If you are dealing with a loved one’s alcohol use disorder it can be difficult to know how to help, how to support them, what to do to minimize stress and conflict, and how to take care of yourself at the same time. It is important to remember that you alone are not the cause or cure for your alcoholic spouse’s drinking problem, but you do have the power to adjust your approach and attitude to dealing with it.
Dealing with an alcoholic spouse can begin to take its toll on your physical and mental health. Through adjustments and changes of perspectives, you are able to effectively support your partner on their road to recovery, while ensuring you and your family are happy and healthy. This article will explore the signs of an alcohol use disorder, how to support a loved one, how to take care of yourself, and common issues that may arise from living with an alcoholic spouse.
Recognizing the Signs of an Alcohol Use Disorder
An alcohol use disorder is a medical condition that is recognized by the inability to control or stop drinking despite negative consequences to one’s life, whether social, professional, or health-related. Unfortunately, an alcohol use disorder does not only affect the individual living with the condition. Still, it has a trickle-down effect of impacting the lives of their loved ones, family, and others surrounding them.
Sometimes, it can be difficult to identify a loved one’s heavy alcohol consumption, as recreational and social drinking is very much accepted in our day-to-day lives. Therefore it is best to look out for specific behavior patterns than excessive consumption. Some key signs to look out for include:
- Loss of interest in activities
- They have to drink more to feel the same effects
- Often seem unwell, irritable, or tired
- Depressive or anxious symptoms
- Secretive and dishonest about their drinking habits
- Drinking alone
- Having uncontrollable cravings for alcohol
- Continuing to drink despite negative consequences
- Drinking to deal with the stress of using alcohol as a coping mechanism
- They are unable to quit drinking after one or two drinks
If you are concerned that your partner has an alcohol use disorder, there are different tests to help determine the level of alcohol abuse. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) was created to help determine the severity of an individual’s alcohol use disorder. The manual consists of 11 questions that classify whether the disorder is mild, moderate, or severe. Although a doctor should give a diagnosis, reading through the questionnaire with your family can help you determine your next course of action.
When using terminology concerning alcohol use disorders, the term ‘alcoholic’ is colloquial. To avoid creating a negative bias and to reduce stigma when talking about the topic, the National Institutes Of Health (NIH) have recommended using and saying ‘person with an alcohol use disorder’; an accurate description for a diagnosable medical condition.
Effects of Living With an Alcoholic Spouse
The effects of living with an alcoholic spouse are both short and long-term. Research has found that living with a partner who is partaking in alcohol and drug abuse can largely affect your emotional well-being and physical health, the stress that you endure because of their drinking habits increases the risk of:
- Depression or anxiety symptoms
- Sleeping difficulties
- Neglecting personal, family, or work obligations
- Financial problems due to your partner’s drinking
- Trauma or PTSD
- Feeling ashamed
- Ignoring children’s needs
Living with someone with a substance abuse disorder is extremely unpredictable. Substance abuse of any kind is likely to cloud the individual’s judgment which can increase risk-taking and participation in dangerous activities. For example, your partner may drink and drive, get into physical fights, get angry and out of control or even be emotionally or physically abusive toward you and your family. Living in these unpredictable circumstances can lead to anxiety and hypervigilance; signs of the experience of trauma.
Unfortunately, alcohol abuse increases the risk of intimate partner violence. Although alcohol doesn’t cause domestic violence, the effects of alcohol definitely increase the chances of experiencing violence. Abuse does not always mean physical, the effects of emotional abuse are also detrimental to your mental health. Research found that violence against women was 2 to 4 times more likely in relationships where men had a substance abuse disorder, specifically with alcohol. Additionally, when heavy and frequent drinking was involved, the risk factors for violence increased.
If you are a victim of domestic violence then there are a number of helplines you can contact for support. If you are in immediate danger then please call 9-1-1. Alternatively, the National Domestic Violence Hotline is 1-800-799-7233.
Living with an alcoholic partner increases your risk of experiencing mental health disorders. Research found that partners of people with alcohol use disorders experienced higher rates of anxiety and depression.
How to Support a Partner With an Alcohol Addiction
Knowing how to support an alcoholic spouse can be tricky, you want the best for them but you also want to maintain your and other family members’ happiness. It can be difficult to know how to offer help and avoiding the issue seems to be the easy option, but ignoring the situation will only worsen the effects for them and yourself. The first thing to do is to read about the disorder and familiarize yourself with the signs so you are able to address your spouse’s behaviors and actions.
Choose the right time to discuss this issue with your partner. Wait until they are sober, there is privacy and you have time to talk about your concerns. Try and address these with calmness and patience, it’s easy to sound accusatory and angry when their behavior has been affecting you. But emphasizing your concern about their well-being and health rather than expressing personal complaints will result in a more effective two-way conversation.
A substance abuse disorder is a progressive disease and your loved one will most likely need outside help in order to recover. When someone has an alcohol dependency they will typically go through a series of stages before they are ready to commit to change. Remember, it is not your sole responsibility to cure their disorder and although you can offer support, you cannot force someone to stop drinking and become sober, they have to ultimately make this decision themselves. Treatment options include support groups, counseling, and in some cases, medication.
It’s easy to brush off when an alcoholic spouse displays unacceptable behavior, maybe you excuse it with ‘they were drunk’ or ‘they just had too much to drink.’ But when we accept these small incidents, over time they can progress and the problematic behavior gets worse and worse. Abuse is never acceptable and you should not have to endure this in your life. If you have children with your partner it is important to protect them. Challenge your partner if they are to address your children with negative comments as this can cause damage to a child’s psyche.
It’s important that you try not to enable your partner’s drinking. Enabling is when you attempt to hide someone’s substance use disorder by making excuses for their behavior. Often, when trying to ‘help’ it is common for individuals to enable someone’s destructive drinking patterns. When you enable someone, you prevent them from facing the consequences of their actions.
Sometimes it might be best to let a crisis happen. It may feel unnatural and that you should be doing everything to prevent the situation from reaching a crisis point. However, sometimes this is exactly what is needed. It can be a wake-up call for your partner to realize the severity of their alcohol use disorder and its effects on their loved ones. If you attempt to ‘rescue’ someone from a crisis situation, it can delay their decision-making in reaching out for help. It’s easier said than done as watching a crisis unfold can be extremely difficult, but it may be what your partner needs. It is important to try and balance the risk against the potential positive outcomes, as well as be mindful of your own pain in these situations.
How to Support Yourself
If you have been dealing with a loved one’s alcohol abuse it is likely that you have been neglecting your own mental well-being. It’s crucial that you are also getting the support you need. There are a number of things that you can do to help relieve the pressure, such as:
- Free yourself from blame – It’s common for individuals to blame their drinking habits on those around them, but if your partner is dependent on alcohol, they may drink no matter what you say or do.
- Try not to take things personally – maybe they say they will never drink again but after a short time they are indulging again. It is not so easy to suddenly stop drinking alcohol and they may not be in complete control of their decision making
- Don’t set unreasonable expectations so you do not become disappointed
- Try and stay focused on the now
- Reach out to family and friends for support
Support groups are a great way to look after yourself. AI-Anon is a peer support group that was founded to help families of people who abuse alcohol. Attending support groups can help you and your family learn coping strategies, encouraging you to look after yourself whilst constructively dealing with your spouse’s behaviors.
Having the connection and support of people who are sharing the same experience and living in similar environments will support you throughout your journey. If you are having mental health troubles, it may also be time to seek help for yourself from a mental health professional.
Treatment for Alcohol Use Disorder
There often is very little that you can do by yourself to help someone. The individuals living with the disorder need to want to change themselves, but when they are ready to seek help, there is a range of alcohol addiction treatment options.
There are a number of different treatment facilities that offer a variety of effective treatment options either delivered on an inpatient or outpatient basis, alcohol treatment programs typically consist of:
- Detox and withdrawal
- Psychological counseling
- Treatment for health conditions
- Treatment for psychological problems
For more information about medication used to treat alcohol use disorders, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) have created a guide that summarizes everything to do with medication-assisted treatment.
Treatment at Feinberg
When someone is struggling with a substance use disorder, it can affect everyone involved and at times, professional treatment is needed for all those concerned. At Feinberg consulting, we offer guidance, care coordination, and support for individuals and their family members to ensure proper treatment and care are provided.
From providing treatment recommendations and performing interventions to recovery coaching services and case management, our team of licensed experts is equipped with the expertise to help individuals and their family members along the path to recovery.
We understand that the recovery road is different for everyone so aim to meet our client’s needs with a one-to-one client approach. We utilize family therapy to ensure that a strong support system is in place for everyone.
If you are concerned about a loved one’s alcoholism, or maybe you are seeking treatment for yourself, it is never too late to ask for help, contact us today to see how we can support you.