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Alcohol & Health
Treatment
Helping Alcoholics
Where Does My Call Go?
Updated on August 11, 2023
6 min read

Therapy for Spouses/Partners of Alcoholics

How to Help an Alcoholic Spouse

For many people, occasional alcohol use isn’t a problem. But for some people, alcohol use can turn into alcohol misuse and even alcohol addiction. 

Over 29.5 million people ages 12 and older had alcohol use disorder in the past year.2 Worldwide, three million people lose their lives to alcohol each year.3

If your spouse struggles with alcoholism, their addiction can take a toll on you and your relationship. Alcoholism is often referred to as a “family disease” because it doesn’t only affect the person with the drinking problem.4

Here are some ways to help your spouse — and yourself and family members — along the road to recovery.

1. Know the Signs and Symptoms  

First, you need to know what red flags to look for.

Some signs that someone may have alcoholism include:

  • Drinking a lot
  • Drinking for longer than intended
  • The inability to reduce or quit drinking 
  • Spending a lot of time drinking or hungover from drinking
  • Experiencing cravings for alcohol
  • Feeling extreme urges to drink to cope with stress
  • Making excuses about or sharing lies to cover up drinking habits
  • Drinking that interferes with home or work responsibilities
  • Drinking, despite problems it may cause with family, friends, or work
  • Giving up or cutting back on activities that were once important or enjoyable
  • Engaging in risky behaviors while drunk 
  • Co-occurring mental health disorders like depression or anxiety
  • Memory lapses or “blackouts” from heavy alcohol consumption
  • Increased tolerance for alcohol
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms

If you identify any of these signs in your spouse, their drinking may be a cause for concern.

2. Don’t Become an Enabler

It may be tempting to keep the addiction private, defend your partners’ destructive behaviors, or protect them from the consequences of their actions. However, doing so will only delay the help they need.

It’s vital to help them seek professional help when they show signs of addiction. While you seek professional help, don’t make excuses for their behavior while drinking, and do your best to keep alcohol away from your spouse.

3. Hold an Intervention

An intervention is a structured sit-down talk to let your spouse know how their alcohol addiction affects you. You may include your children old enough to be involved in the intervention.

Be clear and direct about the problem. Set boundaries regarding how you plan to handle it together. And offer your love and support.

4. Join a Support Group for Spouses

Support groups are an excellent option for people who care about a person with alcohol addiction. These support groups offer partners a place to share their various experiences and learn from others in their shoes.1

Many support groups exist for spouses of loved ones with mild to severe alcohol use disorder. For example, Al-Anon is one of the most popular support groups for loved ones of people with alcoholism.

5. Seek couples therapy

Therapy is an effective form of alcohol use disorder treatment. While you might encourage your spouse to seek individual therapy, joining couples or family therapy is also good.

With the help of a trained mental health professional, you can identify your spouse’s triggers and help them find healthier coping mechanisms. This way, you can support them along the road to recovery and find ways to help yourself.

What Not to Do 

There are a few things you should avoid doing when dealing with a spouse with an alcohol use disorder, including:

  • Getting angry when confronting them in an intervention
  • Speaking to your spouse about the problem when they’re highly intoxicated
  • Starting a conversation about their drinking when you’re drunk or emotionally charged
  • Blaming or shaming your spouse about the problem
  • Accusing your spouse of having mental illnesses or calling them an “alcoholic”
  • Making excuses for your spouse’s behavior
  • Quitting treatment programs before giving them a real shot
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Therapy for Spouses/Partners of Alcoholics - Types & Benefits

Therapy for spouses is one surefire way to help fight alcohol addiction.

No one should have to navigate the road to recovery alone. With your support and the help of a mental health professional, your spouse has a better shot at successfully quitting drinking.

