Living with an Alcoholic
In This Article
Signs & Symptoms of an Alcoholic
There are several signs and symptoms of alcoholism.
If the person you are living with experiences any of the following, it is a good idea to seek guidance for dealing with the issue:
- Physical signs of alcoholism, including broken facial capillaries, flushed skin, jaundice, unexplained weight gains or losses, brittle hair and fingernails, unexplained injuries including bruises, and tremors or shakiness, especially in the morning
- Constant focus on drinking and a desire to drink alcohol to deal with grief, loneliness, stress, happiness, and more
- Memory loss or blackouts
- Neglecting responsibilities and obligations due to drunkenness or hangovers
- Consuming alcohol in risky situations
- Inability to stop drinking after just one drink
- Living a life that revolves around drinking
- Avoiding social activities that don’t involve drinking
- Trying to stop drinking or drinking too much and failing
- Lying, denying, or concealing drinking
- Experiencing mood changes or changes in energy levels or behavior with no other explanation
- Getting hostile or defensive when someone tries to speak to them about drinking
Everyone is different. Some people can have alcohol use disorder and experience very few if any of these things. Other people have several of these symptoms but do not have a problem with alcohol.
When determining if the person you live with has a drinking problem, consider the big picture. If you know they drink a lot and/or drink frequently and they have at least a few of these symptoms, chances are there is a problem with alcohol.
The Effects of Living With an Alcoholic Partner
People living with an alcoholic partner or family members deal with many negative things. The experience affects their health and happiness. It also poses short- and long-term issues.
A relationship with someone with an alcohol addiction is rarely fulfilling.
It also makes it challenging to feel happiness in future relationships. There are too many broken promises and too much distrust in a relationship with someone with addiction to feel comfortable, safe, and respected. This doesn’t mean the relationship can never be a good one. But for it to improve, the addicted person must be willing to get help.
Living with an alcoholic is traumatic, especially if there is serious abuse.
Additionally, people living with someone with AUD experience financial problems, problems at work, social isolation, and difficulty maintaining relationships with family and friends. If the alcoholic is a parent, the effects of the situation will be lasting.
Children of alcoholics tend to find many aspects of their lives challenging well into adulthood. They also have a higher risk of developing AUD or other substance use disorders themselves.
Common Things The Spouse of an Alcoholic May Experience
Some of the most common issues people living with alcoholics deal with include:
- Feeling an obligation to cover for or clean up after the alcoholic partner
- Difficulty trusting people
- Being neglecting or neglecting their children
- Spending little time with people outside of the family
- Struggling with mental health issues because of manipulation from their alcoholic partner
- Physical and emotional abuse or threats of abuse
7 Best Practices for Living with an Alcoholic
Tips for living with an alcoholic include:
1. Don’t blame yourself
You are not responsible for your loved one’s disorder.
2. Know your boundaries and respect them
Having boundaries avoids co-dependency and sets limits for your loved one.
3. Recognize the signs of alcoholism and specifically when your partner has been drinking, especially if there are abuse issues
The more you understand about the disorder, the better. It’s also important to know when a situation could escalate and/or threaten your safety and well-being or that of another family member.
4. Develop coping strategies that help you maintain your mental health
Find ways to ease the stress of the situation you are in. This could include seeing a therapist, putting physical distance between you and your loved one, or having a trusted friend to call when things get tough.
5. Seek help or set up an intervention
There comes a point when you must take action. Working with an expert in AUD and addiction makes these decisions easier.
6. Find resources and support
There are many options available to help people who care about alcoholics. Groups like Al-Anon offer peer support and access to other resources. Find at least one option that feels comfortable for you and gives you someone to turn to when you are struggling with your situation.
7. Know when to walk away from the relationships
Sometimes there isn’t anything else you can do to help your loved one. Having a plan to remove yourself from the situation is an important step in taking care of yourself and other members of your family.
How to Help and Alcoholic Spouse: Treatment Options
Ultimately, someone with alcohol use disorder must accept help if they want to recover. However, there are several things you can do to provide support and encouragement.
There are also many addiction treatment options available for alcoholics. For example:
- Inpatient or residential programs where people live for a period, such as 30, 60, or 90 days and focus on recovery without distractions
- Outpatient or day programs that offer comprehensive care while the patient returns to their own home at night
- 12-step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous or another support group
- Other community programs, such as SMART Recovery, Rational Recovery, and more
- Individual counseling that deals with substance abuse
- Family therapy
- Medication-assisted therapy (MAT)
For most people, a combination of treatment options offers the best chance at recovery.
Support for Loved Ones of Alcoholics
In addition to treatment programs for people with AUD, there are also support options available to those living with someone with alcoholism.
Al-Anon is the most popular support program available to loved ones of alcoholics. It is a program modeled after Alcoholics Anonymous and provides peer support to adults. People participating in Al-Anon understand the challenges and devastation of living and loving someone with a problem with alcohol.
Alateen is similar to Al-Anon but it’s for children of alcoholics. It gives kids an opportunity to spend time with their peers and discuss their alcoholic parent with people their own age who understand and can relate to the situation.
Many people living with alcoholics participate in individual therapy. Sometimes people involved with people with AUD need help to behave in a less codependent manner.
Working with a therapist who understands alcoholism and the toll it takes on families and who knows how to help those who are codependent is very helpful to people living with alcoholics.
If you experience any of the following, consider speaking to a therapist who has experience dealing with codependency and addiction:
- Feel responsible for your loved one’s behavior and/or addiction
- Struggling to set or keep boundaries
- Not knowing who you are without your loved one or your loved one’s addiction – do you only feel fulfilled when you are cleaning up for your alcoholic loved one?
- Prioritizing pleasing your loved one above everything else including your own well-being
- Feeling fearful about being rejected or making your loved one sad or angry
- Domestic violence
- Dealing with your own alcohol use or drug addiction, even if you are not actively using
It’s also important to keep in mind that you cannot control what your loved one does or manage their alcohol consumption.
You can offer support and encouragement, and set boundaries, but ultimately it is their decision if they want to recover. For many, this means there is a point at which they must walk away from someone with an alcohol problem, no matter how painful it is for everyone.
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- Loneck, B., et al. “The Johnson Intervention and Relapse during Outpatient Treatment.” The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, vol. 22, no. 3, 1 Aug. 1996, pp. 363–375, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8841685/, 10.3109/00952999609001665.
- “Help for Women Living with a Problem Drinker.” Stop Spinning My Wheels, ubwp.buffalo.edu/ssmw/.