Living with an alcoholic can be very trying, emotionally, and physically. Individuals struggling with alcohol use disorder can sometimes have erratic behavior. These complicated situations can lead to problematic relationships and even abuse.
Helping a loved one with alcoholism can leave a person feeling ignored or unappreciated. It can seem like the efforts put forth are dismissed and nothing seems to work.
When your loved one won’t stop drinking, you are not to blame. It is more likely to be a combination of circumstances, emotional health, and genetics.
Helping a loved one who is struggling with an alcohol addiction may be overwhelming, so first take care of yourself. You cannot help them if you are not making yourself a priority as well, which may involve a support group for you, such as Al-Anon.
The next steps could involve supporting them in finding a treatment program and understanding the disease of alcoholism.
What Is Alcoholism (Alcohol Use Disorder)?
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines alcohol use disorder (AUD) as a brain disorder characterized by chronic alcohol use, loss of control over alcohol intake, and a negative state when not drinking alcohol.
Some people can consume alcohol in moderation, and not have a problem. However, people struggling with AUD exceed the recommended limit of 14 drinks a week for men and seven drinks a week for women.
Those who abuse alcohol can face a multitude of health complications over their lifetime, such as high blood pressure, digestive issues, and difficulty with reproduction.
Another concern of excessive alcohol consumption is an increased risk for fatalities related to drunk driving.
According to a recent study from the NIAAA, approximately 30 million Americans meet the criteria for an alcohol use disorder.
Signs Your Partner Or Other Family Member Is An Alcoholic
There are a number of warning signs that indicate a loved one may be dealing with an alcohol use disorder. These signs are likely to be in addition to any changes you have noticed in their behavior, day-to-day interactions, or emotional state.
Your partner may have a hard time stopping drinking after they already started. They may also make statements like, “I wish I had a drink” or “is it time for a beer” when they aren’t drinking.
Or, you may notice they have started to drink more without showing the effects of alcohol (tolerance).
These are just some of the signs that your partner may be suffering from alcohol use disorder.
Other signs of AUD include:
- drinking to get drunk
- drinking by themselves (hiding their drinking)
- having a loss in interest of activities they once enjoyed
- getting agitated when they cannot drink as planned
- hiding alcohol in strange places, like at work or in their vehicles
- relationship, employment, or legal issues
When a loved one is showing these signs, it may be time to reach out to an addiction treatment professional for advice.
Effects Of Living With An Alcoholic Partner
People in relationships with individuals struggling with alcohol addiction may experience many things. They may fear for their safety or the safety of their family. They may fear for their partner’s happiness and their health.
This uncertainty and fear can lead a loved one to:
- cover up their loved one’s alcohol abuse
- take their loved one’s drinking personally
- blame themselves for the problem
Effects On Children Of Alcoholics
Children with parents suffering from AUD often experience daily hardships. They can experience added stress, pressure from not being able to rely on their parents, and may even be suffering from emotional and/or physical violence.
Children living with an alcoholic parent may also:
- have poor school performance
- face isolation from kids their same age
- take on the role of the caregiver
- have poor attendance at school
- develop aggressive behavior
- start stealing
The consequences of broken promises on a child who is affected by a parent with an alcohol or drug abuse problem can follow them as they grow up.
They may also face challenges like:
- misusing alcohol themselves
- harsh self-judgement
- difficulty with close relationships
- impulsive behavior
- needing constant approval and affirmation
Strained Relationships For Alcoholic Spouses
Codependency is very common amongst married couples where one partner has an alcohol use disorder.
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The codependent spouse places the responsibility of their own emotional needs and self-esteem on the other spouse. A codependent partner usually enables the other’s unsound behaviors.
Alcoholism can put stress on marriages and relationships in many ways, including early separation due to:
- loss of communication
- loss of intimacy
- taking on more responsibility to make up for the other person’s drinking
- feeling ashamed, guilty, or embarrassed of partner’s drinking
- being afraid of a partner’s behavior while under the influence of alcohol
- domestic abuse
- financial instability
Domestic violence (DV) has been linked to alcohol abuse. In one study, 92 percent of domestic abuse call perpetrators had used drugs or alcohol the day of the incident, and almost half were described as “daily users” by their family members.
Worsened Mental Health Issues For The Person With AUD
Research has shown that substance abuse and addiction are connected with mental health diagnoses. Self-reports have shown that there is a significant amount of people who abuse drugs and alcohol as a way to ‘self-medicate’.
Additionally, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) has an entire section of alcohol-induced syndromes. Those alcohol-related disorders should not be confused with the mental health disorders that they mimic.
Alcohol abuse and withdrawal have been shown to cause the signs and symptoms typically associated with anxiety, depression, psychosis, and antisocial behaviors.
When a person is struggling with both mental illness issues and an alcohol abuse disorder, it is important that they are treated by someone who is trained in comorbid or co-occurring disorders. These professionals can work with your loved one to determine the cause of these symptoms.
Other Health Problems Caused By Alcohol Abuse
Individuals suffering from AUD have an increased risk of numerous health-related issues.
