Is My Wife an Alcoholic? Signs to Look For

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is more commonly known as alcoholism. It is a chronic relapsing brain disorder characterized by an impaired ability to stop or control alcohol use despite its consequences. AUD develops with prolonged alcohol use or one’s physical and emotional dependence on alcohol.

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Your wife may be an alcoholic if she abuses alcohol, especially if her side of the family has a history of alcoholism or she copes with depression, which puts her at a higher risk of developing alcohol addiction.

Your wife may also be a binge drinker or an alcohol abuser, but not quite an alcoholic just yet.

alcoholic wife

An estimated 15 million people battle alcoholism in the United States. Alcoholics struggle with an impaired ability to stop or control their alcohol intake. But not everyone who drinks aggressively is considered an alcoholic.

While AUD encompasses binge drinking, alcohol abuse, and alcoholism, and one can lead to the next, they’re not all the same.

Binge is defined as a drinking pattern that elevates one’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level to 0.08 g/dL. Everyone’s BAC level differs depending on many factors. How much food you eat, what you weigh, and medications that you may take can affect your BAC. But it typically reaches .08 g/dL after five drinks for men and four drinks for women in about two hours.

Nearly one-third of American adults are considered excessive drinkers, but only 10 percent of them are considered alcoholics. Not everyone who binge drinks is considered an alcohol abuser either.

Alcohol abusers continue to drink alcohol despite: 

  • Recurrent, alcohol-induced health problems
  • Social consequences
  • Occupational consequences
  • Legal consequences

People who abuse alcohol may have an easier quitting than alcoholics, who develop a dependency on alcohol.

Alcoholism refers to an addiction to alcohol. Alcoholics may suffer from alcohol withdrawals while not drinking that can make quitting even harder than it already is for them. This is because alcohol addiction actually changes the chemical makeup of their brain and drives them to drink more and more often. First, they drink for pleasure; then, they drink to avoid withdrawal symptoms.

If you can answer yes to the following questions, your wife might be a struggling alcoholic. Here are 10 red flags that point to alcoholism:

  1. Does she experience any inability to limit her drinking?
  2. Have you noticed that she continues to consume more and more alcohol?
  3. Has she developed a high tolerance for alcohol that requires her to drink more and more to achieve the same effect?
  4. Do you find that she neglects her self-care, like her hygiene or nutrition?
  5. Does she often drink alone?
  6. Do you find that she lets her obligations and responsibilities like work, school, and family fall to the wayside?
  7. Have you caught her lying or making excuses about her drinking habits?
  8. Does she continue to consume alcohol despite alcohol-induced issues?
  9. Has she told you about having any cravings for alcohol?
  10. Has she experienced any alcohol withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea, irritability, or tremors?

Tips: How to Live with an Alcoholic Wife 

Living with an alcoholic wife isn’t easy on anyone. Alcoholism doesn’t only affect the person battling it; it also affects their loved ones who care about their health and safety. Here are some tips for living with a partner who is an alcoholic:

  1. Be aware of your wife’s drinking behaviors.
  2. Be supportive of your wife in her path to recovery.
  3. Engage in social activities that do not involve drinking alcohol.
  4. Hold your wife accountable for her actions and inactions due to alcohol abuse.
  5. Set boundaries.
  6. Reach out for professional help.

What to Avoid

Here’s what you should avoid in order to help your alcoholic wife.

  1. Do not keep alcohol in the house.
  2. Do not engage in drinking activities around your wife.
  3. Do not financially support your wife’s unhealthy drinking habits.
  4. Do not be an enabler for your wife by making excuses for her, blaming others for her actions, or supporting her drinking behavior in any way.

How Can an Alcoholic Affect Their Non-Alcoholic Partner?

An alcoholic partner can take a toll on you in a few ways. For one, research shows that alcoholism is linked to high levels of anxiety, depression, and neuroticism that can lead to domestic and emotional violence in relationships.

Even if abuse doesn’t come into play, because alcoholics are so obsessed with drinking, they tend to ignore the needs of their loved ones and fall short in fulfilling their roles and responsibilities. Of course, partners of alcoholics can suffer because of this. They may find themselves carrying the weight of their families and taking care of their partners instead of being in mutually beneficial and supportive relationships.

