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Living with an Alcoholic Spouse

Living with an Alcoholic Spouse
Written by Seth Fletcher on September 7, 2016
Medical editor Dr. Jonathan Siegel
Last update: February 26, 2024

Alcoholism brings severe challenges to not only the affected person but to their spouses and any other person living with them. If your significant other is dealing with alcohol use disorder, you may be exposed to emotional harm, domestic abuse, mental problems, and even be at risk of developing an addiction. While it’s natural to want to help someone you care about, playing the role of a fixer can negatively impact multiple aspects of your life. 

Having an alcoholic spouse can trigger self-blame, excuses, or attempts to stop your partner from drinking. You are not responsible for your spouse’s alcoholism, and while you can contribute to their recovery, it doesn’t have to take over your life. Our guide explains all you need to know about living with an alcoholic spouse and how to get help for yourself and your spouse. 

Key Takeaways

  • Alcoholism affects not only the person with a drinking problem but their family and others around them. 
  • Living with an alcoholic spouse can be exhausting if you don’t go about it the right way.
  • You can help your alcoholic spouse by talking to them in a non-confrontational way and offering suggestions for help. 
  • Not all alcoholic spouses may be willing to change, and you should have an exit strategy if the situation becomes dangerous. 

How to Deal with an Alcoholic Spouse

If your spouse is functionally alcoholic, you’ll find yourself dealing with up and down moments mentally, emotionally, financially, and socially. The issues you’ll face may be immediate (stress, domestic violence) or long-term (impact on your children’s health). So, it is important to assess the problem to know whether you should seek help for them or remove yourself from the situation. 

Many people, especially wives who need to know how to deal with husband addiction, choose to do nothing. A study of wives living with an alcoholic husband revealed that 13% viewed their husbands as people who could not change, while about a quarter coped by avoiding the situation altogether.

Women generally have lower rates of alcoholism than men, but alcoholism takes a greater toll on women, and husbands with alcoholic wives face similar challenges as their female counterparts. 

Helping an alcoholic partner is no doubt tricky, but ignoring or denying the problem is worse. If you notice signs of alcohol misuse, you first need to educate yourself on alcohol use disorder and what it means. You can read up on the condition or talk to a professional to know precisely what you are facing. 

You need to talk to your spouse about the issue once you’re sure you’re dealing with alcoholism. It could be a personal conversation with your spouse or in the presence of others who they respect or care about. It’s important to let your significant other know how badly their actions affect you. Confronting an alcoholic spouse is a delicate matter and can end badly if not well handled. Find the most appropriate time to bring up the issue, and don’t talk about it when they’re inebriated. Raise your concerns without sounding accusatory, and listen to what they say.  It is advisable if you set up a time to discuss this with your spouse that is mutually beneficial to both of you. Make sure that both of you allow at least a half hour to have this discussion without any interruption.

If they are willing to get help, you should have suggestions on how to change their drinking habits or get treatment in cases that have become severe. For spouses in denial or unwilling to change, you should not enable them by taking care of them when they’re hungover, making excuses for them, or bailing them out of jail if they get arrested for driving while drunk. Some people will only try to change when they face severe repercussions for their behavior. This means that someone may not change until they `hit their bottom’.  Everyone’s low point, or bottom, is different.  There is a saying in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous that a person does not have to get off the elevator on the ground floor. For some, the bottom may be loss of finances;  for others, it may be a spiritual emptiness;  and yet for others, it could be jail or psychiatric institutions.  It is important to emphasize during the discussion that there is hope, that recovery is possible, and that while travelling the road to recovery is not easy, it is made easier with others.  You are no longer alone.

Unfortunately, some alcoholic partners may refuse all offers of help, and their spouses may have no option but to end the relationship or separate for some time. While this might seem like a harsh decision, it may be the only way to make an alcoholic understand the gravity of their situation. 

It’s important to seek help immediately if your partner is physically or emotionally abusive towards you or your kids. Your safety and well-being should always be the priority.  

Are you or your loved one struggling with an addiction? Call 1-855-499-9446 now and get the help you or your loved one needs, or request a call, and we will take care of the rest.

What Can You Do To Help an Alcoholic Spouse?

If you have an alcoholic spouse, you’ll be quickly exhausted from trying to help if you don’t know exactly how to go about it. While you may not be able to stop them from drinking, you can change yourself and your behavior toward the situation. 

