talking to alcoholic spouse

Navigating Life With an Alcoholic Spouse: What To Do (And What NOT to Do)

When your spouse is addicted to alcohol, your marriage—and your life—can feel out of control. So, what can you do to help your alcoholic spouse? And, what actions are unhelpful?

At Creekside Recovery Center, we offer sober living programs to help those struggling with addiction and co-occurring mental health disorders. Visit our admissions page today to find a supportive home environment for your spouse.

5 Ways to Help Your Alcoholic Spouse (And Yourself)

Untreated alcoholism will have a negative impact on your spouse, yourself, and your entire family. You can’t just ignore the problem and hope it goes away on its own. On the other hand, you can’t control your spouse’s behavior—and this might make you feel helpless.

However, you can empower yourself—and your family—by taking the following steps:

1. Learn More About Alcoholism

Alcoholism is a disease affecting millions of Americans each year. According to the 2022 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 28.8 million people aged 18 and older had a past year alcohol use disorder (AUD).

Learning more about alcoholism puts things into perspective. As you learn to understand alcohol addiction as a disease, you can separate your spouse from their problematic behaviors. This will help you focus on dealing with the problem for what it is: a mental disorder that can be treated.

The following resources can help you learn more:

In addition, you can attend open Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings to learn more and hear stories from other alcoholics.

2. Set Healthy Boundaries

Healthy boundaries are critical for living with an alcoholic spouse. This means you have clear rules and expectations about alcohol use in your home. It also means there are consequences to crossing certain boundaries.

You have to be reasonable and temper your expectations when setting boundaries. Otherwise, you could set yourself and your spouse up for failure. For example, if the boundary is simply, “you need to stop drinking right now,” you aren’t giving your spouse any chance to recover.

Instead, you can set boundaries around seeking treatment or about unacceptable times for drinking. You might not allow drinking around children or during holidays, for instance.

3. Get Support for Yourself

You can’t control your alcoholic spouse and how they will deal with underlying issues regarding their drinking. However, you can get help and support for yourself.

Support groups, like Al-Anon Family Groups, are a great place to start. In family groups, you can learn from and share experiences with others who have been in your place before.

4. Take Care of Yourself (Self-Care)

It is crucial that you take care of yourself and don’t neglect your own needs. Oftentimes, you are so preoccupied with your spouse’s behaviors, that you don’t take any time for yourself. Learn to let go a little and do things for yourself, like taking a break, relaxing, talking to a friend, or engaging in your own interests.

Engaging in self-care will help to keep tensions at a minimum at home. This will also help you from burning out and ultimately will enable you to be there for your loved one when they are ready to get help.

In addition, you can seek therapy or counseling to learn how to deal with the stress of living with an alcoholic spouse.

5. Helping Your Kids

If you have children, you need to ensure that their needs are met as well. You might not think that your children understand the situation. However, you’d be surprised at how much kids know about the problems at home.

It’s best to speak openly about the problem. Let your kids know that their other parent has a disease, and this disease causes them to seem different. Also, encourage them to share their feelings and attend support groups or therapy as well.

However, if your spouse is abusive to you or your children, you need to understand your legal rights if you need to remove an alcoholic from your home.

5 Things NOT to Do When Dealing With an Alcoholic Spouse

It’s also important to know what not to do when living with an alcoholic spouse. Sometimes, people with alcoholism in the home either ignore the issue or aggravate it. Knowing what not to do can help you from unintentionally worsening the problem.

1. Don’t Enable Their Addiction

“Enable” is a word that is used often when discussing family members of alcoholics and addicts. Essentially, enabling means that a person thinks they are helping their loved one, however, they are actually creating conditions that allow the problematic behaviors to occur.

Examples of enabling include making excuses when an alcoholic spouse is drunk or hungover and misses work or social events. Another is protecting them from dealing with any legal consequences, like a public drinking charge or DUI.

2. Don’t Ignore the Problem

Many families of alcoholics hope that the problem will go away on its own. They ignore the issue or tip-toe around it. Unfortunately, this won’t help anyone.

Ignoring the problem can lead to increased tension, passive-aggression, enabling, and “para-alcoholism” (taking on the problematic behaviors of an alcoholic without drinking).

3. Don’t Blame Yourself

Spouses of alcoholics also have a tendency to blame themselves for the problem. Remember: this isn’t your fault. Your spouse has a disease—and neither you nor they can control that.

Blame often leads to guilt, shame, doubt, and low self-esteem. Over time, you could develop a mental health disorder, like depression or anxiety as these thoughts become overwhelming.

Instead, talk to a support group, friend, or counselor about your feelings to develop healthy ways of coping with the problem.

4. Don’t Try to Control Their Drinking

Any attempt at controlling your spouse’s behaviors could lead to conflicts and escalate their drinking. For example, you might lecture them about it, complain about their behavior, create ultimatums, or shame them. Not only is this not helpful, but it wastes time and energy that could be spent doing something more productive.

Instead, talk to them about your concerns, express empathy, and encourage treatment. Of course, you don’t want to hold back either—let them know how this behavior affects you and the family.

5. Don’t Talk About Drinking When They’re Drunk

It’s tempting to give in to knee-jerk reactions when your loved one is drunk. After all, this is when conflicts, tensions, and issues arise. However, talking to your spouse about changing their behaviors when they are under the influence won’t help.

For one thing, they probably won’t remember anything you’ve said. Even if you seem to get somewhere with them, it’s unlikely that they will follow through after they sober up. And, even if they agree with you that they need help, they might just be trying to get you off their back.

Make sure to have the important conversations about drinking and treatment programs when your spouse is sober. Even if they don’t change their behavior, at least they’ll be in a state of mind to hear your concerns and consider their next steps.

Get Help for Your Alcoholic Spouse Today

Creekside Recovery Residences offers sober living homes and other treatment options for those struggling with alcoholism. If your spouse needs help and a stable place to live while they get treatment, we can help. Contact us today for more.

Tags: No tags

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked*