4108.

What Should I Not Do When Living with an Alcoholic Partner?

A man slumped over, under stress from being confronted about being an alcoholic partner

Many people when living with an alcoholic partner wonder if they’re doing the right thing.

While it’s important not to beat yourself up about your actions, there are a few things you should try to steer clear of:

Enabling Alcoholism

  • Ignoring the addiction – the longer an addiction persists, the harder it is to overcome. While you may be feeling stuck, it’s important not to ignore your partner’s drinking problem
  • Giving them money – money can be used to buy alcohol, or it can be used to pay for things that your partner is neglecting as a result of their addiction. While you may just be trying to help, this means they no longer have to take accountability for their money
  • Accepting harmful behaviours – drunkenness isn’t an excuse for poor behaviour, so don’t feel it’s right for your partner to treat you with disrespect
  • Taking care of their responsibilities – doing your partner’s duties means they don’t have to, and this can keep them from recognising that they need to change

Unhealthy Coping Mechanisms

Nightlife, bars, shops and neon lights

  • Taking out your frustrations on others – like your children or co-workers
  • Engaging in substance use yourself – using alcohol or substances as a way to cope
  • Having an affair – you may feel this is better than leaving your partner, but it only makes your relationship or marriage worse

What’s the Right Way to Discuss Alcoholism?

Addressing the problem of alcoholism can be challenging for a lot of partners – especially if the addicted person is secretive.

Although it may feel awkward at first, the first conversation is the hardest, and from there you can begin to see how willing your significant other is to seek help.

For more information about living with an alcoholic spouse, simply reach out to our 24/7, confidential hotline on 0800 111 4108.

How Should I Talk to My Alcoholic Partner about Their Drinking?

Close up of two people in sweaters holding coffee mugs, face to face at a table

  • Tell them that you love them but will not enable them to continue
  • Remind them of how addiction has changed them, and that their life is not headed in a good direction
  • If they’re open to change, gently discuss seeking help for the addiction, and enter an alcohol rehab programme (staging an intervention)
  • Talk about the positives, and how their life would be improved by seeking help
  • Prepare for the conversation and have treatment options ready to put forward as an option, but ensure this is what they want, and that they have a choice

What Should I Not Do When Talking to My Alcoholic Partner about their Drinking?

  • Avoid shame or judgement – remember that addiction is a disease, so guilt can trigger a defensive reaction and even lead to more drinking
  • Don’t jump straight into problem-solving – listen to them and seek to understand
  • Don’t belittle their problems – alcoholism is a chronic condition that consumes a person

When is it Time to Leave an Alcoholic Partner?

A woman talking to her alcoholic partner. They're wearing warm coats and looking over city lights at night

If you’re considering leaving, that suggests you’re no longer happy in your relationship, and things need to change.

Consider whether any of the below are impacting your life:

Their Drinking Habits Are Impacting You or Your Household

If you or any member of your household have felt the negative effects of your partner’s drinking problem, you don’t have to grin and bear it.

If you have children, consider how their lives are influenced by your spouse’s alcoholism, and if it’s the best thing for them to live with an alcoholic parent.

There’s No Improvement

If you’ve tried addressing the problem, and your partner is not ready consider getting sober or cutting down, things aren’t likely to improve any time soon.

You don’t have to stay with someone who is not willing to compromise for you.

For more information about living with an alcoholic spouse, simply reach out to our 24/7, confidential hotline on 0800 111 4108.

Intervention Hasn’t Helped

A bumpy road

An intervention is a process where people who are close to the addicted person and sometimes a professional interventionist confront the issue, talk about how it’s impacting everyone and offer options.

Ultimately, if your partner doesn’t want to get sober, nothing you do to help will make a difference.

You’re Staying for Them

You may be worried that your partner’s addiction could spiral even further out of control if you leave, but you can’t stay in a relationship for this reason.

Your relationship needs to make you feel happy, secure and loved. It’s not your responsibility to cast these things aside for someone who makes no effort to get better.

Sometimes leaving a partner is what it takes for people to finally recognise that their addiction has led to their unhappiness, and this great life change can spark the motivation needed to enter rehabilitation.

Will My Alcoholic Spouse Ever Sober Up?

Woman looking sad

There’s always hope for people in addiction. In the year 2021-2022, 126,118 people completed a drug or alcohol treatment, and 49% left successfully free from dependence[5].

What Kind of Treatment is Available for Alcohol Addiction?

Addiction support comes in many shapes and sizes, so your partner can choose an option that suits them.

  • Brief interventions – the NHS offer this less invasive form of addiction treatment which involves a quick chat with a medical professional who will talk about how much your partner is drinking, how often, and seek to understand patterns of behaviour
  • Inpatient rehab – your partner will live within a residential addiction recovery facility which offers more security and support. It’s possible to get this on the NHS but due to difficulties, most inpatient users pay for it themselves or claim on their insurance
  • Outpatient rehab – your partner will attend regular check-ins but live at home. This is a more appealing option for people who want to continue working, looking after children or tending to other responsibilities. This can also be done through the NHS or your insurance provider
  • Charities and support groups Alcoholics Anonymous, Al-Anon, We Are With You and Change Grow Live offer meetings and support throughout the UK, totally free of charge

For more information about living with an alcoholic spouse, simply reach out to our 24/7, confidential hotline on 0800 111 4108.

Living with an Alcoholic Spouse FAQs

A person holding hands across a table with their alcoholic spouse

What’s a ‘Functioning Alcoholic’?

The National Institute of Health defines the ‘functional subtype’ as well educated, with stable jobs and families.

They may have or have had a depressive illness in their lives, but their addiction coexists alongside their responsibilities.[6]

Can Living with an Alcoholic Partner Cause PTSD?

Post traumatic stress disorder can be brought on by any event that you have found traumatic.

Living with an alcoholic partner can cause a lot of stress and hurt, so it is possible this could be a cause.

See your GP if you’re struggling with flashbacks of events, nightmares, insomnia, poor concentration or intense irritability or guilt.[7]

How Else Can I Reach Out for Help with Addiction?

Woman talking on a mobile phone, sat down on floor outside

Rehab 4 Alcoholism’s free, non-judgemental helpline can provide you with advice and referrals to rehab.

Our team is made up of people who are in recovery and understand what you and your family are going through.

For more information about living with an alcoholic spouse, simply reach out to our 24/7, confidential hotline on 0800 111 4108.

Two women smiling at each other in the kitchen with an iPad

References

[1]https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/understanding-alcohol-use-disorder#:~:text=Image,%2C%20occupational%2C%20or%20health%20consequences.

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5248422/

[3]https://www.ias.org.uk/uploads/IAS%20report%20Alcohol%20domestic%20abuse%20and%20sexual%20assault.pdf

[4] https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1465-3362.2012.00424.x

[5]https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/substance-misuse-treatment-for-adults-statistics-2021-to-2022/adult-substance-misuse-treatment-statistics-2021-to-2022-report#:~:text=There%20were%20289%2C215%20adults%20in,figures%20(130%2C490%20and%20132%2C124).

[6] https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/researchers-identify-alcoholism-subtypes

[7]https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/conditions/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/overview/

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