It’s important to realize that you’re not responsible for their condition. Alcohol addiction is a brain disease, and your partner will probably keep acting that way till they get professional treatment. You should also understand that you’re not the cure to that problem. Trying to get them to stop drinking on their own may not only be a waste of time, but it could also be dangerous. Withdrawal symptoms from abrupt alcohol cessation may be dangerous and potentially fatal, so don’t try to force them to stop drinking without medical intervention. 

Being drunk is no excuse for bad behavior, and you must make this fact clear to your spouse. Set strict boundaries, and never tolerate unacceptable actions, especially if children are involved. If your partner is willing to get help, help them find counselors, therapists, and support groups. 

It also helps to manage your expectations when dealing with an alcoholic partner. Alcoholism is a disease, and willpower or a decision to stop drinking is usually not enough. Don’t feel too bad if your partner relapses or returns to old habits after a period of sobriety. It usually takes time for an alcoholic to be completely clean.

How to Recognize the Signs of an Alcoholic Spouse

Drinking alcohol is a socially acceptable activity, and some people may not be able to spot the difference between social drinking and alcoholism quickly. 4.2% of Canadians are addicted to alcohol or have alcohol-related problems. This figure excludes individuals who have not progressed far enough in the disease to count, so the actual number is way higher. 

Alcoholics may also be trapped in a cycle of addiction, where they try to quit drinking before suffering a relapse and returning to old habits. The period of abstinence can make it difficult for spouses to tell that their significant other is battling alcoholism. Here are some signs to look out for in an alcoholic spouse: 

Regular binge drinking

Drinking heavy amounts of alcohol within a short period could be a pointer to alcoholism. If they drink in the mornings, at lunch, or during other periods when others are not, there may be an alcohol problem. 

A lifestyle that revolves around alcohol

They are always excited about events or gatherings that involve alcohol. Any social function that will not include alcohol is unlikely to interest them. 

They can’t stop drinking

Even when they set a limit to the amount of alcohol they’ll consume, they find that they cannot keep to it. They always want to continue drinking after everyone else has called it quits. 

They get defensive when confronted about their drinking

If any suggestion to reduce or stop drinking sets them on edge, or they make excuses for their behavior, it may be a sign of a drinking problem.

They drink when stressed

If alcohol is the go-to solution when your partner is feeling stressed, you may have a subtle case of alcoholism on your hands. 

They become a different person when under the influence

If alcohol changes your spouse’s personality; say, a typically quiet or shy person suddenly becomes bold or talkative, or a gentle character becomes aggressive, it could be a manifestation of alcoholism. They may also make rash decisions like driving while drunk or getting into fights.

High alcohol tolerance

If they can drink several bottles or shots of alcohol without any signs of being drunk, or if people talk about how much alcohol they can consume, that could be a sign of alcoholism.

They get into drinking-related trouble frequently

If your partner is constantly getting into trouble with the police for drunk driving or arguing with people at work because of their drinking, they may have an alcohol problem. Usually, they will be unable to connect their recurring issues with their alcoholism and will prefer to blame the other party. 

They manifest alcohol withdrawal symptoms

Withdrawal symptoms are a clear sign of alcoholism. If your partner shows signs like anxiety, agitation, irritability, tremors, and disorientation that arise when your partner is not drinking alcohol, then they definitely have a drinking problem. 

What You May Experience When Living with an Alcoholic Spouse

Alcoholism is a disorder of the brain that goes beyond the affected individual to their loved ones and friends. An alcoholic’s spouse is likely most affected by their partner’s condition. They may experience a diverse spectrum of emotions from seeing someone they care about sliding into addiction. 

Self-blame is common among people who have an alcoholic partner. They tend to be self-critical and may hold themselves responsible for their partner’s conditions. However, it’s not right to beat yourself for the situation. Alcoholism is a disease, and you are not responsible in the same way you wouldn’t be responsible if your partner had hypertension or cancer. 

You may also want to control their drinking by forbidding them from drinking, confiscating their alcohol, or begging them to stop. However you try, you cannot cure their alcoholism any more than you caused it. It’s best to release yourself from any guilt or responsibility you feel for their actions. 

Spouses of alcoholics may also enable their actions by covering for them when they call in sick due to a hangover or bailing them out of jail after a drunk-driving arrest. Enabling your spouse will prevent them from seeing the full consequences of their actions and make them less likely to seek help. 

It’s important to take care of yourself when dealing with an alcoholic spouse and not let their condition overwhelm you. 

