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Updated on February 24, 2022

3 Things You Can Do If Your Partner Is An Alcoholic

Whether you're dating, married, or in another type of relationship, being with an alcoholic takes it toll. Partners of alcoholics experience both short-term and long-lasting adverse effects.

Partners, lovers, and spouses often experience emotional abuse, which can escalate to domestic violence.

This can lead to several serious issues, including:

  • Mental disorders
  • Physical health problems
  • Developing your own addictions
  • Permanent injuries
  • Damaged relationships

The bad news:

Very few people with alcohol use disorder (AUD) actually seek help. According to the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, only 7.3 percent of adults aged 18 and older struggling with AUD sought treatment in the past year.1

The good news:

Studies show that with the caring support of their partners, alcoholics are more willing to undergo treatment.2 This means that getting help for your partner is possible.

The steps you'll take will be difficult but necessary. In order to build a brighter future for yourself and your loved ones, you need to address your partner's addiction.

It will be a long road, and it's most likely that you'll need professional help along the way. Therapists, doctors, and addiction counselors will be able to provide you with knowledge, resources, and a network of support.

In the meantime, here are three things that you can do to help your partner begin the recovery process:

Step 1: Do some research

One of the essential elements of the recovery process is education. The majority of treatment programs use educational strategies to help people overcome their AUD. 

Lear About Alcoholism

Before making any attempts to help your loved one, you first need to know what alcoholism is.

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a chronic condition where a person is unable to quit drinking in spite of consequences. It requires a a medical diagnosis and describes a pattern of drinking that disrupts a person's daily functioning and relationships. If your relationship is already suffering and your partner isn’t stopping, they may already have alcohol use disorder, and thus, need the help of a health professional.

It’s likely that your partner developed alcoholism from misuse of alcohol. If they’ve been using alcohol in an unhealthy way — such as binge drinking or heavy drinking — their brain is exposed to excessive amounts of alcohol. Alcoholism, on the other hand, is a layman's term used to describe a person who has a form of alcohol dependence. 

In response, the brain releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter that floods the brain's reward system, producing feelings of pleasure and relaxation. Unfortunately, this reward system has a flaw. It conditions the brain to seek alcohol when you’re not drinking, resulting in psychological dependence.

Alcohol abuse also causes physical dependence. As the body gets used to the presence of alcohol, a person may require a larger amount of alcohol to elicit feelings of pleasure. When abruptly stopped, they experience withdrawal symptoms.

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Hallucinations
  • Tremors
  • Anxiety

So it’s really not your partner’s fault that they can’t quit drinking. Alcoholism is like any medical condition that requires treatment. 

The more you learn about alcohol addiction, treatment, and recovery, the more you'll understand your situation. This will help you stay safe by drawing boundaries and providing healthy support for your partner.

Understanding Alcoholism

To better help an alcoholic partner, you need to explore the possible causes of their alcoholism.

Yes — excessive drinking leads to alcoholism. But there are many factors that cause a person to pick up the habit.

Some risk factors for alcohol abuse are:

  • Growing up with family members who have substance use disorders (e.g., drug and alcohol use disorder)
  • Experiencing a traumatic event or stressful life situations (e.g., the death of a loved one or losing a job)
  • Living in an environment with easy access to alcohol (e.g., bars and grocery stores that sell drinks)
  • A family history of alcohol use disorder

Understanding your partner’s drinking problem will prevent you from blaming them.

Recognizing the Signs of Alcoholism

Knowing the signs of alcohol use disorder will help you assess which stage of alcoholism your loved one is experiencing—and how bad their condition is.

Alcoholism has four stages:

Stage 1: Pre-Alcoholism

Your loved one will consume alcohol for reasons other than social drinking. For example, they might drink to de-stress, get away from a problem, forget bad memories, or dull emotional pain.

Stage 2: Early Alcoholism

Your loved one is already suffering from alcohol abuse. Signs here include heavy drinking, binge drinking, and an increasing obsession with alcohol.

However, their drinking problems may go unnoticed since many people hide them at this stage.

Stage 3: Middle Alcoholism

Here, your loved one’s drinking problem becomes obvious. They start spending more time drinking and less on hobbies and interests. They may also neglect professional and social obligations responsibilities.

Alcohol tolerance and dependence usually develop at this stage, causing a person to drink more and more. Any attempt to stop drinking is usually met with withdrawal symptoms.

Stage 4: Late Alcoholism

By this time, your loved one may already have an alcohol addiction. They are either in the process of spiraling downward or have already “hit rock bottom” as they suffer from the consequences of their drinking behavior.

Some signs of late alcoholism include:

  • Debts or bankruptcy
  • Serious health problems
  • Failed relationships
  • Getting fired from work
  • Legal issues
  • Losing a home

If your loved one shows any of these signs, you can start looking into available treatments for alcohol-related substance abuse.

Research Alcohol Treatment Facilities

Whether your partner has alcohol abuse or alcohol addiction, they may require treatment from one or more of the following facilities.

