What to Do When Living With an Alcoholic Spouse?

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Dealing with an alcoholic partner can significantly impact a person’s life and result in both short- and long-term consequences. People who compulsively drink for an extended period tend to have drastic personality changes that gradually evolve over time. As a result, individuals who were once in healthy, loving relationships can suddenly find themselves the target of physical or emotional harm. 

Alcoholics and their partners can also face addiction-related financial distress and legal issues that compromise the entire family’s well-being. A loved one’s drinking habits must be acknowledged and addressed to prevent or minimize these effects. You will also need to make arrangements for professional treatment and devise a plan of action for leaving the relationship if the alcoholic partner refuses to pursue recovery.

If your spouse or significant other is struggling with alcohol misuse, there are ways you can help yourself and your partner overcome the challenges caused by excessive drinking. At Guardian Recovery, we understand the difficulties the loved ones of alcoholics face regularly. While our integrated programs primarily treat individuals, we also incorporate family support whenever possible to help heal wounds caused by conflicts within intimate partner relationships.

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How to Approach Your Partner’s Alcohol Use Disorder

If you believe your partner likely has an alcohol use disorder, you must be prepared to handle critical tasks that increase the likelihood they’ll be willing to consider treatment and work toward recovery. The following are a few practical recommendations that may help you convince a loved one they have a chronic disease and need professional help.

Confront Them While Avoiding Conflict

Although it is absolutely essential to nudge your partner into recovery mode, confronting them may be one of the most significant challenges you will encounter. You can face them one-on-one or plan a family intervention. Just keep in mind that people with addictions are generally opposed to changing their behavior, especially when they don’t understand the full impact of their actions on others. 

Therefore, it may take your partner some time to process and accept they have an alcohol use disorder. As a result, initial attempts to intervene will likely be met with denial, defensiveness, and even anger. For this reason, approaching your partner about their problem will require you to exude compassion, empathy, and patience.

Above all, never try to have a conversation with your partner when they are intoxicated. (1) This can hinder communication and result in frustration for both of you. Conversely, if they are sober or actively experiencing drinking-related consequences, it might be a good time to initiate dialogue.

Instead of making accusations and demands, consider focusing on how their behavior affects you and others. Doing this may help them drop their guard and make them less likely to become defensive and combative. Then, you could allow them to have some space to reflect on their behavior and process their emotions.

Prepare Yourself for Denial

It is normal and almost expected for people with addictions to initially deny their problem or claim it’s less severe than others think. (2) They don’t want to admit they have lost control, and admitting to having a substance use disorder would shatter their perception of themselves. Next, they’d have to consider giving up their habit and seeking help instead of carrying on as they’ve been.

Denial is often a favorite tactic among alcoholics who consider themselves “high-functioning.” (3) It’s much easier for a person to dismiss concerns about their drinking behavior when they are perceived as being relatively functional versus having hit “rock bottom” and being entirely dysfunctional.

It may be daunting to confront your partner about their drinking, especially when you are met with immediate denial. Remember, however, it is also difficult for them to be confronted. (4) Their refusal to admit they have a problem now doesn’t mean they’ll never acknowledge it or the need for treatment. However, it may take several attempts to get to this point, and only you can decide when you’re at the end of your rope.

Refuse to Enable Their Drinking Behavior

It’s common for one partner to enable another’s addiction by supplying them with alcohol or shielding them from the consequences of their actions. If your partner refuses to seek help, you don’t want to make it easy for them to continue drinking by supporting their decisions and behaviors. 

Examples of Enabling Include:

  • Buying or providing them with alcohol.
  • Taking care of them when they’re hungover.
  • Making excuses for work or school absenteeism.
  • Making excuses for their failure to participate in activities.
  • Bailing them out of jail if they get arrested for alcohol-related offenses, such as drunk driving.
  • Consuming alcohol in their presence or giving them an excuse to drink.
  • Giving them rides when their goal is to obtain or use alcohol.

Enabling is frequently a symptom of codependence, in which one partner sacrifices their own needs to attend to the needs of another. (5) When a person requires help to maintain their addiction, their significant other may take it upon themselves to care for them as doing so fulfills their own psychological needs for love, attachment, and validation. If you find your relationship has become codependent, consider seeking therapy for yourself to gain insight into your own emotional issues.

