Helping A Spouse or Partner with an Alcohol Addiction
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) defines alcohol use disorder as a chronic and relapsing medical condition characterized by an impaired ability to stop or control alcohol use despite its various consequences.
Navigation: Helping Your Spouse or Partner with an Alcohol Addiction, Communicating with a Spouse about Alcohol Abuse, Encourage Professional Help for their Alcohol Use Disorder, Medications Used for Alcohol Addiction Treatment, Avoid Enabling Addictive Behavior, Create a Healthy Alcohol-Free Environment, Recognize and Anticipate Triggers, Celebrate Their Progress, Be Patient with an Alcoholic Spouse, Take Care of Yourself, What to Do When Your Spouse is Reluctant to Seek Treatment, Rehab Is Your Best Chance
It can be difficult to watch someone you love struggle with an alcohol use disorder (AUD). In fact, this goes for any type of substance use disorder. Unfortunately, alcohol use disorders are very common because alcohol is such a common part of society and social gatherings.
It can be hard to determine whether someone is just having a good time or actually struggling with a drinking problem. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) defines alcohol use disorder as a chronic and relapsing medical condition characterized by an impaired ability to stop or control alcohol use despite its various consequences.
Also known as alcohol addiction or alcoholism, AUD is a serious issue that prevents people from pursuing sobriety. An addicted person will drink more alcohol for longer periods of time. They will spend their days thinking about drinking, participating in binge drinking, and recovering from the effects of alcohol. Even when they try to cut down or control their alcohol use, they will often prove unsuccessful. Drinking alcohol will become one of their top priorities.
Severe alcohol use disorder, just like drug abuse, can impact every aspect of a person’s life, including their physical and mental health, their relationships, their career, their finances, their self-esteem, etc.
Although addiction recovery is a long and difficult journey for anyone, there are plenty of ways you can help your loved one through it. If you are concerned about your partner’s drinking, you can try various strategies that can help set them on the path to sobriety.
Helping Your Spouse or Partner with an Alcohol Addiction
Supporting a spouse or partner with an alcohol addiction can be challenging, but your understanding, patience, and encouragement can make a significant difference in their journey towards recovery. Before you can properly support them, however, you need to educate yourself about their condition first.
Learn about alcohol addiction, its effects on physical and mental health, and the process of recovery. You have to be aware of what happens to the brain and body whenever you abuse alcohol. Understanding the challenges your partner is facing will help you approach the situation with empathy and knowledge.
Ideally, your knowledge of the risks and consequences of alcohol addiction will help you and your partner make informed decisions about your drinking habits. It should allow for early detection and intervention, so that addiction could be avoided in the first place.
However, if that is not possible, education can still eliminate the stigma that is associated with addiction. You may have some preconceived notions and personal biases regarding alcoholism and you need to eliminate them by educating yourself before you can give your spouse the support that they need.
When people are informed, they are more likely to view addiction as a medical condition that requires treatment rather than a moral failing.
If someone you care about is struggling with alcohol addiction, being informed allows you to offer meaningful support. You can better understand their experiences, provide appropriate resources, and encourage them to seek help.
Communicating with a Spouse about Alcohol Abuse
Supporting your partner starts with proper communication. A lot of people don’t seek help because they are in denial about their condition or they are unaware about how their actions are affecting others. The stigma surrounding addiction also prevents a lot of people from admitting that they have a drinking problem because they are afraid of being judged.
The timing of your conversation is often important, so choose the right time and place for it. Find a quiet and private setting where you can have an open and honest conversation without distractions or interruptions. Make sure they are not under the influence of alcohol when you talk to them.
Initiate an open and honest, yet non-judgmental, conversation about their alcohol use. Express your concern, but avoid blaming or shaming them. Use “I” statements to share your feelings and observations. Let your partner know that you are there for them emotionally.
These “I” statements allow you to express your feelings and thoughts without blaming or accusing your partner. For example, say “I feel worried when I see you drinking too much” instead of “You’re always drinking too much.”
Here it is important to listen without judgment, validate their feelings, and encourage them to express their thoughts and concerns.
Remember that alcoholism is a disease, and your spouse may be struggling with a range of emotions. Communicating with a spouse who is struggling with alcoholism can be challenging, but it’s important to approach the situation with empathy, understanding, and a focus on their well-being.
Encourage Professional Help for their Alcohol Use Disorder
If they are open to it, suggest seeking help from a medical professional, therapist, or addiction counselor. Offer to help research treatment options and accompany them to appointments. Remember, recovery often requires professional guidance.
Some people may hesitate because they don’t know what to expect in rehab or in treatment, so do your research so you can inform them of the various treatment options. Here are some of the most common treatments used in AUD treatment:
Detoxification (Medical Detox): Medical detox involves supervised withdrawal from alcohol, often in a medical setting. During detox, patients gradually lower their alcohol intake while their withdrawal symptoms and cravings are managed by medical professionals, sometimes with the use of medications. This process is designed to keep the person safe while going through alcohol withdrawal.
Behavioral Therapies: Therapies like Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Motivational Enhancement Therapy, and Contingency Management can help recovering individuals develop coping strategies that will help them once they leave rehab. It lets them identify the root causes of their alcoholism, set realistic goals, and address those underlying triggers for drinking.
Counseling: Individual or group counseling can provide a supportive environment to discuss challenges, learn from others, and develop strategies for managing cravings and triggers.
Support Groups: Programs like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) offer peer support, encouragement, and a structured approach to recovery. Here, patients can learn from other people who are going through the same struggles. They can share their story and inspire one another to stay on the path of recovery.
Inpatient or Residential Treatment: For moderate to severe cases of alcoholism, staying in a residential rehab may be beneficial. They can receive intensive therapy and support in a controlled environment, free from their usual distractions and triggers.
Outpatient Treatment: This is for patients who have mild to moderate cases of AUD. Outpatient treatment does not require them to stay in a treatment facility, so they can keep up with their responsibilities at home, work, or school. This setup allows them to receive treatment while maintaining their daily routines.
Family Therapy: Involving family members in treatment can help address family dynamics, improve communication, and provide a supportive network.
Holistic Approaches: Techniques such as mindfulness, meditation, yoga, and exercise can contribute to the person’s overall well-being and support recovery.
Aftercare and Relapse Prevention: Continued support after initial treatment is crucial to maintain sobriety. Developing a relapse prevention plan and participating in ongoing therapy or support groups can help individuals stay on track.
Treatment effectiveness may vary from person to person. Some people may benefit from a combination of these approaches. It’s important for individuals with AUD to work closely with healthcare professionals to determine the most suitable treatment plan for their needs. A personalized treatment approach will work best for your partner’s alcohol addiction.
Medications Used for Alcohol Addiction Treatment
Medications can play a significant role in the treatment of alcohol addiction by helping people in recovery reduce cravings, manage withdrawal symptoms, and maintain sobriety. However, medications are typically used as part of a broader treatment plan that may include therapy, counseling, support groups, and lifestyle changes.
Various medications can help manage cravings and reduce the urge to drink, including naltrexone, Acamprosate, disulfiram, and topiramate.
Naltrexone is a drug that reduces cravings by blocking the effects of endorphins, which are released when alcohol is consumed. This reduces the pleasurable effects of drinking and can help prevent relapse. It can be taken in pill form (ReVia) or as a once-monthly injection (Vivitrol).
Acamprosate (Campral) helps maintain abstinence and reduces withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety, insomnia, and restlessness. It is thought to help restore balance in brain chemistry disrupted by chronic alcohol use.
Disulfiram (Antabuse) causes unpleasant reactions if alcohol is consumed, acting as a deterrent. When alcohol is consumed, disulfiram causes nausea, vomiting, and flushing, helping people in recovery avoid alcohol use by creating a negative association with drinking.
Topiramate (Topamax) is primarily an anticonvulsant, but it may be prescribed off-label for alcohol addiction treatment as it can help reduce alcohol cravings.
It’s important to note that medications should always be prescribed and monitored by a qualified healthcare professional. The choice of medication and treatment plan will depend on the person’s medical history, preferences, and specific needs.
Medications are often most effective when used in conjunction with behavioral therapies and counseling to address the psychological and social aspects of alcohol addiction.
Avoid Enabling Addictive Behavior
Establish clear boundaries around your partner’s alcohol use. Let them know how their behavior impacts you and the relationship. Boundaries should be firm but compassionate, with consequences that you’re willing to enforce if they’re crossed.
While providing support, avoid enabling your partner’s addictive behavior. This means not covering up their mistakes, making excuses for them, or facilitating their alcohol use in any way.
Enabling addictive behavior in someone with alcoholism will only have serious negative consequences for their health, well-being, and your relationship.
If you are enabling their alcoholism, you are not actually protecting them from the health risks associated with excessive alcohol use. They may suffer from health problems like liver disease, cardiovascular issues, neurological disorders, and mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression.
Supporting their use of alcohol will strain their relationship with everyone around them, leading to resentment, anger, and a breakdown of trust between family members and friends.
There’s also the fact that alcoholism creates a significant financial burden. Alcoholism can be expensive due to the cost of alcohol and related expenses, such as legal issues and medical bills. Enabling an individual’s addiction may contribute to financial instability and burdens for both the person with alcoholism and those around them.
Enabling addictive behavior prevents the individual from facing the consequences of their actions and seeking help. This can hinder personal growth, self-awareness, and the motivation to work towards recovery.
Instead, it will support codependency, wherein you rely on each other to support destructive habits. It prevents the both of you from making healthy choices. In the long run, this will only delay their recovery. The longer addiction goes untreated, the harder it becomes to recover.
Create a Healthy Alcohol-Free Environment
For someone who is in recovery for alcoholism, it can be incredibly helpful to live in an alcohol-free home. You can create a temptation-free and stress-free home environment for your spouse to promote sobriety.
Remove alcohol from the home and avoid situations or triggers that could lead to drinking. Instead, encourage activities that do not involve alcohol.
You can even take it a step further and design a comfortable and relaxing home environment that promotes relaxation and stress reduction. Consider incorporating elements such as soft lighting, cozy seating, calming décor, and soothing music.
Replace alcoholic beverages with a variety of non-alcoholic options. Have a selection of sparkling water, herbal teas, juices, and mocktail ingredients readily available. This will help create a sense of normalcy without the presence of alcohol.
Plan activities that you can do together that don’t revolve around alcohol. Host game nights, movie nights, outdoor adventures, or other activities that foster bonding and enjoyment without the need for alcohol. You can even be a role model for your partner by demonstrating a healthy, alcohol-free lifestyle. Show them that you can have fun, relax, and cope with stress without the need for alcohol.
Recognize and Anticipate Triggers
Triggers are feelings and situations that can lead to an urge to drink. Your loved one will encounter a lot of these triggers on their road to recovery. Part of addiction treatment is teaching them how to recognize these triggers and use healthy coping mechanisms so that they don’t resort to drinking.
There are many things that can potentially trigger a person who is recovering from alcohol use disorder. Recognizing these triggers, anticipating them, and helping your spouse minimize their exposure can go a long way in their fight against alcoholism.
Triggers can vary from person to person, but stressful situations are usually the most common. Stress related to work, family, relationships, and other aspects of life can lead to an increase desire to drink. Similarly, negative emotions like sadness, anger, loneliness, and anxiety can also work as triggers. Conflict within relationships, including family, friends, or romantic partners, can be a trigger for relapse.
Any time a person feels isolated, uncomfortable, or bored, they may be at risk of drinking alcohol. Some recovering individuals are triggered by environmental cues that remind them of past drinking experiences.
Social gatherings, parties, weddings, birthdays, and holidays may also trigger cravings as people associate these occasions with drinking. Seeing others drink, especially in a relaxed and enjoyable manner, can trigger cravings. The same goes for seeing alcohol consumption in the media or in advertisements.
In some cases, it’s a matter of overconfidence. Feeling overly confident in one’s ability to control alcohol use can lead to risky situations where a person believes they can have “just one drink” without consequence.
If the recovering individual hasn’t developed alternative coping mechanisms for dealing with stress and emotions, they might be more likely to turn to alcohol. It’s important for individuals in recovery to identify their personal triggers and develop strategies to manage them effectively.
Celebrate Their Progress
Recovery is a long and difficult journey. Some say addiction is a lifelong process. They will just get better and better at dealing with their triggers and cravings the more they stay sober. So during this process, you should celebrate your partner’s progress.
Acknowledge and praise any steps your partner takes towards sobriety. Celebrate small victories and efforts, even if they are incremental. This will help them appreciate each milestone that they reach in their sobriety journey. Celebrate with a special meal or a trip to mark the occasion.
Celebrating achievements and milestones provides positive reinforcement for the individual’s efforts and commitment to their recovery journey. It boosts self-esteem and motivation, making them more likely to continue their efforts.
This also helps them build a sense of self-efficacy, which is the belief in their ability to overcome challenges. This increased self-confidence can empower them to tackle future obstacles and setbacks with a more positive mindset. It also maintains a sense of momentum and encourages them to continue making positive changes.
In the long run, this will even enhance their psychological well-being. It reduces feelings of guilt, shame, and regret that often accompany addiction. By focusing on accomplishments, individuals can shift their focus from past mistakes to the positive steps they are taking.