Alcoholism can also lead to mistrust, which can break up partners. Because alcoholics may behave differently while under the influence, partners may have trouble trusting them. Similarly, because alcoholics tend to lie about their drinking habits and may even try to hide their consumption, this kind of secrecy can break trust in the relationship.

How to Help Your Loved One Stop Drinking

Your wife needs a support system during this difficult time. Be present, communicative, and supportive throughout your loved one’s journey to recovery from alcoholism. Staging family interventions to kick off a detox is always a great starting point. But reaching out for professional help is crucial. You may not be able to help her alone, as she’s long past binge drinking and alcohol abuse.

You have various options from which to choose, from both inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation treatment facilities to holistic programs to traditional therapy for alcoholism treatment. Couples and family therapy can also help you get through her heavy drinking problem or any mental illness that’s triggering her together.

When to Step Away

An alcoholic who is reliant on another person, like their partner, can grow even more dependent on that person for support. While your role as your wife’s partner is to support her (and her role is to support you), enabling her poor behavior or financially feeding her alcoholism doesn’t help either of you. Soon enough, your alcoholic spouse’s drinking problem will become an even bigger problem in your marriage.

Remember, your wife’s alcohol or drug addiction is not your fault. And, if her struggle with alcohol problems is beginning to take a toll on your health and well-being, mentally or physically, you may need to take a step back. After all, you cannot be supportive if you are feeling burned out. Professional addiction treatment options are available, and your wife may need more help than you alone can give her. Reach out to support groups and seek professional help.

Questions About Treatment?

Reach out to an addiction specialist or visit Addiction Group for more information. If you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol addiction, you can trust that we’ll recommend you the best advice and top rehabilitation and treatment resources.

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Resources

“Alcohol Questions and Answers.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 15 Jan. 2020, www.cdc.gov/alcohol/faqs.htm

“Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD).” MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 29 Apr. 2020, www.medlineplus.gov/alcoholusedisorderaud.html.

“Alcohol Use Disorder.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 4 June 2020, www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/alcohol-use-disorders

“Alcohol Use Disorder: A Comparison Between DSM–IV and DSM–5.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 13 Mar. 2020, www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/alcohol-use-disorder-comparison-between-dsm

“Drinking Levels Defined.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 26 June 2020, www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/moderate-binge-drinking

“Drinking Too Much Alcohol Can Harm Your Health. Learn the Facts.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 30 Dec. 2019, www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/alcohol-use.htm

“Factors That Affect How Alcohol Is Absorbed & Metabolized.” Factors That Affect How Alcohol Is Absorbed & Metabolized | Office of Alcohol Policy and Education, www.alcohol.stanford.edu/alcohol-drug-info/buzz-buzz/factors-affect-how-alcohol-absorbed

“Family History of Alcoholism: Are You at Risk?” Department of Mental Health, www.dmh.lacounty.gov/our-services/employment-education/education/alcohol-abuse-faq/family-history/

“How Alcohol Use Disorder Can Affect Romantic Relationships.” Discovery Mood & Anxiety Program, 5 Feb. 2019, discoverymood.com/blog/alcohol-use-disorder/.

“Preventing Chronic Disease.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, www.cdc.gov/pcd/issues/2014/14_0329.htm

Publishing, Harvard Health. “Alcohol Abuse.” Harvard Health, www.health.harvard.edu/addiction/alcohol-abuse

Sharma, Nitasha, et al. “Living with an Alcoholic Partner: Problems Faced and Coping Strategies Used by Wives of Alcoholic Clients.” Industrial Psychiatry Journal, Medknow Publications & Media Pvt Ltd, 2016, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5248422/

Skerrett, Patrick J. “Heavy Drinkers Aren't Necessarily Alcoholics, but May Be ‘Almost Alcoholics.’” Harvard Health Blog, 17 June 2020, www.health.harvard.edu/blog/heavy-drinkers-arent-necessarily-alcoholics-may-almost-alcoholics-201411217539.

“What Is AA?” Aa.org, www.aa.org/pages/en_US/what-is-aa.

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Updated on: January 8, 2021
Author
AnnaMarie Houlis
About
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Medically Reviewed
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Annamarie Coy,
BA, CADACII/ICADC, ICPR, MATS
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