Living with an alcoholic spouse can be frustrating, difficult, and even frightening.
You probably spend your days and nights worrying about their safety, and you may be taking on the majority of the household responsibilities while your spouse struggles with alcohol addiction.
The chances are that you are also putting a great deal of time and effort into trying to help your spouse get better, but sometimes you may feel hopeless.
If it seems that you have tried everything to fix the problem and your partner continues to drink, you may be wondering when it is time toleave an alcoholic spouse.
Warning signs of alcoholism
If you are struggling with alcohol abuse in your marriage, you may want to know about the signs of an alcoholic husband or wife. The medical term for alcoholism is an alcohol use disorder, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
If your spouse has this condition, he or she will display some of the following warning signs. If you notice these signs recurrently, perhaps it is time for you to leave an alcoholic spouse.
Being unable to fulfill duties at home or work because of alcohol. For example, alcoholic behavior in relationshipsmay lead a spouse to lose a job, stop paying household bills or struggle to contribute to household maintenance and chores.
Drinking even when it makes a health problem or mental health issue, like depression, worse
Struggling to cut back on drinking despite wanting to do so
Having a tolerance for alcohol, meaning that it takes larger and larger amounts of alcohol for your spouse to feel the same effects
Drinking when it creates danger, such as driving while under the influence of alcohol
Experiencing withdrawal symptoms, like sleep problems, nausea, and sweating, when not drinking
If you are living with an alcoholic, you may also notice that your spouse or partner drinks more than they intend to.
For instance, they may say they are only going to have one or two drinks but end up drinking to the point of intoxication.
They may also report feeling strong cravings for alcohol, and they seem to be unable to resist the urge to drink, to the point that their entire life centers around alcohol. In such cases, you are forced to leave an alcoholic spouse if they show no signs of improvement.
Reasons someone stays in a relationship with an alcoholic
It isn’t very easy to leave an alcoholic spouse. Many people may stay in the marriage or partnership, despite the challenges ofliving with an alcoholic.
Here are some key reasons someone may stay in a relationship instead of leaving an alcoholic boyfriend, girlfriend, or spouse:
They are fearful of a new life without their partner.
There is a belief that children will be better off if parents stay together, despite the alcohol abuse.
The alcoholic partner may be working and supporting the household, making the other partner financially dependent upon the alcoholic.
According to experts, people who are in recovery from alcohol abuse need an environment that allows them to stay sober, including strong sources of social support.
A spouse or significant other is a common source of support for someone in recovery, so it is important that you avoid drinking if your spouse is also trying to avoid alcohol.
Remember, one of the signs of an alcoholic husband or wife is strong alcohol cravings and an inability to cut back on drinking. If you want youralcoholic partner to get better, you could be sabotaging their progress if you continue to drink alcohol.
Your partner may be tempted to drink if you are drinking, and being around you when you are consuming alcohol can make their cravings stronger or make it difficult for them to resist cravings. Also, keep in mind that if you continue to drink, you may be demonstrating to them that continued alcohol consumption is okay.
Effects of alcoholism on the spouse
While alcohol abuse undoubtedly creates problems for the alcoholic, another devastating consequence is the effects of alcoholism on the spouse.
Coping with a spouse who abuses alcohol is distressing, and according to the research, it has the following potential negative effects for the spouse and family of an alcoholic:
Beyond recognizing the negative effects that alcoholism has had on you and your family, it is important to keep the following tips in mind if you are living with an alcoholic.
If you do not wish to leave an alcoholic spouse, these tips can help you deal with the situation in a better way.
Your spouse’s alcohol abuse is not their fault, regardless of what they may try to tell you.
You shouldn’t take it personally if your spouse promises to change but then continues drinking. Remember that an alcohol use disorder is a legitimate medical condition in which a person loses control over drinking. Your spouse’s inability to stop drinking has nothing to do with you.
Know that you cannot control your partner’s drinking, no matter how much you love them or how hard you try to fix all their problems.
You do not have to accept inappropriate behavior, such as physical abuse from your spouse, even if they are under the influence.
Do not enable your spouse’s behavior by lying for them, making excuses, or saving them from crisis situations. This allows them to continue to drink without consequences, and it allows the alcohol use disorder to continue.
Don’t take full responsibility for trying to cure your partner. Alcoholism is a legitimate medical condition, and your spouse will need treatment if they have an alcohol use disorder.
You cannot expect yourself to provide professional treatment, and you have not failed your partner if you are unable to cure them.
Signs it’s time to leave an alcoholic spouse
Alcoholism has negative consequences on the spouse of an alcoholic partner, but people may have a hard time deciding when it is time to leave an alcoholic husband or wife.
