Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) is a progressive illness that can gradually but dramatically change a person’s behavior. Being in a relationship with someone who is struggling with alcohol abuse can feel confusing and isolating. You may begin to notice differences in their behavior, and over time, these differences can affect your trust in one another and have negative consequences on your relationship.
It is natural to want to do everything you can to support your partner and help them stop drinking, or to get their alcohol consumption under control. However, many experience anxiety in addressing the subject, and uncertainty about the best way to support them in beginning the recovery process.
What is Alcohol Use Disorder?
Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is the term most often used by medical professionals and refers to a medical diagnosis that encompasses the conditions often referred to as alcohol abuse, alcohol dependence, alcohol addiction, and alcoholism. AUD is considered a brain disorder, due to the fact that substance abuse, including alcohol abuse, causes changes to the brain that perpetuate AUD and cause the issue to progress. This can cause a cycle of dependence that is difficult to break.
Healthcare professionals use criteria from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders to diagnose a person with AUD and assess the severity of the disorder. These are different stages of AUD, and behaviors are different at each.
- Mild Alcohol Use Disorder: If two or three criteria are present a person will be diagnosed with mild AUD. If a person has a milder form of alcohol use disorder they may often put themselves in dangerous situations through unsafe drinking habits. However, those who have a mild AUD generally have the ability to stop drinking if they wish to.
- Moderate Alcohol Use Disorder: Moderate alcohol use disorder is designated if four to five of the criteria are reported.
- Severe Alcohol Use Disorder: This is defined as a lack of control regarding consuming alcohol and a total inability to quit due to physical and psychological dependence.
Does My Husband Have an Alcohol Addiction?
AUD may be clearly apparent in some people while harder to spot in others. Drinking alcohol from time to time is common; many married couples will have a glass of wine with dinner, or at a concert. Drinking in social settings in moderation is generally not seen as something to worry about, so noticing when alcoholism has reached a stage that constitutes having AUD can be challenging.
Moreover, many people who abuse alcohol hide the extent of their addiction due to the stigma and shame that is attached to substance abuse.
Recognising warning signs early can help you support an alcoholic partner before AUD progresses. These are some signs that your loved one may have developed unhealthy drinking habits:
Frequent drinking or heavy drinking
An alcohol problem can begin as frequent drinking, often as a result of a stressful or traumatic time in a person’s life. Heavy drinking is often a sign that a person is seeking relief from mental or physical pain and can result in alcohol dependency to deal with life stress.
This is the consumption of excessive amounts of alcohol in a short period of time. This kind of alcohol abuse has serious health risks and a person that has a binge drinking problem is at risk of developing an alcohol addiction.
Increased tolerance to alcohol
As is the case with most substance abuse, people who are drinking frequently will build a tolerance to alcohol, meaning they need more alcohol to feel the desired effects.
Other common signs include:
- Mood swings and irritability
- Withdrawing from responsibilities
- Defensiveness (especially when confronted about their alcohol consumption)
- Seeming secretive
- Erratic, unpredictable behavior
- Seeming distracted
- Creating excuses to include alcohol in events and social situations
- Neglecting personal hygiene
What You Can Do
Despite how it may seem, there are many ways to support an alcoholic partner. If you are searching for ways to carefully discuss your spouse’s drinking or support an alcoholic husband, there are a number of steps you can take.
Prioritize your mental health and physical wellbeing
It may seem surprising to some, but the first step toward supporting people struggling with alcohol addiction is to recognize how your partner’s drinking is affecting you. Living with an alcoholic can take a toll on your mental well-being. Alcohol abuse affects family members, even if the person abusing alcohol tries to avoid it.
It is common to feel so concerned about your partner that you disregard your own mental health, but burnout will make it even more difficult for you to support your partner.
One way of looking after your own mental and social well-being and recognizing your own needs is to join a support group. Joining a local support group for the loved ones of alcoholics can be a great way to connect with others and verbalize the ways that your husband’s drinking habits are affecting you and your family in a safe and confidential setting. Peer support groups such as Al-Anon are a place to share coping skills and mechanisms that help you to detach from an alcoholic person’s behaviors and take care of yourself.
Seek Professional Medical Advice
Try to think of your husband’s substance use as an illness. Unfortunately, alcohol use disorders are not always recognized and treated as medical problems, but AUD itself is a medical issue, in addition to the negative effects of drug and alcohol use on the body such as liver damage. The complexity of medical research and treatment options may seem daunting, but professional help is available so you never have to support an alcoholic spouse alone. If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, you can always contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. There are medical professionals to support and advise you.
Limit Enabling Behavior
Maintaining healthy relationships with alcoholics can be a challenge. You don’t want to disengage with the person’s life and stop taking part in activities you both enjoy, such as going to concerts, but it is also important to avoid encouraging or enabling your husband’s drinking.
Try to avoid bringing your husband to events or social situations that encourage alcohol consumption, such as staff Christmas parties. Look for ways to connect and relax that don’t involve alcohol, such as hiking, art classes, or cooking classes. Learning new hobbies and being creative has great benefits to mental health. Poetry and art therapy have been shown to help those struggling with alcoholism. Try to understand your husband’s triggers so that you can better understand his illness, and help him avoid certain situations.
Set healthy boundaries
There is a significant link between addiction and domestic violence. Alcohol was found to be involved in 30 to 40 percent of male abuse cases and 27 to 34 percent of female abuse cases at the time of the event.
Victims of domestic abuse or intimate partner violence are never to blame for the abuse they experience. However, setting boundaries and adhering to them can help. When a person who abuses alcohol feels threatened or judged, they may lash out with verbal abuse, blame, or anger. You may wish to prepare for this and have an exit strategy if your husband’s behavior becomes aggressive or dangerous and you feel that you or your children are not safe. Setting a clear line of behavior that you will not tolerate and removing yourself from the situation if this line is crossed is one way of creating and maintaining a healthy boundary. Seek social support from friends and family and help from domestic abuse networks.
Alcohol Addiction Treatment
It can be helpful to be prepared even if your husband is not yet ready to start treatment, or is hesitant. You may wish to research different treatments or speak to people who have received treatment for a substance use disorder in the past. You can support your partner by compiling recovery resources and having information about different treatment programs to help him see substance abuse treatment as less daunting or scary.
If you are worried about your loved one’s alcohol use, contact us today for help and support. At Cirque Lodge, we offer a wealth of information about alcohol addiction treatment. We are here to help you understand the recovery process, and support your alcoholic husband on his journey to a healthy, sober life.