People who struggle with alcohol use disorder may try to hide their condition, or they may believe that the negative effects of their problem only hurt them. However, addiction to alcohol often changes behaviors, puts people at risk of financial and legal problems, and leads to memory loss or cognitive difficulty – all of which can negatively impact people who love alcoholics, such as parents, siblings, friends, children, and spouses.
A person may be married to someone who is struggling with alcohol use disorder. Perhaps the person has tried several times to end their addiction or maybe the addiction has just begun after decades of marriage. Maybe the spouse was a high-functioning alcoholic, coping with job stresses and consuming large quantities of alcohol at the same time, without appearing to struggle, but they are now beginning to suffer serious consequences as time progresses.
People who are married to someone struggling with alcohol use disorder may experience fear for their safety, their future, or their family. They often fear for their loved one’s health and happiness. People in a romantic relationship with someone who is struggling with alcohol use disorder, whether they are married, cohabitating, or dating, may:
Accept troublesome behavior: Again, people who love a person struggling with alcohol use disorder may deny or excuse problematic behaviors because the person was drunk at the time. They may firmly believe that this isn’t really who their loved one is, so they might excuse the behavior. If the person is aggressive, depressed, suicidal, abusive, or dangerous more often than not because they are drunk, they likely have a drinking problem that needs to be addressed.
Enable their partner: This could include giving the loved one money to get out of a tough financial spot; driving them to and from bars to keep them safe on the road; make excuses at social events for the person’s behavior or their absence; or avoiding the issue in order to focus on positive events. All of this is enabling behavior; it’s “helping” that isn’t really helpful. Instead, it shields the person suffering from alcohol use disorder from the consequences of their disease.
Pointing out these behaviors is not an attempt to blame anyone, only to help people recognize if they may be hurting themselves in an attempt to maintain their relationship with someone who is compulsively engaging in destructive behaviors. Instead, both people in the relationship can heal by being honest and getting appropriate help.
The actions aren’t easy to take, but they are certainly important. People who are married to, or in a relationship with, someone struggling with alcohol use disorder may want to start by going to a therapist, social worker, spiritual or religious leader, or friend or family member for emotional support. It can help to have a steady person to talk to as action is taken.
Here are some steps that spouses of alcoholics can take to get help for themselves and their loved ones:
Get help for the whole family.
If there are children or close family members involved, family therapy can greatly help strained relationships to heal and improve. Individual therapy for family members, including the alcoholic’s spouse, is important to address damage that has been done during their loved one’s active addiction. Spouses and loved ones can also take up a hobby, get regular exercise, learn mindfulness meditation techniques, find opportunities to socialize and relax in sober settings, and learn about alcohol use disorder to better support themselves as well as their partners.
The person struggling with alcohol use disorder should complete a professional detox and rehabilitation program, but it is equally important that their partner seek help too.