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Take an Inventory of the Way Their Addiction Is Affecting You & Your Family

When you’re in an intimate relationship with someone with an alcohol use disorder, this relationship will often come second to drinking. Emotional connections can be challenging because your partner is numbing their feelings with alcohol while simultaneously lying to conceal the extent of their addiction. (6) Although many alcoholics are only deceptive about their drinking habits, this deceit can cause others to perceive them as untrustworthy. If you can’t trust your partner, your relationship will suffer significantly.

If their alcohol misuse progresses to the point you withdraw socially as a couple, you might feel resentful about being forced into that position. It would also make it more difficult to confide in loved ones about the problems you’re facing. These are the types of issues you will eventually need to come to terms with and address with your partner.

It’s also not uncommon for couples to encounter financial difficulties when one partner uses drugs or alcohol. These can be related to the costs of alcohol itself or going to drinking establishments. Very often, however, these costs are most significant when due to missing work or losing employment altogether. 

Other undesirable expenses may include fines your partner incurs for arrests for alcohol-related offenses or making reckless purchases when intoxicated. Financial strain always has adverse effects on a relationship, especially if many expenses are unwarranted.

Seek Support for Your Partner, Yourself, & Your Family

Alcoholism is often referred to as a family disease, which means your close loved ones may need treatment or support to deal with the impact of your partner’s addiction. The idea is that if one suffers, everyone suffers.

Some groups, like Al-Anon, offer support to those struggling or suffering due to a family member’s alcoholism. Dealing with an alcoholic partner is not a situation you want to be forced to go through alone. Other people have been encountering the same circumstances, and they may be able to offer insight and advice into your family’s own struggles.

If your partner becomes open to seeking help, consider making an appointment with a health provider or therapist. In addition, specialized treatment centers, such as Guardian Recovery, offer free assessments and can advise you both on the next course of action. Before, during, or after formal treatment, there are also support group meetings your partner can attend, including Alcoholics Anonymous and SMART recovery.

Know When It’s Time to Leave

If your efforts to get your partner into treatment fail, there may come a time when the costs begin to outweigh the benefits of your relationship. This can happen if you become the target of emotional or physical abuse or your relationship has devolved to the extent that repairing it seems unlikely.

Leaving a marriage or relationship can be difficult regardless of the reason. However, there are certainly times when you have to put yourself and your family first over the needs of one member. If you’ve gotten to the point where you’ve lost all respect for your partner or yourself, it might be time to take a step back or break free from the relationship altogether. Unfortunately, sometimes it takes a breakup to make a person with a substance use disorder wake up and try to repair the damage they’ve inflicted before it’s too late.

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How a Comprehensive Recovery Program Can Help Your Partner, Yourself, & Your Family

Spouses and significant others can play a vital role in their partner’s recovery from alcoholism, including helping them find the necessary treatment. At Guardian Recovery, we offer evidence-based approaches to treating alcohol dependence consisting of comprehensive programs tailored to each individual’s unique needs and goals.

Contact us today for a free, no-obligation health benefits check and to learn more about our various treatment options and levels of care. We’ll devise a long-term treatment plan for your spouse to address all aspects of their health and well-being while incorporating much-needed family support. We can help you get started immediately if you and your spouse are ready to begin your recovery journey together.


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Disclaimer: Does not guarantee specific treatment outcomes, as individual results may vary. Our services are not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis; please consult a qualified healthcare provider for such matters.

(1) https://aurora.edu/student-life/campus-services/counseling/faq-confrontation.html#q6 (2)(4)(5) https://psychcentral.com/blog/addiction-recovery/2014/03/7-honest-reasons-why-addicts-lie#1

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Reviewed professionally for accuracy by:

Ryan Soave


Ryan Soave brings deep experience as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, certified trauma therapist, program developer, and research consultant for Huberman Lab at Stanford University Department of Neurobiology. Post-graduation from Wake Forest University, Ryan quickly discovered his acumen for the business world. After almost a decade of successful entrepreneurship and world traveling, he encountered a wave of personal and spiritual challenges; he felt a calling for something more. Ryan returned to school and completed his Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling. When he started working with those suffering from addiction and PTSD, he found his passion. He has never looked back.

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Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark grew up in Santa Barbara, CA and graduated from UCLA with a degree in playwriting. Since then she has been writing on addiction recovery and psychology full-time, and has found a home as part of the Guardian Recovery team.

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