Help an Alcoholic Spouse: Coping Tips, Support & Treatment

Last Updated: January 16, 2024

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Tips for Dealing with an Alcohol Partner

When you’re living with a partner who’s struggling with alcohol misuse, you probably already have an understanding of the challenges. You’re likely to have already experienced a range of emotions as well. You could feel the weight of having to take on much of the household responsibilities. You could also be afraid for the future of your family. This could make you feel sad, angry or frustrated about the situation you are currently in.

When you have an alcoholic partner, and you’re attempting to cope with their behaviors, it’s undoubtedly going to have a massive impact on your life. Fortunately, there are things you can do to help yourself and potentially help the person you love.

Tips for Coping with an Alcoholic Spouse

Many of the best ways to cope with a spouse who struggles with alcohol addiction depend on you first ensuring you’re taking care of your own needs as much as possible.

Set Boundaries

Setting boundaries is critical when you’re talking to your spouse with alcohol use disorder (AUD). It protects your well-being, including your emotional and mental health. It can also help prevent you from being drawn into harmful behavior patterns. When you set boundaries, you encourage your spouse to take responsibility for their actions. This can involve limiting potentially destructive behaviors, like verbal or physical abuse.

Boundaries can also help encourage a spouse with alcohol addiction to seek treatment when they realize you won’t tolerate certain behaviors. If you stop giving them money for alcohol or bailing them out when they get in trouble, they’ll be more motivated to seek treatment. 

Seek Support

Having a trusted group of people you can turn to, who will listen to you and support you, is critical. Along with friends and family members, you could consider a group like Al-Anon. Al-Anon is a mutual support group for family and loved ones of people struggling with alcohol addiction. Another option is to see a therapist to ensure you’re getting the support you need.

Practice Self-Care

Taking care of yourself mentally, physically and spiritually will help you cope. You can find your own version of what self-care looks like. It could be a new hobby that is relaxing and brings you joy. It might also be something like yoga, exercise or meditation. Prioritize self-care and the things that make you feel good.

How To Address the Problem with An Alcoholic Spouse

It’s intimidating to think about speaking with your spouse or partner about their drinking. However, you can do certain things to feel empowered and confident in the conversation. These can ensure that your point is conveyed as effectively as possible.

Avoid Alcohol

You want to avoid alcohol yourself around someone who’s struggling with it. You should also try to talk with that person when they are sober. A spouse with alcohol addiction is more likely to listen when they aren’t under the influence of alcohol. Anger and alcohol are frequently linked to one another, so you want to avoid having more defensiveness come into an already challenging situation.

Exude Empathy

Rather than blaming, judging or shouting, ensure you’re understanding and compassionate when approaching this difficult conversation. To show empathy, use “I” statements to avoid sounding accusatory. Be an active listener, give your spouse your full attention, validate their feelings and express concern rather than criticize. Don’t label your spouse or make moral judgments either.

Express How You Feel

Focus on your concerns for your spouse’s well-being instead of blaming or criticizing them. When expressing your feelings, be specific and articulate behaviors that concern you. Don’t be vague or make general statements—provide specific examples of how your spouse’s alcohol use is affecting you, the relationship and the family. Be straightforward when sharing your concerns and feelings. While you can be empathetic, that doesn’t mean you sugarcoat or minimize the impact of their behavior.

Plant Ideas

To plant ideas, begin by framing statements encouragingly and positively. Highlight the positive aspects of making a change, and share your hopes for the future. Rather than saying, “You have to stop drinking,” you could say, “I care about you, and I think we can work together to find healthier ways to cope with stress.”

In your discussion, emphasize the positive benefits of making a change and seeking treatment as opposed to only focusing on the negatives of alcohol misuse. You can share a vision for what you see as a healthier future together and offer articles or resources that talk more about the benefits of reducing alcohol consumption.

Talk about potential solutions, like doing healthy activities together or seeking professional help.

Practice Patience

To practice patience with an alcoholic spouse, first educate yourself. The more you learn about addiction and alcoholism, the more you can view it from an empathetic standpoint and understand that it is a disease that’s tough to overcome. Along with educating yourself, set realistic expectations. Recovery is a process that takes time. Acknowledge the small wins along the way, but continue to develop and follow the boundaries that keep you calm and healthy.

You’ll also have to remember there will be things that are out of your control.

What If My Spouse Is In Denial?

If your spouse is in denial and doesn’t admit they have a problematic relationship with alcohol, it can be even more frustrating. However, you can still rely on many of the above tactics. If you’re going to talk with them, choose a time and place that’s calm when your spouse is sober. 

Don’t be accusatory in your language. Instead, encourage your spouse to take time for self-reflection. For example, ask questions that might encourage them to consider their own behavior and the consequences of it.

Practice patience here as well because denial is a defense mechanism. Remember — it can take time for someone who’s struggling with addiction to come to terms with the reality of the situation. Don’t pressure them to accept what you’re saying immediately.

You may need to consider bringing in professional help to facilitate an intervention. This depends on the severity of the alcohol use issues and how much denial your spouse shows. 

Factors for Developing An Alcohol Use Disorder

When you have an alcoholic spouse, one of the best ways you can approach the situation is first by understanding alcohol addiction as thoroughly as possible. Addiction is a chronic disease that almost always requires professional treatment to overcome. Complex factors contribute to the development of an AUD, which is why recovery is a process. These factors have to be completely addressed in a comprehensive treatment setting.


Research suggests there’s a genetic component to AUD. Therefore, your spouse’s genetic makeup can influence how susceptible they are to the development of this disease. 

For example, studies have shown individuals with a family history of alcoholism are at a higher risk of developing an AUD themselves. Certain genes increase the vulnerability for alcohol dependence, including the ones playing a role in how the body metabolizes alcohol and the sensitivity of your brain’s reward system.


