When Your Partner Has a Drinking Problem

Your partner has a drinking problem. What can you do to help? Learn about the effects of alcoholism on a relationship and how to respond.

Are you on marital eggshells because your spouse drinks too much? It's emotionally trying to not know what you'll face when you come home. Is she sleeping it off? Is he ready for a fight? Numb? Part of you wants to be supportive and help your partner. Another part wants to run away. Your partner has an alcohol abuse problem. Should you confront your spouse? Should you leave? How can you even begin to deal with this problem?

When one partner in a relationship has a drinking problem, the effects are widespread. They may lead to more conflict, raise the risk of violence and infidelity, and cause money and intimacy problems. The sober partner is faced with increasing responsibility to keep the household running, especially when there are children in the mix. It can be an enormous burden.

What can be done?
How you respond to your partner's drinking has a great impact on his or her potential for recovery. Don't try to hide it, control it, or make excuses for him or her. These behaviors make it possible for him or her to keep drinking. It's called enabling. Your partner will need to experience firsthand the results of his or her drinking before he or she will realize a change is needed.

The first steps to helping an alcoholic have more to do with restraint than action:

  • Don't blame yourself. Alcoholism is a disease.
  • Don't blame your partner. Alcoholism is a disease.
  • Don't pretend the problem doesn't exist. Don't make rationalizations for it.
  • Don't make empty threats and ultimatums.
  • Don't give your partner money for alcohol.
  • Don't let your partner have access to alcohol.
  • Don't drink with your partner.

Alcoholism is a lifelong disease, but it can often be controlled through abstinence. It's important to get professional help, though. You can't do it alone and neither can your partner.

Professional counseling techniques, such as alcohol-focused behavioral couples therapy, or ABCT, help the drinker learn life-coping skills. They also help the partner support efforts to change. Self-help support programs like Alcoholics Anonymous (www.alcoholics-anonymous.org) can help people with alcoholism change this destructive habit. So can private or group therapy. But often, the alcoholic won't accept help until he or she hits bottom.

Meanwhile, you can get support and counseling to help you deal with the stress of living with a partner with alcoholism. Al-Anon and other organizations hold support meetings. They can help direct you to other important sources of assistance for you and for your partner - when he or she is ready. Take the first step. Talk to your own doctor, contact your workplace Employee Assistance Program (EAP), or your local office of Al-Anon (www.alanon.org).