My Partner is an Alcoholic: How to Cope with an Alcoholic Partner

5 min read · 4 sections
Statistics reveal that men are more likely than women to have a drinking problem, have alcohol use disorder—the medical term for addiction—and participate in binge drinking.1
What you will learn:
Signs of alcohol misuse and addiction
How alcohol misuse impacts relationships
How to help a partner with an alcohol addiction
How to take care of yourself

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, some of the statistics concerning men and alcohol use include:2,3

  • Men are more likely to binge drink alcohol than women. About 21% of men report binge drinking, compared to 13% of women.
  • Among the men who binge drink, 25% do so at least 5 times a month, and 25% consume at least 9 drinks during a binge drinking occasion.

Furthermore, with men, alcohol is more likely associated with violence and injury.1

  • Over three-quarters of the more than 97,000 excessive-drinking deaths each year are men.
  • Men involved in fatal car accidents are 50% more likely than women to have been intoxicated (with a blood alcohol concentration greater than 0.08%) at the time of the crash.
  • Studies indicate that heavy drinking may lead to aggression and increase the risk of physically or sexually assaulting another person.

Signs Your Partner Struggles with Alcohol Use

Alcohol use disorder is a medical condition defined by the inability to control drinking despite the negative consequences.2 Some of the signs of alcohol use disorder include:2

  • Drinking more than they intend.
  • Attempting to reduce their consumption of alcohol or stop drinking altogether but being unsuccessful each time.
  • Spending a lot of time dealing with alcohol—either drinking it or managing its aftereffects.
  • Craving alcohol.
  • Failing to fulfill responsibilities at work or home due to alcohol consumption.
  • Experiencing problems with family or friends because of alcohol use and continuing to drink despite these issues.
  • Avoiding once enjoyable activities to drink.
  • Participating in risky activities while under the influence of alcohol.
  • Continuing to drink even though it harms their health or emotional well-being (experiencing blackouts, for instance).
  • Increasing the amount of drinking to get the same effects as before, which means they have built a tolerance to alcohol.
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when they don’t drink.

It’s not uncommon for people with alcohol use disorder to be in denial over their drinking problem.3 In fact, one study of mostly male (74%) respondents with alcohol use disorder found that most reported being light to moderate social drinkers despite consuming averages of up to 12 drinks during each social occasion.3

Furthermore, the relationship between alcohol consumption and aggressive behavior is well documented.3 In fact, acute alcohol intoxication plays a role in nearly half of all violent crimes and sexual assaults.3 Research indicates that alcohol may contribute to violent behavior by reducing an individual’s self-control and their judgement.4 Some studies suggest that the association between alcohol and violence becomes stronger with increased alcohol consumption.4 Therefore, if your partner drinks excessively, he may engage in angry outbursts and abusiveness, which may be atypical behavior for him.

Besides domestic abuse, alcohol-related aggression is involved in other crimes, inluding:3

  • Violent assaults. Each year in the United States, approximately 3 million victims report that their offender was under the influence of alcohol.
  • Murder. In the United States, alcohol is a key factor in 32% of murders.
  • Other criminal and domestic violence. A meta-analysis between chronic alcohol consumption and violent crimes showed that individuals, who become heavily intoxicated at least once per year, are 2 times as likely to be involved in violence than those who drink low or moderate amounts.

How Alcohol Addiction Affects Relationships

Beyond violence, alcohol can affect relationships negatively in a variety of ways, including:5,6

  • Financial problems. Money needed to pay rent, medical bills, or for treatment may be used to buy alcohol, for instance, causing strain on the relationship as the partner not misusing alcohol assumes the provider role.
  • Psychological consequences. Studies indicate that partners of people who engage in problem drinking have higher levels of stress, anxiety, and depression compared to individuals in relationships with partners without alcohol misuse problems. Other psychological consequences for the partner without the alcohol or substance use disorder may include denial, anger, hopelessness, shame, and isolation.
  • Codependency. Codependency refers to an individual becoming so overly concerned with the problems of another person that they ignore their own wants and needs.

How to Help an Alcoholic Partner

If your boyfriend is an alcoholic, or you have a partner with an alcohol use disorder, you probably wish there was something you could do to help them. With the appropriate treatment, your partner can make changes in their life to live alcohol free. You can make a difference by being a supportive partner and helping them seek treatment.

Here are some of the things to consider:7

  1. Getting a loved one to agree to accept help and finding support services for them—and you—are the first steps toward helping everyone heal. You might consider getting assistance from a substance use professional, medical or mental healthcare provider, or employee assistance professional, who can refer you to resources and treatment plans that can help.
  2. It’s also equally important to take care of yourself. It might help to seek support from family, friends, or mutual-help groups. If you’re experiencing mental health symptoms associated with anxiety or depression, talk to a professional who can help you.