Recovery often involves shifting from a negative, self-destructive mindset to a more positive and growth-oriented one. Celebrating progress supports this shift by promoting a mindset of hope, resilience, and personal growth.
Be Patient with an Alcoholic Spouse
Recovery takes time and patience. It’s a challenging journey with ups and downs—it doesn’t always happen in a linear fashion. Be prepared for these challenges and understand that relapses happen.
While relapses are perfectly normal, they do not define the overall recovery process. It is not a sign of failure, but rather just another obstacle in the path to long-term sobriety.
Be patient with your partner’s progress and setbacks. Keep in mind that physical healing takes time. Alcoholism often damages various bodily systems, including the liver, cardiovascular system, and nervous system. The body needs time to heal and recover from this damage. You need to give their body time to gradually repair itself and regain its normal functioning.
At the same time, your spouse also needs time for psychological healing. They need to work through difficult emotions and relearn how to operate without alcohol. This requires a significant shift, not only in their mindset, but also their behavior and lifestyle.
It takes time to learn new habits, break old patterns, and develop healthier routines. Patience is needed as individuals work to replace alcohol-related behaviors with positive and constructive activities.
You can even take this time to rebuild your relationship. Addiction tends to strain relationships, but consistent efforts to maintain sobriety and make amends can heal broken bonds and restore healthy connections.
Patience is key to achieving sustainable, long-term recovery. Rushing the process or expecting instant results can lead to frustration and disappointment, which might increase the risk of giving up on the recovery journey. True recovery is a gradual and ongoing process that requires dedication and patience.
Take Care of Yourself
They say supporting a loved one in recovery is emotionally draining, and that is definitely the case for most people. If you find yourself feeling tired, you need to prioritize self-care.
During this period of recovery, it can be easy to put your own needs aside. But remember that self-case is essential for everyone, and that includes you. You can’t pour form an empty cup.
Take time each day to focus on yourself and your needs. Do something that makes you happy, relaxed, or refreshed.
If you allow your loved one’s condition to take away all your energy, you will not be able to support them properly. You may even end up resenting them or getting angry over their condition. You may even blame yourself for their lack of progress.
Focusing solely on your loved one’s alcoholism can strain your relationships with other family members and friends. Taking care of yourself allows you to maintain healthy connections with the other people in your life.
You need to practice detachment with love. Detaching with love means you can be supportive and caring without trying to control or fix your loved one’s behavior. This approach acknowledges their autonomy and allows them to take responsibility for their choices.
Remember, taking care of yourself doesn’t mean you’re neglecting your loved one. It’s about finding a healthy balance between providing support and protecting your own well-being.
If your loved one is open to it, consider encouraging them to seek professional help, such as therapy, counseling, or addiction treatment programs. Ultimately, their recovery is their own responsibility, and your role is to be a source of love, understanding, and encouragement.
What to Do When Your Spouse is Reluctant to Seek Treatment
If your spouse or partner is reluctant or unwilling to seek treatment, there are certain options for you to consider. In some cases, addicted individuals do want to change but just don’t know where to begin. Here, you can educate them about their treatment options and reassure them that seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness.
Let your spouse know that you understand they might be struggling and that you’re there to support them. Show empathy and listen actively to their thoughts and feelings.
Suggest different forms of support, such as attending therapy, counseling, support groups, or even couples therapy. Offer to accompany them to appointments and be involved in their recovery journey.
As a last resort for a partner who refuses to seek treatment, you may consider staging an intervention. Consider involving other family members, close friends, or a professional interventionist to facilitate a structured intervention.
Ultimately, your spouse’s alcohol addiction is their responsibility, and the decision to seek treatment is their own. You cannot control their choices—only your own. However, you can play a supportive role in encouraging them to make positive changes for their well-being.
Remember, your role is that of a supportive partner, not a therapist or counselor. Encourage your partner to seek professional help, as addiction recovery often requires specialized treatment. Your unwavering support can play a crucial role in their journey toward sobriety, but ultimately, the decision and responsibility to recover lie with your partner.
Look for a rehab near you today to learn more about available alcohol addiction treatment options.
Rehab is Your Best Chance
Treatment is an addicted individualʼs best option if they want to recover. Beating an addiction not only requires eliminating the physical dependence, but also addressing the behavioral factors that prevent them from wanting to get better. Simply quitting may not change the psychological aspect of addiction. Some people quit for a while, and then take drugs or alcohol again, only to overdose because they did not detox properly. Recovery involves changing the way the patient feels, thinks, and behaves.