Alcohol impairs a person’s coordination and ability to function, as well as lowering inhibitions, which can lead to:
- broken bones
- head injuries
- car accidents
- risky behavior (unprotected sex)
- sexually transmitted diseases
- unplanned pregnancy
Extreme overconsumption of alcohol can result in alcohol poisoning or even death. Other risk factors, like anxiety, depression, difficulty sleeping, or high blood pressure, can be short-term health risks.
Some long-term health risks from heavy drinking over time can cause very serious, permanent health conditions. Liver disease, stomach problems, cancer, brain damage, and heart disease are some of these serious health risks.
What To Do If Your Partner Has An Alcohol Addiction
One of the most important things to remember is that you are not to blame. No matter what is said, the conversations that happen, or what is stated in the heat of the moment, their alcohol use is not your fault.
Yet there are things you can do to protect yourself and your loved ones from the negative impact that alcoholism can bring to a family. The following are some of the areas that should be taken into consideration.
Consider The Safety Of Your Family
Having an intoxicated person in your home can cause a myriad of issues, some of which are uncertain.
People can end up in physically dangerous situations, due to decreased inhibitions, anger, violence, or irritability. It is not safe to have a highly intoxicated person around you or your loved ones, especially children.
Another thing to consider is that if an actual accident or emergency does occur, will the intoxicated person be capable of assisting in such a situation?
This is an important consideration when there are young children in the house, as sometimes unpredictable injuries can happen.
Additionally, with children in the home, there is a risk to the child due to unforeseeable stress and instability. The children may not be able to depend on the person who has a drinking problem, adding pressure to an already complicated situation.
The consequences of being a child living with an alcoholic can be extreme and follow them throughout their life.
Increased rates of substance use, problems in relationships, and negative social behaviors are just some of the effects on children who grow up in a home with someone who has an alcohol use disorder.
Take Care Of Yourself
There are several different support groups available for those who are living with an alcoholic, including Al-Anon family groups, Alateen, and Al-Anon.
There are phone numbers and helplines you can call to discuss the impact that your loved one’s alcohol problem has on you or your home life.
Avoid Enabling Their Drinking Problem
Supporting and encouraging your loved one to get treatment is not the same as enabling someone who is an alcoholic.
Enabling a loved one with a drinking problem allows them to continue drinking and not experience any consequences of their alcohol consumption.
Some examples of enabling are:
- ignoring inappropriate behaviors (such as sneaking out)
- resentment without addressing the elephant in the room (alcohol addiction)
- blaming others or circumstances, instead of your loved one
- lying or omitting truths to cover for your loved one
- fear keeping you from action in regards to your loved one’s addiction
- allowing your addicted loved one to have access to your money
- placing the needs of the addicted loved one above everyone else
Enabling actively avoids the issues that are created by alcoholism. While most enablers simply are trying to avoid negative outcomes, their behaviors actually make it difficult for the person with addiction to get the treatment they need.
Consider Seeking Professional Help
When considering treatment for your loved one, it may be a good idea to put together an intervention to show your loved one exactly how their alcohol or drug addiction has affected everyone around them.
Interventions are often led by a professional who has experience in addiction and addiction treatment.
A group of individuals with personal connections to the person with addiction get together and share letters and stories about how they have been personally affected by the behaviors of this loved one.
Having a professional present can help keep the intervention on task, help manage the range of emotions that can occur, and also help the person in need of treatment understand what is happening.
An important part of the intervention process is what happens after the intervention. Once the intervention is complete, your loved one will hopefully agree to go to an alcohol abuse treatment facility.
It is advised that the facility be located, notified, and have agreed to hold a place for your loved one before the intervention.
Treatment For Alcoholics (People With AUD)
Detoxification is an important step in the recovery process, especially with an alcohol use disorder.
A medically supervised detoxification program can help manage the intense, and sometimes dangerous, withdrawal symptoms of alcohol. A treatment plan will start developing in this stage.
Once detox is complete, your loved one should continue toward recovery and follow their individualized treatment plan. This may include residential, inpatient, outpatient, or intensive outpatient addiction treatment services.
Please reach out to us today to discuss the level of care that may be available for your loved one during this complicated time.
We can connect you with treatment providers who offer a range of alcohol treatment programs that may be right for you or your loved one. Contact us now for more information.
Addiction Resource aims to provide only the most current, accurate information in regards to addiction and addiction treatment, which means we only reference the most credible sources available.
These include peer-reviewed journals, government entities and academic institutions, and leaders in addiction healthcare and advocacy. Learn more about how we safeguard our content by viewing our editorial policy.
- Alcohol Research & Health—Alcoholism and Psychiatric Disorders
- American Psychiatric Association— Diagnostic And Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5)
- Industrial Psychiatry Journal—Living with an alcoholic partner: Problems faced and coping strategies used by wives of alcoholic clients
- National Institute of Justice—Practical Implications of Current Domestic Violence Research
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism—Alcohol Facts and Statistics