Alcohol Detox Centers

Detoxification or detox is an important step for people who developed a physical dependence on alcohol. If your loved one experiences withdrawal when they’re not drinking, they need to undergo detox.

Alcohol detox helps people stop drinking in a safe and comfortable environment. By easing the discomfort caused by alcohol withdrawal, detox prevents relapse and helps them transition into recovery.

Most alcoholics can detox safely at home without the supervision of a health professional.3 However, if your loved one experiences delirium tremens, a severe form of alcohol withdrawal characterized by hallucinations, seizures, and tremors — detox must be done at a facility.

Alcohol Rehab Centers

Like drug addiction and other types of substance abuse, anyone who is struggling with alcohol problems can benefit from a rehab program. There are two types of rehabilitative centers:

  • Inpatient rehab — Inpatient treatment is generally shorter, lasting anywhere from 28 days to six months. However, your loved one needs to stay at the facility throughout the course of their addiction treatment.
  • Outpatient rehab — Outpatient treatment is longer and can last up to 3 months or over a year. If your loved one chooses an outpatient treatment program, they can undergo addiction treatment while continuing their normal routine.

Inpatient programs are recommended for people with middle to late-stage alcoholism, or those struggling with alcohol dependence and addiction.

Outpatient treatment programs are best suited for individuals with early alcoholism, and may still be struggling with alcohol abuse.

Sober Living Homes

A sober living home is a place where alcoholics can stay during or after rehab. During rehab, the goal of sober living is to help people adjust to a life of recovery. This is achieved by:

  • Re-establishing structure into the person’s life, such as performing tasks on a scheduled time
  • Reinforcing coping skills so they can effectively avoid triggers and prevent relapse
  • Equipping them with basic life skills, like handling household chores and learning how to apply for jobs)
  • Providing additional resources for treatment
  • Giving access to peer support through in-house group therapies

After rehab, sober living homes aim to transition the individual from the rehabilitation program to the general public.

In addition to alcohol detox, rehabilitation, and sober living, you can explore other treatments for your alcoholic loved one. These include:

  • Behavioral therapy: Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is shown to be effective for substance abuse, including alcohol use disorder.4
  • Medication-assisted treatment (MAT): Medications such as disulfiram, naltrexone, and acamprosate are FDA-approved and proven effective for the treatment of alcohol use disorder.5
  • Mutual support groups: 12-step groups like Alcoholics Anonymous remain a popular option for those who prefer mutual support groups.

Alcohol use disorder is a chronic condition that affects individuals in many ways. Each person responds to treatment a bit differently than others. There is no single effective way to treat alcohol abuse and addiction.

To help your loved one find treatments that work best for them, consult a medical professional.

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Step 2: Talk with your partner

If you're reading this, the question "How do I talk to my partner about their alcoholism?" has probably crossed your mind at some point.

This is one of the most intimidating yet important steps you'll have to take.

How to Talk to Someone About Their Drinking

Generally, you want to be genuine with your concerns. But you also don't want to do or say anything that might prevent them from seeking treatment. Needless to say, confronting your loved one regarding their drinking problem won't be easy. 

Here are a few tips to keep in mind when talking to your loved one:

  • Prepare ahead of time — Be sure to do your research. If possible, talk with a medical professional and ask for tips on how to help an alcoholic loved one.
  • Choose the time carefully — Never discuss the situation while your partner is intoxicated or under the influence. Make sure that they are sober and that you're in a safe, quiet, and private place.
  • Remain calm and patient — Address your concerns in a direct but calm way. Tell them you are concerned for their health and well-being. Explain how their drinking is affecting different aspects of their lives, as well as other people related to them. Don’t make any accusations. Avoid blaming or shaming them their behavior or the consequences they’ve had to deal with as a result of drinking.
  • Listen to them — Encourage your loved one to talk about their alcohol problems and their reasons for misusing alcohol. When starting this discussion, it’s important that you listen actively as they open up.

Encouraging Your Loved One to Get Help

Your loved one might not be convinced they need help. At least, not at the beginning.

But there are a few things you can do to encourage them to get help:

Offer Support

Let your partner know that you are there for them should they need help. Whether it’s avoiding triggers, controlling their urge to drink, having someone accompany them during therapies, or simply needing someone to talk to, you should be able to lend them a hand. 

Have Options Available

Simply telling your loved one about their alcohol problem isn't going to help. Instead, give them a clear idea of their treatment options. Provide hope and positivity while exploring available treatments.

Make a Concrete Plan

After laying out their options, explain to them what these treatments entail. Help them make a decision but never give them an ultimatum. 

Stage an Intervention

Getting a medical professional or an alcohol counselor to help out isn’t necessary. But having them around during the intervention keeps the discussions on track. They can guide you through the process on what needs to be discussed and how to explain them. 

If misunderstandings or disagreements come up, they can control the situation and prevent it from escalating.

When staging an intervention, only enlist people that your loved one trusts. Don't involve people they don’t get along with, even if they're a friend or family member.

Step 3: Take Care of Yourself

Your partner will be turning to you for support throughout their recovery. It can be physically, mentally, and emotionally draining if you don’t learn to take care of yourself and set healthy boundaries. 

Practice Self-Care

You can easily lose sight of your needs when caring for an alcoholic partner. This is especially true in the early stages of their recovery when they need the most attention. 

While it's completely normal to put their welfare first, it's not healthy in the long run. If you keep it up, it will not only be detrimental to your mental health—but also your relationship and the success of your loved one's recovery.

Here are some simple and practical tips for self-care:

  • Make sure you get enough sleep
  • Eat healthily and don’t skip meals
  • Pursue interests and hobbies
  • Don’t be too hard on yourself

Set Healthy Boundaries

Establishing healthy boundaries is another way you can take care of yourself while also helping your loved one. This means not tolerating any behavior or activities which you find unacceptable or detrimental to their recovery.

Below are some ways you can set boundaries with an alcoholic partner:

  • Not allowing alcohol and other addictive substances at home
  • Withholding help if they get into trouble as a result of drinking
  • Not accepting disrespect — such as abusive language or violence
  • Limiting or completely withholding financial support
  • Restricting their involvement with people who influence them to drink

Always consider your circumstances when creating boundaries. Know what you want and need, be more aware of your limits, and set realistic expectations around them.

That way, you can better take care of your mental health and help your partner be accountable for their actions.

Find Support

Your partner isn’t the only one who needs support while they undergo addiction treatment—so do you. Here are a few ways you can find support:

  • Reach out to people you trust as a couple and confide in them. You want to make sure that these are family and friends with whom your loved one is personally comfortable.
  • Ask friends and family to help with chores and tasks that you’re unable to do. Your loved one may need your assistance throughout the different stages of addiction treatment, so don’t push yourself to do everything at once.
  • Join support groups that are dedicated to the family and friends of recovering alcoholics. You can find them in person or online.
  • Talk with a therapist or other mental health professionals. You want to stay on top of your psychological well-being through this ordeal.
  • Spend more time socializing with loved ones. Being around people other than your partner can keep you from being overwhelmed.

Sometimes, you don’t need to go far to get support. Ask the facility which provides addiction treatment for your loved one if they provide couples therapy and other resources.

Treatment Options for Alcohol Abuse & Addiction

Here are some of the best treatments for AUD:

Inpatient Programs

Inpatient treatment is the most intensive and effective option for alcohol addiction treatment. These programs usually last 30, 60, or 90 days. They may be longer in some cases.

Throughout an inpatient program, you'll live on-site in a safe, substance-free environment. You'll go through medically supervised detox first, then behavioral therapy. Other services may be added to your regimen.

Many of these treatment programs assist you with an aftercare program afterward.

Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHPs)

PHPs are the second most intensive alcohol addiction programs. They're sometimes called intensive outpatient programs (IOPs). PHPs provide comparable services to inpatient programs.

These services may include:

  • Detox
  • Medical services
  • Behavioral therapy
  • Support groups
  • Other holistic or custom treatments

The main difference between PHPs and inpatient programs is that you return home and sleep at your house during a partial hospitalization program.

Some PHPs provide food and transportation. This varies by program.

PHPs are ideal for new patients and those who have completed an inpatient program and still require intensive treatment.

Outpatient Programs

Outpatient programs are less intensive than inpatient programs and PHPs. They're best for people who are highly motivated to achieve sobriety. Patients usually have responsibilities at work, home, or school.

These programs customize your treatment sessions around your schedule.

Outpatient programs may be part of aftercare once a patient completes an inpatient program or PHP.

Medication-Assisted Therapy (MAT)

Certain people qualify for medication-assisted therapy. Some medications can assist you throughout detox and withdrawal. Others can reduce cravings and normalize your bodily functions.

The most common medications used to treat AUD are:

  • Disulfiram (Antabuse)
  • Acamprosate (Campral)
  • Naltrexone (Revia and Vivitrol)

MAT can help prevent relapse and increase your chance of recovery if combined with other therapies.

Support Groups

Support groups are peer-led organizations made of people dedicated to helping each other stay sober. They can be the first step towards sobriety or part of an aftercare plan.

Many of these programs follow the 12-step approach.

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Resources

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  1. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health: 2019.” Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration Services.
  2. Developing A Willingness To Change: Treatment-Seeking Processes For People With Alcohol Problems.” Oxford Academic Journals.
  3. Home detox – supporting patients to overcome alcohol addiction.” National Center for Biotechnology Information.
  4. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for Substance Use Disorders.” National Center for Biotechnology Information.
  5. Medications for Unhealthy Alcohol Use.” National Center for Biotechnology Information.
  6. Alcoholics Anonymous most effective path to alcohol abstinence.” Stanford Medicine.
  7. Substance Users’ Perspectives on Helpful and Unhelpful Confrontation: Implications for Recovery.” National Center for Biotechnology Information.

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