Stress can play a major role in the development of alcohol addiction. People can use alcohol as a coping mechanism for stress. Chronic stress can contribute to the risk of developing an AUD for many reasons other than it being a coping mechanism. Chronic stress, for example, leads to neurobiological changes in the brain. These affect the areas that are involved in reward and motivation. If the brain’s reward system becomes dysregulated, it reinforces alcohol’s effects.

Chronic stress can impair decision-making and impulse control, releasing cortisol, a stress hormone. High levels of stress hormones can influence the function of the brain and increase how susceptible someone is to addictive behaviors.

Age They Started Drinking

Early initiation of alcohol use is associated with a higher likelihood of experiencing adverse consequences and developing long-term problematic alcohol use patterns. Early alcohol exposure can interfere with brain development during adolescence. It can affect the parts of the brain linked to decision-making, judgment and impulse control. These are things that increase the risk of developing addictions.

Mental Health Conditions

Mental health issues and alcohol addiction are linked together in multiple ways. If someone has a mental health disorder and addiction, it’s known as a co-occurring disorder. Alcohol could be a way to self-medicate the symptoms of the mental health disorder, creating a cycle of dependence and raising the risk of addiction. There are also shared genetic factors that can contribute to someone’s susceptibility to both substance use and mental health disorders, which increases the chances of a co-occurrence.

Mental health conditions and the use of alcohol also affect the neurochemistry of the brain. There may be imbalances in neurotransmitters, with alcohol further affecting these systems. This can reinforce the use of alcohol, contributing to addiction.

Negative Effects of Alcoholism on Marriage

Marriages can suffer greatly when addiction is involved. It affects the person who’s struggling with the addiction and their partner. There’s often a communication breakdown and emotional distance that occurs between spouses. Trust issues become significant, with repeated unreliability and broken promises.

Emotional Effects

There are inevitably going to be profound emotional effects on a marriage with an AUD involved. The non-drinking spouse is likely to develop feelings of resentment and frustration. The person struggling with alcohol use may feel guilt and shame. Both partners may feel isolated and depressed, and emotional and physical intimacy is negatively affected. A constant sense of stress in the relationship can also emotionally affect both partners.

Physical Effects

Physical consequences of an AUD in a marriage include health issues. The declining physical health of the person who’s addicted to alcohol can affect the ability to contribute to marriage and family life. Alcohol misuse affects the liver, heart and GI system and raises the risk of certain cancers. Chronic alcohol use also contributes to sexual dysfunction, impacting physical intimacy.

There’s going to be an impact on cognitive and physical functioning. Therefore, the spouse who struggles with addiction isn’t going to be able to contribute to the household or manage responsibilities the same way they would be able to if they weren’t addicted. 

With significant alcohol use comes the risk of accidents and injuries and even more severe situations such as intimate partner violence. Alcohol abuse is a considerable risk factor for domestic violence because of impaired judgment and aggression that are associated with intoxication.

Financial Effects

Regular alcohol consumption is expensive, straining family budgets. There are indirect costs associated with an alcohol addiction as well. For example, it could lead to reduced work productivity or job loss. Legal consequences, such as DUIs, can be costly to deal with. In severe cases, there may be a loss of assets because of the financial strain of alcohol addiction.

How to Know When It’s Time to Let Go

It’s a deeply challenging and personal decision to decide to let go of a relationship with someone who has an alcohol addiction. You must carefully consider the situation through the lens of the other person’s well-being, your own safety, and your family. Some signs could indicate it’s time to let go, including your spouse’s refusal to seek help and repeated broken promises. Other reasons include:

  • A major impact on your well-being with little improvement despite you making your best efforts
  • An unsafe living environment
  • Repeated relapse
  • Lack of an emotional connection
  • Broken trust that you see as unable to be rebuilt
  • A failure to meet basic needs
  • Unwillingness to change from your partner
  • Your own emotional exhaustion or burnout

Before ending the relationship, consider talking to a support group, counselor or therapist. Professional advice will give you a sense of clarity and an outside perspective so you can explore your options.

Seeking Treatment For an Alcoholic Spouse

Many treatment programs are available, and we encourage you to learn more about them. The Recovery Village Indianapolis Drug and Alcohol Rehab is a leading center with a clinical team of expert addiction treatment professionals. Please reach out to us to learn more about how you can help your spouse.


Sharma, Nitasaha, et al. “Living with an alcoholic partner: Problems faced and coping strategies used by wives of alcoholic clients.” Industrial Psychiatry Journal, January 2016. Accessed December 21, 2023.

Tawa, Elisabeth; Hall, Samuel; Lohoff, Falk. “Overview of the Genetics of Alcohol Use Disorder,” Alcohol and Alcoholism, September 2016. Accessed December 28, 2023. 

Blaine, Sara; Sinha, Rajita. “Alcohol, stress, and glucocorticoids: From risk to dependence and relapse in alcohol use disorders.” Neuropharmacology, August 2017. Accessed December 28, 2023. 

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Understanding Alcohol Use Disorder.” 2020. Accessed December 28, 2023. 

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Why is there comorbidity between substance use disorders and mental illnesses?” April 2020. Accessed December 28, 2023. 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Alcohol Use and Your Health.” April 14, 2022. Accessed December 28, 2023. 

Marshal, Michael P. “For better or for worse? The effects of alcohol use on marital functioning.” NIH National Library of Medicine, June 23, 2009. Accessed December 21, 2023.

Sontate, Kajol V. et al. “Alcohol, Aggression and Violence: From Public Health to Neuroscience.” Frontiers in Psychology, December 20, 2021. Accessed December 21, 2023.

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