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Signs Your Wife is an Alcoholic

If your wife drinks alcohol often and consumes a lot when she drinks, you might be wondering if she’s an alcoholic. This depends on whether or not she is alcohol dependent. But even without physical or mental dependence on a substance, there could still be a disorder. 

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) isn’t only when someone drinks all of the time and is unable to function in their lives. It occurs when someone’s drinking problem interferes with their life and/or the lives of those around them.

As the spouse of someone who is an alcoholic or has developed an AUD, there are several things you should know. It’s important to find support for your wife, you, and any other members of your family affected by the disorder.

Some of the symptoms that may indicate your wife is an alcoholic include:

  • She displays physical signs of alcoholism, such as tremors or shaking, weight changes, flushed and dry skin, brittle hair and nails, unexplained injuries, malnourishment, and premature aging
  • She drinks in response to all life events and emotions, including stress, grief, happiness, and more
  • She experiences blackouts or memory loss from heavy drinking
  • Her drinking interferes with her obligations and responsibilities, including missing time at work and social functions
  • She drinks even when there is risk involved, such as when she is driving
  • She cannot stop at just one alcoholic drink
  • Your lives seem to revolve around drinking and she’s reluctant or refuses to attend social events unless she can drink
  • She’s tried to stop drinking and failed
  • She’s lied to you, denied things about her drinking, or tried to hide her drinking from you
  • She experiences otherwise unexplainable changes in behavior, energy, and mood
  • She’s hostile or defensive when you try to speak to her about her drinking

Not all of these things mean your wife is an alcoholic and all of these factors don’t need to be present for someone to have an AUD. However, if you suspect there is a problem and one or more of the things on this list are an issue, it’s worth pursuing support from a professional. 

Tips for Living with an Alcoholic Wife

Living with an alcoholic, especially when that person is your spouse, is traumatic. The disorder causes a profound negative effect on a relationship. Alcoholism is a family disease because it affects everyone who cares about the affected person.

What are some of the most important things you can do to make living with an alcoholic wife more tolerable?

  • Seek professional support for you, your spouse, and your children
  • Do not let the negative opinions of other people affect you or prevent you from doing what you think is right
  • Consider whether you are codependent and speak to a therapist who can help you if you believe you are
  • Do not tolerate physical or emotional abuse
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How to Deal with an Alcoholic Wife

Dealing with an alcoholic spouse is likely one of the toughest challenges you’ll ever face. People with AUD tend to deny there is a problem, at least for some time. Many are also reluctant to get help until there has been a significant amount of damage.

It’s important to approach conversations with your wife about alcoholism with care. It’s good to speak up, but to do so effectively, you must have your emotions in check. The conversations you have with your spouse should be from a place of warmth and caring, as opposed to anger. Anger is a normal emotion when someone you love is an alcoholic, but it doesn’t help anyone to fly off the handle when dealing with the situation.

A few tips for dealing with an alcoholic wife include:

  • Speak with a healthcare expert in substance abuse treatment before approaching your spouse
  • Approach the discussion when the person is hungover or shortly after the effects of a drinking binge are subsiding
  • Speak calmly and pause the conversation if things get heated
  • Point out facts about your wife alcohol use without embellishing circumstances
  • Explain to your wife how her behavior makes you feel and how it affects the family
  • Offer at least three different options for treatment, including family therapy
  • Be supportive, caring, and concerned

What Not to Do 

There are a few things you should avoid doing when dealing with an alcoholic wife, including:

  • Speaking to her about the problem when she is intoxicated
  • Beginning a conversation about her drinking when you are angry
  • Blaming or shaming her about the problem
  • Lecturing her
  • Accusing her of being sick or having alcoholism or being an alcoholic (avoid these terms) or any other mental illness
  • Making excuses for her behavior

The Consequences of Living With an Alcoholic Spouse 

Alcohol use disorder is called a family disease because it negatively impacts everyone who cares about the person afflicted. Some of the most common emotions and issues that arise for other members of the family include:

  • Anxiety
  • Frustration
  • Displaced anger toward other members of the family or outsiders
  • Neglect of children
  • Insomnia or other sleeping difficulties
  • Feeling mentally ill or as if you are the one with an illness
  • Neglecting personal health
  • Lack of socializing with others
  • Financial problems
  • Physical abuse
  • Emotional or mental abuse
  • Suicide

Living with someone with AUD has a significant impact on family members. Even if they were healthy before, their well-being suffers when a loved one develops a problem with alcohol.

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How to Help Your Alcoholic Spouse Seek Treatment

There are several things you can do to help an alcoholic partner get the treatment she needs. Speaking to an experienced alcohol addiction counselor is the first step in learning what you can do. It also ensures you get the support you need to deal with the situation, even if you are unable to help your spouse.

It’s also a good idea to encourage your wife to examine the key issues that led to her problem with alcohol. Working on these issues separately and together helps to resolve conflicts and improve communication.

Learning about alcoholism and understanding your role in her recovery is very beneficial. 

You can also help your wife with her recovery by getting the support you need. Taking care of your own mental and physical health is not selfish – it’s necessary and compassionate. You can’t help her unless you are as healthy as possible. If needed, find a counselor familiar with co-dependency and sort through your issues while your wife is working on her recovery.

Best Addiction Treatment Options

Treatment options include:

  • Detox
  • Medication-assisted therapy (MAT)
  • Inpatient rehabilitation or treatment center
  • Outpatient rehab programs
  • Alcoholics Anonymous or other similar support groups
  • Treatment for co-occurring mental health disorders

The best option for someone who has been consuming alcohol excessively for some time is to participate in a medically supervised detox. This is a dangerous phase of recovery and having 24/7 medical care ensures the person is monitored and that the risks of detoxifying are reduced as much as possible. It also enhances the chances of a successful long-term recovery. 

Questions About Treatment? 

If you have questions about treatment programs or you are wondering what you can do to help your wife with AUD, reach out to an addiction specialist or helpline for alcoholism, or call AlcoholRehabHelp.

Resources

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“Women and Alcohol.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), 26 Apr. 2019, www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/women-and-alcohol.

H, Bob. “Dilemma of the Alcoholic Marriage.” Al-Anon Family Groups, 1 June 2015, al-anon.org/blog/dilemma-of-the-alcoholic-marriage/

Steinglass, Peter. “A Life History Model of the Alcoholic Family.” Wiley Online Library, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, 6 Aug. 2004, onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1545-5300.1980.00211.x.

Steinglass, P. “The Alcoholic Family at Home. Patterns of Interaction in Dry, Wet, and Transitional Stages of Alcoholism.” Archives of General Psychiatry, U.S. National Library of Medicine, May 1981, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7235860.

Nace, Edgar P. “Therapeutic Approaches to the Alcoholic Marriage.” Psychiatric Clinics of North America, Elsevier, 18 June 2018, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0193953X1830858X.

O'Farrell, Timothy J., and Gary R. Birchlery. “MARITAL RELATIONSHIPS OF ALCOHOLIC, CONFLICTED, AND NONCONFLICTED COUPLES*.” Wiley Online Library, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, 8 June 2007, onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1752-0606.1987.tb00705.x.

Deniker, P., De Saugy, D., & Ropert, M. (1964). The alcoholic and his wife. Comprehensive Psychiatry, 5(6), 374–381. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0010-440X(64)80047-X

Bailey, Margaret B. “The Family Agency’s Role in Treating the Wife of an Alcoholic.” Social Casework, vol. 44, no. 5, May 1963, pp. 273–279, doi:10.1177/104438946304400505. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/104438946304400505?journalCode=fisd
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