How to Talk to a Partner who Misuses Alcohol

When talking to your partner about their alcohol use, there are certain ways to approach it and situations you should try to avoid. Present your concerns in a manner that helps them understand how their behavior affects your family. You want to convince them that they need help, not put them on the defensive. Some things to consider include:7-12

  • Don’t confront your partner about their alcohol misuse when they’ve been drinking. Ensure you do it when they’re sober and have plenty of time to talk. It’s important to enter the discussion showing support, compassion, and avoiding judgement and confrontation.
  • Do plan what you’re going to say ahead of time. Research alcohol use disorder and talk to medical and mental health professionals, who can help you better understand the disease. Practice your conversations in front of a mirror or with a supportive family member or friend. Rather than get emotional during the talk, you want to remain calm and focused.
  • Don’t talk to them when you’re angry. Yelling and blaming can put your partner on the defensive and lead to additional unwanted conflict. Talk when you’re both calm and talk without distractions.
  • Do be very specific with your concerns based on what you’ve witnessed or felt as a result of your partner’s alcohol use.
  • Don’t use stigmatizing language when talking to them. Using terms such as “alcoholic” or “alcohol abuse” to discuss the disease of addiction is outdated and stigmatizing. Language like this can create a negative bias, perpetuate the idea that addiction is a moral failing—and not a medical condition—and prevent your partner from seeking the help they need.
  • Do offer support. Be available for your partner. Help them replace alcohol-related activities with healthier alternatives such as exercising or learning a new skill.
  • Don’t attack or punish your partner.
  • Do plan next steps together. What goals can you set together? Create measurable actions and hold them accountable.
  • Don’t get defensive or start making ultimatums.
  • Do encourage your partner to visit their primary care doctor (or other medical professional). Offer to go with them to talk through their problematic alcohol use and explore the therapies and services that might be best suited to their needs. These healthcare providers will likely provide referrals and can help craft a treatment plan.
  • Don’t expect everything to change overnight. It might take multiple conversations to get your partner to agree to get help.
  • Do know that recovery is possible. Addiction is a lifelong disease, yes, but with your support and encouragement, your partner can overcome their addiction to live a healthy, happy, substance-free life.

Living with a Partner with an Alcohol Addiction

If your partner struggles with alcohol addiction, you cannot change them. They have to want to change their relationship with alcohol. They have to find their inner motivation to seek treatment.

You do, however, have control over your actions, and there are things that you can do to improve your life while you cope with a partner with an alcohol use disorder. These include:

Educating yourself. As previously mentioned, alcohol use disorder is a disease. The more you know about it, the better equipped you are to talk to your partner and manage your expectations regarding their addiction.

Avoiding enabling behaviors. When you love someone, you don’t want to watch them suffer. However, sometimes the actions you take out of love may be enabling your partner to drink. For instance, if you drive them everywhere so they don’t get a DUI, bail them out of jail, or pay for their alcohol-related damages, you are, in effect, supporting their addiction. Instead, you need to set boundaries for yourself and your relationship. If, for example, you refuse to drive them if they lose their license as a result of driving while intoxicated, they will have to take public transportation or pay for another ride, allowing them to experience the full consequences of their behaviors.

Practicing self-care. Statistics show that alcohol use takes a toll not only on the individual with the addiction, but on their loved ones, too. Taking care of yourself is one of the best ways you can also help your partner. It’s like the oxygen masks on the airplane: You’re told to put your mask on first, then assist children or others who may need help. So take care of yourself first. Exercise, meditate, participate in a hobby, do whatever it is that promotes your own mental health. You will be better equipped to support your partner when you’ve created a stable foundation for yourself.

Getting help for yourself. Helping a partner who struggles with alcohol misuse and coping with the choices they make is too hard to do alone. Lean on close family and friends, find a therapist, and join a community mutual-help group made up of others like you—the partners, parents, and other loved ones of individuals with alcohol use disorder. Al-Anon, one of these groups for the family members of individuals with alcohol use disorder, has chapters throughout the country and can provide support for you.

Quitting self-blaming thoughts. Your partner’s problem is not your fault. Say that again. Your partner’s problem is not your fault. As previously mentioned, your partner cannot begin their journey to recovery until they are ready. Alcohol addiction damages your partner but it causes harm to you as well. And you cannot start to heal from those wounds until you fully embrace the knowledge that you did not cause your partner’s addiction, you cannot control it, and you cannot cure it.

When Is It Time to Leave a Partner with an Alcohol Addiction?

Relapse is part of the recovery process for some and can be especially common in individuals with alcohol use disorder.13 Think of the relapse as a temporary setback in recovery and not a failure. Professional treatment can help reduce the risk of relapse by teaching individuals the skills to help them avoid and overcome triggers that might lead to drinking.13

If, on the other hand, your partner refuses treatment or denies that alcohol is a problem, you have to think about yourself and what’s best for you. Ask yourself some difficult questions and be honest when answering them. Questions may include:

  • Are you safe with your partner, or are you being physically assaulted?
  • If you have children, are they protected from violence?
  • Do you have a co-dependent relationship?
  • Are you enabling your partner’s behavior?
  • Will your partner go to a treatment facility?

The answers to these questions can help you determine if and when it is time to leave a relationship with a partner who has an alcohol use disorder.

Getting Alcohol Treatment for Your Partner

Leaving isn’t always the best answer, but letting a partner’s addiction control your life isn’t healthy either. Your job as a loving and supportive partner is to encourage your loved one to get help, but you can’t force them. The drive to get sober has to come from within them. Recovery is a process that requires a lifelong commitment, and they have to be dedicated to it.

If you take the suggestions outlined in this article, you may be able to help your partner understand that getting treatment is the only way to stop the cycle of addiction and get them on the path to recovery. There are several alcohol addiction treatment options available. Depending on the severity of your partner’s alcohol misuse, treatment may include detoxification, inpatient alcohol rehab, outpatient services, behavioral therapies, medications, aftercare programming, mutual-help groups, and more.

American Addiction Centers (AAC) can help. Reach out today at and talk to one of our compassionate and knowledgeable admissions navigators. Many of them are in recovery themselves. They can answer your questions, explain the treatment options, even verify insurance.

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