Alcohol abuse and alcoholism are so pervasive that about a third of Americans have someone close to them who has the problem. This means legions of people have relationships that are stressful at best, and damaging at worst. If your spouse is an alcoholic then alcoholism is bound to affect you as well.

The Problem for Partners of Alcoholics

When your spouse develops physical and psychological distress as a result of alcohol, then you, too, may encounter psychological problems for which you may need to seek help. You may have to take extra care of your partner, cover up for him, call in sick, help her keep up appearances. Everyday responsibilities can be shirked and spouses have to pick up the slack. If you have children, you have to shoulder the duties that alcoholics sometimes abdicate. And worse, your children may use your alcoholic spouse as a behavior model and become alcoholics themselves.

Here are some issues to watch for:

Communication: Heavy alcohol use often goes hand and hand with hostility, anger, and tension. Ordinary communication with an alcoholic spouse may dissolve into accusations, blame and undue criticism. This sort of negativity discourages open discussion and makes problem solving with your spouse difficult, if not impossible.

Judgment: When your partner is under the influence, his normal good judgment flies out the window. She may insist she is fine to drive and end up breaking the law, injuring herself or others and putting people at risk. Or he may get into intimate situations with the opposite sex that he wouldn\’t ordinarily engage in. These situations can be ruinous if infidelity occurs.

Violence: Alcohol may stimulate combative behavior, making it impossible to reason with your partner. You cannot use logic to deal with someone who is illogical. Some people are more aggressive when they drink, and when aggression escalates to violence, it can be devastating to a relationship.

Lying: When you confront your alcoholic partner, she may say she will give it up, swear up and down that her drinking is over. Then you are disappointed to find a vodka bottle hidden in her sock drawer, because alcoholics will do anything for a drink, including lie to you.

Of course all of these issues are damaging to a relationship, and you may feel you are living in an emotional war zone. It\’s critical that you take care of yourself and talk about your problems with someone you can trust. Many spouses and family members of alcoholics find Al-Anon to be a wonderful support organization. You will quickly learn you\’re not alone, and find some useful tips for coping. You\’ll also learn:

  • No amount of lecturing, cajoling or pleading on your part will make your partner stop drinking. He has to make the choice himself.
  • Don\’t enable your partner by making excuses or covering up. Even though it\’s hard for you to watch, you must let your partner realize the consequences of her drinking.
  • Don\’t feel guilty or responsible. Your partner has the problem. You can help by supporting him and being patient during the sometimes long and bumpy road to recovery.

Alcoholism affects people from every race and culture. If it affects you, get the help you need for yourself and your loved one.


Nancy Travers is an Orange County Counseling professional.  If you need safe, effective counseling services, please get in touch.  You can reach her here: