How to deal with an alcoholic partner

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If you're living with an alcoholic partner, you've probably faced a lot of challenges and experienced many different emotions. Right now, you may be exhausted from having to pick up more of the responsibilities, terrified about the health and future of everyone in your household, as well as sad and angry about the situation that you're currently living in.

Dealing with an alcoholic partner and coping with their alcoholic behaviours and tendencies can have a massive impact on a person’s life. Within this blog, we explore the dos and don’ts of living with someone addicted to alcohol. We've also put together the dos and don’ts of talking to the person about their drinking, which you can use if and when you're ready to have this conversation.

The dos of living with an alcoholic partner

Whether you're living with a functioning alcoholic, or someone with an alcohol dependency, life can be physically and emotionally draining. Learning how to deal with an alcoholic spouse as well as looking after yourself can be stressful and it's likely you'll need support to help you manage. We've put together some recommendations on how to look after yourself and the other people living in your household.

  • DO try to maintain a level of normality throughout your days. Stick to a family routine, so go to work, eat meals, relax and go to bed at the same time every day
  • DO focus on yourself and the other people in your household who are affected by your alcoholic partner. This should be your priority, so concentrate on yours and their physical and mental health
  • DO learn to step back. We understand that this is a really difficult thing to do, but if you try to step in and save the person every time there's an incident or issue, their alcohol addiction is likely to continue. They may need a crisis to happen in order for them to recognise they need to change
  • DO seek outside support. It's important to have a trusted group of people who can listen and support you. As well as speaking with close friends and family members, think about joining a group like Al-Anon, where you get to speak to people who have had similar experiences with family members. Alternatively, you may want to try seeing a therapist, so you can get the right level of support you need and are able to stay well

The don’ts of living with an alcoholic partner

  • DON’T give up. Remember that you're not alone. There are people who care about you and who'll support you so that things can get better
  • DON’T focus your time and energy on trying to control or stop your partner’s drinking. We understand that this can be tough, as you care for the person and have a history together, regardless of how much they've hurt you. But remember, they can’t control their drinking, so it's highly unlikely that you'll be able to change it either. Also, withdrawing from alcohol can be extremely dangerous and even life threatening, so if the person does decide to stop, they should access professional support to do so. Encourage them to speak to their GP or get in contact with a specialist treatment centre to discuss the best steps forward
  • DON’T spend your time and energy covering up for the person. It's likely they won’t want other people to know how much they drink, but it isn’t your responsibility to help them try and keep it a secret
  • DON’T remain in a position where you feel that you and others in your household are physically or emotionally unsafe. Get immediate professional support and don’t try to handle the situation yourself

Take some time to yourself

Living and dealing with an alcoholic can have a serious effect on your own health and wellbeing. You're likely to be concerned for your loved one and worry for their health, as well as worn down by their behaviours, or anxious about what they may do next.

It's important that you take some time for yourself and ensure you have a good support system around you through these trying times. Make sure you take a break and look after yourself. 

The dos of talking to your alcoholic partner about their drinking

The idea of talking to your alcoholic partner about their drinking can be daunting. We've put together advice so you can go into the conversation with confidence, and make sure that it's as effective as possible.

  • DO carry out some research and get a good understanding of alcohol addiction beforehand. This knowledge can help you when explaining the types of behaviour that are worrying you. It can also help you to recognise any attempts to deceive or undermine you, which your alcoholic partner may try to do during the conversation
  • DO look into the addiction treatment that's available in your area. That way, if your partner decides that it's the right time to think about getting help, you can show them the professional support that is available to them
  • DO have the conversation when they're sober. That way, they're more likely to listen to what you have to say
  • DO let them know the impact that their drinking is having on you and others within the household. By keeping the conversation on you rather than them, it can help them to understand the emotional impact of their drinking. You could say something like: “You came home really drunk and woke up the children. I’m really worried about the impact that this will have on them. What can we do about this?” Or: “You didn’t come home last night. I’m starting to feel really alone. What can we do to address this?”
  • DO let them know that you love them and will be there to support them through their recovery. Admitting they have a problem and accessing support can be really scary, so knowing that they have your support can help to get them on the right path

The don’ts of talking to your alcoholic partner about their drinking

  • DON’T talk to them when they’re drunk as they are unlikely to take in what you have to say. Anger and alcohol are often linked, so they may become defensive and angry when you approach them, making it an even more challenging situation
  • DON’T shout, judge or blame. This may understandably be very hard, because of the pain that they've put you through, but the person is likely grappling with a lot of fear and shame. Approaching the conversation in a negative way could cause them to retreat further away from you into their addiction
  • DON’T accept that you're the reason for their drinking or any requests for you to change your behaviour. An alcoholic partner may say that they’ll cut down if you don’t nag them, tell anyone or put pressure on them. Remember that this isn’t your fault, and the person would be battling with an alcohol problem whether or not they were with you
  • DON’T rush into coming up with a plan together and avoid having unrealistic expectations, even if they say that they're going to cut down or stop drinking. We understand that this can be difficult, as you want this part of your life to be over. Instead, allow there to be a period of reflection after the conversation, and continue to express yourself openly and honestly. If they want to change, encourage them to take small steps, like getting in contact with their GP to discuss their options

Alcohol addiction treatment at Priory

Typically, when a person comes to us with an alcohol addiction, they will go through an addiction treatment programme. This includes a free addiction assessment, medically-assisted alcohol detox and a residential treatment programme made up of intensive therapy and 12 months of free aftercare. Aftercare is provided for life for people who receive treatment at Priory Hospital Roehampton.

Blog reviewed by Simon Lambert, Addictions Therapist at Priory Hospital Woking

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