Consider the following tips for spouses of alcoholics to help you decide when it’s time to leave an alcoholic spouse:
You find that you are mentally and physically exhausted from the effects of alcoholic behavior in relationships.
You have lost all trust in your partner.
Your partner has begun to become emotionally abusive, such as by bullying you, criticizing you, or blaming you for their behavior.
The entire life of your family revolves around your alcoholic spouse, and your needs or the needs of the children are falling by the wayside.
You have become fearful of your spouse and constantly walk on eggshells to avoid angering him or her.
You have gotten stuck in an endless cycle of your partner entering treatment but failing to make lasting changes.
Thinking about continuing to live with an alcoholic partner makes you feel physically sick.
You’ve begun to experience your own negative consequences, such as anxiety, depression, trauma, substance abuse, or financial issues because of your partner’s ongoing alcohol abuse.
Your partner is unwilling to give up drinking and shows no willingness to accept help.
The alcoholic spouse has begun to engage in dangerous behavior, such as driving under the influence, getting into physical fights, or acting out violently against you or other members of the family.
You are only staying in the relationship because you are afraid to leave.
Getting over a relationship with an alcoholic can be challenging, especially if you have a history of happy memories before alcohol took hold of your partner’s life.
That being said, when you begin to notice the above signs in your relationship, chances are that it has become entirely unhealthy, and you deserve a life that is free from this level of chaos.
After grieving the loss of the relationship and taking time to heal, you will likely find that you are happier without the distress of being in a relationship with an alcoholic and being exposed to the devastating effects of substance abuse.
So, if you feel that it’s time to leave an alcoholic spouse, trust your instincts. You may also seek professional help if you are in two minds.
Giving it one last chance
When thinking about leaving an alcoholic boyfriend, girlfriend, or spouse, a person may decide to give things one last chance and try to get help for an alcoholic.
You might consider holding a family intervention, in which you get together with other loved ones to talk to the alcoholic about their addiction, how it has affected you, and your desire for them to seek treatment.
The best tip for how to talk to an alcoholic spouseis to express concern while avoiding criticizing or blaming. Explain how alcoholism has negatively affected them and the family, and offer a chance to go to treatment.
In some cases, families may hire a professional interventionist to mediate and assist with the conversation. Ultimately, you may tell the alcoholic partner that you will end the relationship if they do not seek help.
Even if your partner refuses treatment, a professional interventionist can connect you with your own therapy or counseling to help you cope with life after leaving an alcoholic.
Keep in mind that people who struggle with alcoholism may relapse. This means they may go through treatment, maintain sobriety for a period, and then return to drinking.
If you do not wish to leave an alcoholic spouse and decide to give things one last chance, you will need to have a conversation about what you will do if your spouse relapses.
You may create a relapse prevention plan in which you maintain open communication, support your spouse to avoid relapse, and help them get back into treatment if they relapse.
If your spouse relapses and returns to harmful behaviors, you may have to decide to end the relationship for good. Part of living with an alcoholic spouse is accepting that alcoholism is a lifelong disease, which will require ongoing support.
You will have to determine what behavior you can accept and what behavior means; it is time to call it quits.
Getting over a relationship with an alcoholic may be challenging and require therapy so that you can heal from the stress and heartbreak.
But ultimately, if you notice signs like depression, physical and mental exhaustion, and negative effects on the family, and if your partner refuses treatment or shows no signs of wanting to change, it is probably time to leave an alcoholic spouse.
Leaving an alcoholic you love may be the hardest decision of your life, but if the relationship is damaging your physical and mental wellbeing, it will pay off when you are able to move forward with a life that is free from the chaos that addiction can cause.
If you need support determining how to leave an alcoholic husband, you may consider working with a therapist or contacting a local support group for family members of alcoholics. For example, an Al-Anon group can provide you with the guidance you need.
If you feel disconnected or frustrated about the state of your marriage but want to avoid separation and/or divorce, the marriage.com course meant for married couples is an excellent resource to help you overcome the most challenging aspects of being married.
Jenni Jacobsen is a licensed social worker with a master's degree in social work from The Ohio State University, and she is in the process of completing her dissertation for a Doctorate of Philosophy in Psychology. She has worked in the social work field for 8 years and is currently a professor at Mount Vernon Nazarene University. She writes website content about mental health, addiction, and fitness.
Licensed as both a social worker through Ohio Board of Counselors, Social Workers, and Marriage/Family Therapists and school social worker through Ohio Department of Education as well as a personal trainer through American Council on Exercise.