Types of Therapy for Partners of Alcoholics

There are various types of therapy for partners of alcoholics. Here are some of your options:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy - Helps people develop coping skills and learn to change their thinking, problematic emotions, and behavior
  • Couples therapy - Addresses problems and concerns between two people in a committed relationship so they can improve their connection
  • Holistic therapy - Treats the body, mind, and spirit rather than just a person’s symptoms
  • Motivational therapy - A therapist will not explicitly tell a person what to do and, instead, encourage a person to nurture a desire to change their behavior and be self-efficient

Benefits of Therapy for Partners of Alcoholics

The benefits of therapy for partners of alcoholics are infinite. Here are some of the most important ones:

  • Attending therapy with your spouse gives them more support along their journey.
  • Therapy can help you identify your spouse’s triggers to help mitigate them.
  • You can discover healthier ways to cope with your spouse’s addiction.
  • Therapy can teach you how to communicate more consciously and constructively about addiction.
  • A therapist can help you safely share your feelings instead of bottling them up inside.
  • Couples therapy can help you and your spouse find ways to enjoy each other’s company without going out for drinks or engaging in alcohol-related activities.

Effectiveness of Couples Therapy for Addiction 

Research says that couples therapy for addiction is highly effective. However, couples therapy isn’t for everyone. Here are some alternative forms of substance use treatment:

  • Inpatient or outpatient rehabilitation
  • Holistic healing
  • Medication-assisted alcohol withdrawal
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Is My Spouse’s Alcoholism a Reason for Divorce?

For some people, their spouse’s alcoholism may become a reason to seek divorce. 

Increased drinking is linked to divorce. A consumption increase of one liter of alcohol per capita increases the divorce rate by about 20%.5

This is for many reasons:

  • Alcohol use is also associated with domestic abuse.7
  • Alcohol addiction takes a toll on libido, leading to decreased intimacy.6
  • Lying about alcohol and events that occurred under the influence of alcohol can lead to distrust in a relationship.
  • Alcoholism can affect children, likely to experience cognitive, behavioral, and emotional problems.
  • Children of people with substance use disorder are more likely to develop addictions themselves. 
  • Repeated interventions and failed attempts can become mentally taxing and emotionally exhausting. 
  • Alcoholism is linked to financial problems, which can affect families.
  • Alcoholism often co-occurs with other mental health disorders that can hurt relationships.

Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide whether or not your spouse’s problem with alcohol is a reason to get a divorce.

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What to Do If They Don’t Want Help

Many people with alcoholism struggle with admitting that they have a problem. It’s hard to want help if you can’t first acknowledge that you need it.

If your spouse doesn’t want help, it can be challenging for your relationship. It’s crucial to express compassionate concern and seek individual help yourself.

Support groups and individual therapy can help you learn how to cope better with your spouse’s alcohol use. It might be time to reconsider your relationship if the problem becomes too much.

Summary

Alcohol use and addiction take a toll on not just the person with the problem. Spouses of people with alcoholism struggle, too. 

Whether your partner is dealing with severe alcohol use disorder or just tends to drink too much, seek help. Neither you nor your spouse should have to go through this process to cut back on or quit drinking alone.

Updated on August 11, 2023
7 sources cited
Updated on August 11, 2023
All Alcoholrehabhelp content is medically reviewed or fact checked to ensure as much factual accuracy as possible.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only link to reputable media sites, academic research institutions and, whenever possible, medically peer reviewed studies.
  1. 1 Groups and Substance Abuse Treatment. NCBI.
  2. Alcohol Facts and Statistics.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
  3. Alcohol.” World Health Organization, World Health Organization.
  4. Cranford, James A. “DSM-IV Alcohol Dependence and Marital Dissolution: Evidence from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions.” Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, U.S. National Library of Medicine.
  5. EZ;, Caces MF;Harford TC;Williams GD;Hanna. “Alcohol Consumption and Divorce Rates in the United States.” Journal of Studies on Alcohol, U.S. National Library of Medicine.
  6. Pendharkar, Shreyas, et al. “Sexual Dysfunctions in Alcohol-Dependent Men.” The Indian Journal of Medical Research, U.S. National Library of Medicine.
  7. Sontate, Kajol V, et al. “Alcohol, Aggression, and Violence: From Public Health to Neuroscience.” Frontiers in Psychology, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 20 Dec. 2021.
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All content created by Alcohol Rehab Help is sourced from current scientific research and fact-checked by an addiction counseling expert. However, the information provided by Alcohol Rehab Help is not a substitute for professional treatment advice.
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