The Challenges of Living with an Alcoholic Spouse

Living with an alcoholic spouse comes with several problems as the alcoholic prioritizes drinking over every other aspect of their life. Challenges you’ll have to find a way around as you live with an alcoholic include: 

Emotional difficulties 

Watching someone you care about deteriorate into alcoholism can bring on a flood of emotions that you may not easily handle. Partners of alcoholics may start with denial, pretending the situation is not as serious as it seems. Soon, they accept the situation and feelings of disappointment, mistrust, and guilt begin to overwhelm them. These feelings can cause negative mental and physical impacts with time.

Irresponsibility and Unavailability

As a person becomes more dependent on alcohol, they become irresponsible and unavailable. An alcoholic spouse may routinely fail to keep up with their tasks or responsibilities in the home. It’s crucial to be able to depend on your partner, and if this is no longer possible, the relationship will be at risk of falling apart.

Children can be affected

If the couple has children, they may also suffer the consequences of alcoholism. Kids growing up in a home where one parent is addicted to alcohol may struggle to trust people and are at risk of developing trauma-related mental health challenges. It’s vital to seek help for your children to help them process the potentially damaging experiences they have had. 

Health Challenges

The negative health impacts of heavy alcohol use are numerous; alcohol affects the brain, liver, digestion, and weight and is a risk factor for various forms of cancer. Living with an alcoholic spouse can drain a partner leading to mental and physical health problems.

Domestic violence

An alcoholic spouse is likely to be verbally, emotionally, and physically abusive to their partner. If you have experienced domestic abuse from an alcoholic spouse or think you’re at risk, it’s necessary to take immediate steps to protect yourself or leave the environment. 

Loss of intimacy

Continuous alcohol use can make a partner uninterested in their spouse. An alcoholic’s brain desires alcohol above every other thing, including their partner. If your spouse is losing interest in being intimate with you, it’s time to talk to them about seeking help. 


Problem drinking affects decision-making, and research connects drinking to increased rates of infidelity. While drinking is not the sole reason for cheating, alcohol use can contribute to impulse control problems and compromised judgment, making cheating more likely. 

Fertility Issues

Couples who intend to have kids may encounter difficulties if one partner has a drinking problem. Alcohol lowers sperm quality, and this study found that women were 18% less likely to become pregnant if they had up to 14 drinks weekly. Another study also revealed that women who drank the week they conceived were two to three times more likely to have a miscarriage. 

Financial difficulties 

Alcoholism can also bring financial difficulties to a person living with an alcoholic partner. When a spouse starts spending so much on their addiction, they may not have enough to meet their financial responsibilities, leaving the other person to make up the deficit. You should seek help immediately if your partner’s alcoholism is starting to affect your finances. 

Drinking problems

Living with an alcoholic spouse can trigger drinking problems. According to some studies, husbands are three times more likely to increase their alcohol intake if their wives start drinking heavily. Similarly, a woman is twice likely to increase her alcohol intake if her husband starts drinking heavily. Having an alcoholic spouse makes it more difficult to quit or reduce alcohol intake. 

Legal Problems

Living with an alcoholic spouse can bring legal problems arising from their poor decisions. Drunk driving, violence, destruction of property, and other criminal activities an alcoholic may engage in could have legal consequences for their partner.

What is the Treatment Process for Alcoholism

There is no one-size-fits-all treatment process for alcoholism. The appropriate approach for alcoholism treatment depends on the extent of the addiction and whether the individual is trying to drink less or quit alcohol altogether. Quitting alcohol is the best course of action and offers greater benefits, but reducing intake is the more realistic option for most people. Moderation may also be a first step towards abstinence. 

For individuals dependent on alcohol, treatment will start with detoxification. In mild cases, patients may be able to detox at home with medications to ease withdrawal symptoms. Severely dependent patients will need in-patient care at a clinic or rehab facility to help them safely handle withdrawal symptoms. 

Doctors may also prescribe medication like disulfiram and acamprosate to help stop or reduce drinking and prevent relapse. These drugs may be used alone or together with counseling or therapy. 

Behavioral therapies for alcoholism involve working with a professional to identify and modify thinking patterns and behaviors that sponsor heavy drinking. There could be brief interventions; short personal or group counseling sessions where the therapist educates the individual on their drinking habits and potential risk. At the end of each session, they will work together on setting and implementing goals for change. 

Counseling sessions may also involve one’s spouse or other family members. A robust support system increases an alcoholic’s chances of getting and remaining sober. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and motivational enhancement therapy are other behavioral treatments that may help individuals dealing with alcoholism. 

