Being in a relationship with someone who has a drinking problem can be exhausting. There is a level of instability that often feels immeasurable. Not knowing what will happen day-to-day can disrupt even the healthiest of relationships.
For the spouse of an alcoholic, watching addiction whittle away at the best parts of your partner and relationship can feel completely unfair. After all, that isn’t what you signed up for, not what you dreamed your marriage would be.
Many spouses of alcoholics feel torn between staying and working things out or walking away to save what they can: themselves, other family members, and what’s left of their sanity.
Reasons To Consider Leaving An Alcoholic Spouse
With so many possible hurdles to overcome in order to leave, making the decision to leave an alcoholic spouse is never easy. However, there are some significant warning signs that it might be time to consider protecting yourself and walking away.
They Won’t Stop Drinking
By the very nature of alcohol addiction, it can be hard for your spouse to stop drinking on their own. In fact, it may be necessary for them to attend an alcohol addiction treatment program to become sober.
However, if your spouse is in denial of their alcoholism in spite of all the ways alcohol is negatively impacting their life, that is a red flag.
If they agree to attend an alcohol rehab treatment center, but do not put full effort into the program or maintain their aftercare plan, this is a warning sign that they are not ready to stop drinking, or make the changes to do so successfully.
Negative Impacts To Your Wellbeing
While your spouse is the one with an alcohol use disorder, addiction is a disease that also affects loved ones and family members, especially the spouses of alcoholics.
The stress associated with having an alcoholic husband or wife can increase risk factors for the following social, emotional, physical health, and mental health problems:
- domestic violence
- substance abuse
- post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) due to trauma
- lack of self-care
- projecting anger at others
In addition, an alcoholic partner often brings financial burdens into the relationship, leaving their partner to pick up the slack. Meanwhile, the partner begins neglecting their own responsibilities and obligations.
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Experiencing these effects due to your spouse’s alcohol abuse is a good indication it might be time to consider if remaining in the relationship is a healthy decision.
Erratic And Volatile Behavior Of An Alcoholic Spouse
Temperamental, unreliable behavior is common in addiction. Drug abuse and alcoholism severely affect the brain, causing lapses of judgment, and uncharacteristic or aggressive behaviors.
Behaviors of alcoholics can be so unpredictable that they can be funny, sweet, and kind while intoxicated, but the next time or even the next moment, they can become argumentative, aggressive, abusive, or dangerous.
Some of the dangerous, erratic behaviors you may see in your spouse include:
- seemingly unprovoked anger
- becoming out of control
- drinking and driving
- getting into fights
- being physically abusive
The uncertainty associated with your spouse’s behavior due to alcohol consumption can cause trauma symptoms, like dread, anxiety, and hypervigilance. The toll that this takes on your mental health is exhausting.
Constantly trying to navigate waters that can change at the drop of a hat can become such an impossible task. Not knowing what will upset your spouse one moment to the next is enough to traumatize a person, especially if they become dangerous or violent.
When an alcoholic spouse’s drinking problem puts you or your loved ones in danger, it is time to consider what could happen if you stayed.
Abusive Alcoholic Spouse
Domestic violence, or intimate partner violence, includes emotional, verbal, and physical abuse. While domestic violence is not caused by alcohol or drug abuse, it can make violent tendencies much worse.
An abusive person with an alcohol addiction can be dangerous for everyone in their path. Even if they work to become sober, there is no guarantee that the abuse will stop.
If your spouse is abusing you or your family members, leaving may be the answer. When you are thinking about leaving, you need to explore the safest ways to go.
Abusers fear losing control of their victims, and leaving could make them more aggressive and more violent. Thankfully, there are professional services available to keep people as safe as possible while leaving these situations.
Being Afraid To Leave
A person may simply be too scared to leave their alcoholic spouse. Many times, codependency issues come up, and a person feels that they cannot leave the relationship because they fear they can’t survive outside of the relationship.
Other reasons a spouse may be afraid to leave might be:
- breaking up the family
- financial support
- failure to commit to marriage
Another fear that spouses of alcoholics struggle with is what will happen to their spouse if they leave. When a person is married to an alcoholic, they can start to believe that their addicted spouse is maintaining a functioning alcoholic status because they are there to take care of everything else.
The spouse of an alcoholic can worry that leaving will cause their loved one to spiral out of control, and be unable to manage their daily lives. Luckily, there are support groups available to loved ones of addicts, like Al-Anon, that can help people understand enabling and codependency.
Neglecting Yourself And Your Loved Ones
Having an alcoholic partner is time-consuming. Any issues that come up as a result of their alcohol addiction will likely have an impact on you. There are financial, legal, employment, and health issues that walk hand-in-hand with alcoholism.
Friends and family are usually the ones there helping an alcoholic clean up the aftermath of a loss of a job, a DUI, or money problems. When an alcoholic is binge drinking or engaging in heavy drinking, they can experience crisis after crisis, requiring more and more of your time.
It’s easy to put your own responsibilities aside when someone is in need of help. However, in most situations with alcoholics, there doesn’t seem to be an end to their crises. Unless you stop putting their needs first, others end up suffering.
You could be placing yourself at risk for PTSD, emotional issues, addiction, and other mental health issues. Your children could feel as though they aren’t important, or the quality of their life has gone down due to the antics of their alcoholic parent and the enabling of their other parent.
Putting your and your children’s needs first might mean taking steps away from your alcoholic spouse.
Getting Help For My Alcoholic Spouse
Many people assume that their loved one has to hit rock bottom before they will entertain any kind of substance abuse treatment for their addiction. This is not true in many cases.
People enter treatment for a number of reasons. Even if getting professional help was not their idea, that doesn’t mean they won’t find the strength within themselves to work towards recovery once they start treatment.
Whether your spouse is interested in outpatient treatment programs, inpatient treatment facilities with a detox unit, Alcoholics Anonymous or another support group, there are many treatment options.
What is most important is that you feel safe and comfortable during these changes. Attending family therapy or reaching out to helplines or other forms of support can help you manage your own feelings, and what the best options are for you going forward.
Contact our addiction treatment hotline today and let us discuss available addiction treatment options with you.
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.
- Family Relations — The Self-Perceptions of Women Who Live With an Alcoholic Partner: Dialoguing With Deviance, Strength, and Self-Fulfillment
- Indian Journal of Social Sciences — Presumptive Stressful Life Events Among Spouse of Alcoholics