Cirque Lodge > Blog > Addiction > How to Deal With an Alcoholic Spouse

Does My Spouse Have a Drinking Problem?

Alcohol use disorder can have devastating effects on a person's life. But the impact that alcohol use disorders can have on others often goes unnoticed. If you are worried about your spouse's drinking, know that help is out there.

Alcohol is the most frequently used and misused substance in the United States, and it can have serious health and social consequences. But how much is too much?

According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, for an adult of legal drinking age drinking alcohol in moderation amounts to two drinks or less in a day for a man and one drink or less in a day for a woman.

Signs of Problem Drinking

How can one know if their loved one is drinking too much alcohol? The signs include:

  • they drink more alcohol than intended
  • they struggle to reduce or can't stop drinking alcohol
  • they spend a lot of time drinking or recovering from drinking
  • they give up other activities to drink
  • they continue to drink despite alcohol having negative consequences for their life
  • their physical and mental health is negatively impacted.

Heavy Drinking

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines heavy drinking as consuming more than four drinks on any day or more than 14 drinks per week for a man and consuming more than three drinks on any day or more than seven drinks per week for a woman. SAMHSA defines heavy alcohol use as binge drinking on five or more days in the past month. Further guidance on what alcohol misuse might look like can be found on the NIAAA website here.

Binge Drinking

NIAAA defines binge drinking for a typical adult as consuming five or more alcoholic drinks for a man and four or more drinks for a woman in about 2 hours.

SAMHSA defines binge drinking as five or more alcoholic drinks for a man and four or more alcoholic drinks for a woman on the same occasion (i.e., at the same time or within a couple of hours of each other) on at least one day in the past month.  

If your loved one is a heavy or binge drinker and can't stop drinking on their own, they likely have a problem. Binge drinking and heavy alcohol use can increase their risk of alcohol use disorder.

What Is an Alcohol Use Disorder?

What Is an Alcohol Use Disorder

According to The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a medical condition characterized by an impaired ability to stop or control alcohol use despite adverse social, occupational or health consequences. AUD is also referred to as alcohol abuse, alcohol dependence, alcohol addiction and alcoholism.

Alcohol Use Disorder is considered to be a brain disorder. Alcohol abuse leads to long-term changes in the brain, further exacerbating AUD and making affected individuals prone to relapse.

According to a national Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration survey, 14.1 million US adults aged 18 and older had AUD in 2019. The prevalence of alcohol use disorder varies by age and gender, with the highest rates among adults ages 18-29 and men (7.5%) compared to women (4%).

Alcohol misuse, which includes binge drinking and heavy alcohol use, over time increases the risk of AUD. Other factors that increase the risk of AUD are drinking at an early age, genetics and family history of alcohol problems, mental health issues and a history of trauma.

The Consequences of Living With a Partner Struggling With Alcohol Addiction

Living with a loved one's alcoholism can be a challenging experience. The negative consequences of a partner's drinking can include financial stress, relationship problems, emotional difficulties, physical abuse, and domestic violence. A partner's alcohol problem can lead to a lack of trust and communication, isolation, loneliness and hopelessness.

The consequences of living with an alcoholic spouse can include:

  • Abuse and violence. Alcoholism can lead to physical and verbal abuse, harming both the person struggling with alcohol addiction and their family. Most people who struggle with alcohol addiction do not abuse their partners. However, you can contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline for free and confidential support if you live with domestic violence.
  • Financial stress. Alcoholism can lead to financial problems, such as loss of employment or difficulty paying bills, which can create stress and strain on the relationship.
  • Relationship problems and emotional consequences. Alcoholism can lead to a lack of trust, communication and intimacy in the relationships with family members. Alcohol addiction also affects the entire family. It can strain relationships with loved ones. Living with a person struggling with alcohol addiction can be emotionally challenging and can lead to feelings of loneliness, hopelessness and isolation for their family members.
  • Health problems. Alcoholism can lead to or exacerbate physical and mental health issues for the person struggling with addiction and can also be emotionally and physically draining for their family members.
  • Difficulty maintaining social connections. Alcoholism can cause problems with friends, family and at work, making it difficult to maintain social relationships and family life.

