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Alcoholic Spouse: Coping Strategies, Support & Treatment

Last Updated: November 1, 2023

Editorial Policy | Research Policy

When your spouse struggles with alcoholism, it can consume both of your lives. Finding support and healing is essential for both your partner and yourself. 

Alcoholism is a challenging issue that affects not only the individual struggling with it but also their loved ones, especially a spouse. When you find yourself married to an alcoholic, it can be emotionally and mentally draining. Building a support network and coping methods can help you navigate the difficulties that arise due to alcoholism.

Tips for Coping with an Alcoholic Spouse

Living with an alcoholic spouse can be incredibly difficult. Identifying specific strategies to help you cope and protect your well-being can help you and your loved one. 

Set Boundaries

Establish clear boundaries and communicate them to your spouse. Ensure they understand the consequences of their actions and that you will not enable their alcohol use. These boundaries may include not being around them when they drink or not allowing any alcohol in your home. A crucial aspect of limit setting is following through on the boundary you set. 

Seek Support

You don’t have to go through this alone—contact friends, family, or support groups who can provide emotional support and guidance. Professional counseling or Al-Anon groups can provide invaluable support to help you navigate this time and relationship. They can also help you identify ways to protect and care for yourself. 

Practice Self-Care

Taking care of your own physical and emotional well-being is crucial. Ensure you have time for activities you enjoy and find ways to reduce stress. Spend time with loved ones and supportive people in your life. 

How to Address the Problem with an Alcoholic Spouse

Beginning the conversation with your spouse about their alcohol use can feel overwhelming and nerve-wracking. However, you can set the discussion up for success by choosing an optimal time and approaching them with encouragement and empathy.

Avoid Alcohol

If you address the issue, do it in a sober environment. Consuming alcohol can lead to emotional escalation and hinder productive communication. Avoid starting the conversation when your spouse is intoxicated.

Exude Empathy

Approach the conversation with understanding rather than judgment. Remember that alcoholism is a complex disease, and your spouse may need help. Voice your concerns with support and encouragement, and avoid blaming and shaming them.

Express How You Feel

Use “I” statements to communicate your emotions. For example, say, “I feel worried when you drink a lot” or “I’m scared for the kids’ safety when you drink around them.” These statements help you communicate your concern rather than making accusatory statements.

Plant Ideas

Encourage your spouse to seek help and offer resources. Research treatment options in your area before you begin the conversation. That way, you can give them immediate options. Let them know you support their recovery.

Practice Patience

Recovery is a process, and change may not happen overnight. Relapse is a common part of recovery. Try to practice patience and offer support as your spouse works towards sobriety. Managing your expectations can help encourage them, lessen resentment, and support their progress.

What If My Spouse Is in Denial?

Denial is a common reaction in individuals struggling with alcoholism. If your spouse is in denial, it can be even more challenging. It’s painful to acknowledge that your alcoholism has hurt yourself and others. Denying that there is a drinking issue or minimizing the problem is a form of self-defense and a way to avoid making changes. 

It’s essential to remember that you cannot force someone to confront their addiction. Instead, focus on offering your support and providing information about the consequences of alcoholism. Ultimately, the decision to seek help must come from your spouse.

Factors for Developing an Alcohol Use Disorder

Understanding the underlying causes of alcoholism can be beneficial. Several factors can contribute to the development of an alcohol use disorder, including:


Genetics plays a significant role in the development of alcoholism. Individuals with a family history of alcoholism are at a higher risk of developing the condition themselves. While specific genes responsible for alcoholism haven’t been definitively identified, it’s believed that genetic factors can influence a person’s tolerance for alcohol, their response to alcohol’s effects, and their predisposition to addiction.


Alcoholism is closely linked to stress and trauma. It often triggers the development of alcohol use disorders. Many individuals turn to alcohol to cope with chronic stress’s physical and emotional toll. The temporary relief that alcohol provides can lead to a pattern of dependence, making it a dangerous and unhealthy coping mechanism. This relationship highlights the importance of addressing stress management and mental health issues as part of a comprehensive approach to alcohol addiction prevention and treatment.

Age They Started Drinking

The age at which someone begins drinking is connected to alcoholism. Those who start drinking at a younger age are at a higher risk of developing an alcohol use disorder. Early initiation of alcohol use, often during adolescence, can disrupt the development of the brain’s executive functions and increase vulnerability to addiction. This is why preventive measures and education about responsible drinking, particularly among young people, are crucial in reducing the prevalence of alcoholism in later life.

Mental Health Conditions

Mental health conditions and alcoholism often share a relationship, influencing the other. Individuals with pre-existing mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, or PTSD, may turn to alcohol as a coping mechanism, leading to the development of an AUD. On the other hand, chronic alcohol misuse can exacerbate or trigger mental health problems. Alcohol can disrupt the brain’s chemical balance and intensify symptoms. 

Negative Effects of Alcoholism on Marriage

Alcoholism can take a heavy toll on a marriage, leading to a breakdown in communication or the end of the relationship. 

Emotional Effects

Alcoholism often leads to anger, frustration, and hurt in the spouse of the alcoholic. The erratic behavior and mood swings associated with alcohol misuse can create a sense of instability and unpredictability within the relationship, eroding trust and intimacy. Spouses may also experience a sense of powerlessness as their attempts to help or control the situation are unsuccessful. Emotional strain can foster resentment, guilt, and a growing emotional distance between partners, ultimately harming the marriage.

Physical Effects

As the alcoholic spouse’s drinking continues, their health often deteriorates due to the damaging impact of alcohol on various bodily systems. This can increase the burden on the non-alcoholic partner, who may have to assume caregiving responsibilities. Health issues can create further stress within the relationship, resulting in emotional strain and potential conflicts. 

Financial Effects

Excessive spending on alcohol, medical bills, and legal issues related to alcohol-related incidents can strain the family’s finances. Additionally, an alcoholic spouse may experience decreased work productivity, frequent job changes, or even job loss, further contributing to financial instability. This stress often leads to conflict within the marriage, making maintaining a stable and healthy household budget challenging.

How to Know When It’s Time to Let Go

Deciding when to end a marriage with an alcoholic spouse is a deeply personal choice. If the situation becomes unbearable, and your spouse refuses to seek help or change, you may need to consider separation or divorce. Remember that your safety and well-being should be a top priority.

Seeking Treatment for an Alcoholic Spouse

If your spouse is willing to seek help, there are several treatment options available:

  • Medical detoxification: This is often the first step, as it involves safely managing withdrawal symptoms with monitoring from a medical team. 
  • Residential rehabilitation: Residential treatment programs provide onsite intensive therapy and support.
  • Partial hospitalization program (PHP): A step down from residential rehab, where individuals receive daily treatment but live at home.
  • Outpatient treatment: These programs offer flexibility for individuals who can’t commit to full-time inpatient care but need treatment.
  • Support groups: Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and other support groups can be an essential part of the recovery process.

Are you searching for support for your spouse? The Recovery Village Atlanta is here to help. Our team of experts provides comprehensive support for those facing alcoholism. The physician-led facility offers medical detox, residential rehab and partial hospitalization programs. Reach out today, and a recovery advocate will guide you through the admissions process.


Alcohol Use Disorder.” Cleveland Clinic, June 2, 2021. Accessed October 13, 2023.

Underage Drinking.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, October 6, 2021. Accessed October 13, 2023.