Treatment may also involve joining self-help groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). The idea behind this group is that alcoholism is a long-term progressive illness only remediable by abstinence. AA treatment plan is based on the popular 12-step program that involves admitting your wrongs and making amends with people you hurt with your behavior. The AA program is a spiritual, not religious program. Only one of the 12 steps specifically references the word `alcohol’.  It is the first Step.  All other steps are related to emotional, interpersonal, and spiritual principles.  

Keeping a diary may also be part of the treatment process for alcoholism. The individual will have to keep a record of their daily alcohol intake and the circumstances surrounding their alcohol use. Doing this lets you know exactly how much you’re drinking and the steps you can take to reduce consumption. 

Alcoholism treatment is usually a long process, and relapses are not uncommon. However, a relapse should not be viewed as a failure but a temporary setback on the path to full recovery.  

How to Get Help for an Alcoholic Spouse

Thinking of how to get an alcoholic to stop drinking can be difficult and frightening. The disruptive consequences of their drinking can make broaching the subject a delicate matter. Your spouse may be unwilling to discuss this, so you must find the best way to bring up the issue. 

Don’t talk about the problem when they are drunk or when you’re angry. Consider a professional or anyone who has overcome alcoholism for advice on how to help someone stop drinking. Don’t raise your voice or sound confrontational when you broach the subject. Carefully explain the consequences of their actions and how they affect the home. Point out your concerns in a supportive manner but don’t make excuses for their actions. 

Be ready to offer treatment options if they see reason with you and are prepared to change. You may need to stop the conversation and try again later if they become aggressive.

However, you may need an intervention if they keep resisting your efforts. An intervention in this situation is any process to get your spouse to get treatment. You could arrange with family members, close friends, colleagues, or a professional intervention specialist to confront them in a non-coercive way. 

Getting Support for Loved Ones of Alcoholics

Loved ones of alcoholics usually get neglected when it comes to treatment. The partner with a drinking problem may get help and attention, while the other often suffer the effects of their partner’s alcoholism on their own. 

If you live with an alcoholic spouse, you don’t have to wade through the challenges alone. Confide in trusted family and friends about your problems. People are often more willing to help than we realize. Ask for help with things you need, like transportation, child care, grocery shopping and other activities lagging due to your partner’s addiction. 

Consult a mental health expert for evaluation and therapy if necessary. Engage in positive coping practices like exercise and meditation. If you have kids, ensure they have the tools required to cope with the situation. 

Consider joining a support group for loved ones of alcoholics. Refuse to allow your partner’s alcoholism to weigh you down. Socialize with family and friends whenever possible. Remember that self-preservation is the priority, so don’t hesitate to remove yourself and your children from the situation if you think you are in danger. 


Living with an alcoholic spouse is challenging, and it can feel hopeless on some days. But you can help your partner see reasons to get help with the right approach. There are many options for getting help for alcoholics, and the quicker you act, the faster you can return your home to normal.

Find out more about getting professional help for your loved one’s addiction, get help today by calling 1-855-499-9446 or request a call.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it possible to live with an alcoholic?

It is possible to live with an alcoholic, but you may consider taking steps to protect yourself from the dangers of their addiction. You may also need to resolve negative feelings about the situation and come to a place of love and acceptance before you can live with them successfully. 

What percentage of marriages end because of alcohol?

Alcohol significantly increases the chances of a marriage ending in divorce. This study indicates that the consumption of one liter of alcohol per capita increases divorce rates by 20%.

What do you do if your spouse won’t quit drinking?

If you have a spouse that won’t stop drinking, you may need to prioritize your health and well-being by seeking professional help. You also need to set strict boundaries and adhere to them. It also helps to have an exit option if you think they are becoming aggressive or dangerous.

What are three signs a person might be an alcoholic?

Three signs a person might be an alcoholic are:
- Their lifestyle revolves around alcohol
- They can’t stop drinking
- They get defensive when confronted about their drinking habits

How do you help someone who can’t stop drinking?

You can help someone who can’t stop drinking by talking to them about their behavior and how it affects them and others around them. Let them know that their situation doesn’t have to remain the way it is and offer them options for treatment. 

Certified Addiction Counsellor

Seth brings many years of professional experience working the front lines of addiction in both the government and privatized sectors.


Dr. Jonathan Siegel earned his doctoral degree in counselling psychology from the University of Toronto in 1986. He is a registered psychologist in private practice and has 30 years of experience conducting both assessments and counselling with a diverse group of individuals presenting with a broad range of psychological adjustment difficulties, such as depression, anxiety, and addictions.

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