Living with an alcoholic spouse can be extremely challenging. It is important to take care of oneself and one's own health, physical and mental, as well as seek help and support to help cope with the situation. It is also important to understand that, like with any addiction treatment, recovery is a lifelong process and may involve multiple rounds of treatment.

How to Help an Alcoholic Spouse

How to Help an Alcoholic Spouse

It's important to remember that addiction is a disease, not a person's fault, and that recovery is possible with proper treatment, support and time. Seeking help for addiction is not a sign of weakness. It is essential for a successful recovery.

Helping a loved one who can not stop drinking and struggles with their alcohol consumption is no different than helping someone struggling with substance abuse and includes supporting them in seeking professional help, such as individual and family therapy, a peer support group, encouraging them to attend an alcohol treatment program or alcohol rehab and seeking support from friends, family members or a therapist.

Supporting an alcoholic spouse can be challenging. There are several things you can do to help them:

  • Educate yourself. Learn about alcohol addiction and the recovery process. This will help you understand what your partner is going through and how to support them best.
  • Set healthy boundaries. It is important to set clear boundaries when dealing with spouse's alcoholism, for example, setting limits on the behavior you will tolerate, such as not allowing them to drink while they are in your presence.
  • Encourage professional help. Support your partner in seeking professional help, such as therapy or a support group. Encourage them to attend an alcohol treatment program or alcohol rehab and to work with a healthcare professional to find the best course of treatment.
  • Practice self-care. Living with an alcoholic partner can be emotionally taxing, so seeking support and taking care of yourself is important. This may include talking to a therapist, joining peer support groups, or seeking social support, such as spending time with friends and family.
  • Remain calm. It is easier said than done but remaining as calm as possible will help you deal with the situation best. Research coping strategies that work for you, such as individual therapy, meditation, journaling or spending spare time on your interests or hobbies.

How to Talk to Your Spouse About Their Alcohol Consumption

When talking to a spouse about their alcohol drinking problem, it is important to approach the conversation with empathy and concern and avoid judgment or blame. Talk to your partner about their drinking and its impact on your relationship using specific examples of their behavior that is causing concern. Express your concerns in a non-judgmental and empathetic manner and listen actively to what they say. Suggest resources, treatment programs, support and treatment options that are available.

Remember, spouse's recovery from any substance abuse is a lifelong process and may involve multiple rounds of treatment. It is important to be patient and understanding throughout the process. Show your spouse that you care and that you are there for them - this can make a big difference in their recovery.

Treatment Options for Alcohol Abuse

Treatment Options for Alcohol Abuse

Treatment Options

People struggling with an alcohol addiction or Alcohol Use Disorder can achieve and maintain recovery no matter how severe the alcohol abuse problem may seem. Treatment options include behavioral therapy, peer support groups and medications.

Rehabilitation programs, such as inpatient and outpatient programs, can also support those in recovery. One size does not fit all, and a treatment approach that may work for one person may not work for another. Recovery is a lifelong process and may involve multiple rounds of treatment. It's important to work with a professional to find the best course of treatment for the individual.

Alcohol withdrawal can be life threatening if someone who has been drinking heavily for a prolonged period of time suddenly stops drinking. Professional medical advice and support are essential.

Cirque Lodge Addiction Treatment Center

If your spouse is struggling with addiction to alcohol, we can help. We’ll give them the support they need and the space to grow. Our focus is on providing the highest quality, compassionate care and clinical excellence. We use the most modern and effective addiction treatment and the shared knowledge of our highly qualified staff. 

Cirque Lodge is a private and exclusive addiction treatment center in the heart of the Rocky Mountains. We offer an enriching rehabilitation experience that aims to heal the entire person. Our team of medical professionals provides a combination of evidence-based treatment approaches adapted to suit our clients' personal needs.

Our recovery model provides an individualized treatment plan for each client. We combine the traditional 12-step model with cognitive-behavioral, group, and experiential therapies to provide the most effective treatment for our clients. Our holistic approach to treating alcohol use disorders ensures long-term success in our clients' personal growth and recovery journey.

We are licensed by the State of Utah and accredited by the Joint Commission for the Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO).

If your loved one is suffering from an alcohol or drug abuse, please contact us today. We can help.

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