How to Live with an Alcoholic
Alcoholism is a terrible disease. It plagues the people that have to live with it, but it also seriously harms the relationships that alcoholic individuals have. These relationships can be stressed even further if alcoholism enters the picture after a serious commitment has been made.
In a complicated relationship such as this, it’s critical to realize that the cause of their AUD is not you, nor do you possess the ability to completely remedy them. You, as a support system for them, can take certain steps to aid in the process but must also be mindful of your own situation and make every effort to take care of yourself as well. Your significant other needs to be taken care of, indeed, but your own mental health is just as important, and if you are a support system for them, it can be just as important as their healing.
Below will outline what it’s like to be living with an alcoholic spouse, what can be expected, how to manage day-to-day life, expectations, and what kind of treatment you should look for as a support system.
What To Expect When Living With an Alcoholic Spouse
Before starting it’s prudent to define what AUD is. Alcohol Use Disorder is a condition in which individuals put their drinking habit above many normal things in their life. In practice, this will look like individuals forgoing important parts of their life such as their job, family, or other things and, instead, getting drunk at every opportunity. AUD is a serious condition that affects the brain and due to the amounts of alcohol typically consumed by individuals plagued with AUD, will negatively impact the body in significant ways as well.
Along with the physical negatives that AUD brings, there also come the social consequences. Individuals with Alcohol Use Disorder generally find themselves quickly on the outside of their social circles, generally due to many decisions that they have made (choosing alcohol over time with friends or family, getting drunk on occasions special to friends or family, spending money meant for friends or family on alcohol instead of it’s budgeted purpose, etc.)
Living with someone that has AUD is not easy. Having to regularly interact with someone who is suffering from this can often cause many arguments, disagreements, or just hurt feelings in general. The physical and mental toll that consciously engaging in a relationship with someone with AUD is extreme. Choosing to continue a relationship with an acquaintance that is suffering from AUD is not always recommended for one’s own health. That said, in other situations, where the relationship is one’s significant other, things get much more complicated.
Having an alcoholic spouse can trigger many untrue thoughts and feelings. If you find yourself in this situation, remember that the condition that your spouse found him/herself in is not your fault, and believing that is never helpful. Their addiction is just that – theirs. While this doesn’t mean that you can’t help them, it does mean that you don’t have to take responsibility, and therefore can be much more helpful.
AUD can express itself in some pretty terrible ways. Alcohol has been seen to make individuals quicker to express anger in situations that are outside of their control, and it seriously inhibits cognitive reasoning. This can make living with an alcoholic even more challenging, and your decision to continue to be the support that you can be even more difficult.
AUD is a complicated disease. People have studied for many years to become experts on this topic and help people suffering from it recover. You might know your spouse better than anyone else, but that doesn’t make you qualified to give them treatment. This doesn’t mean that you should do nothing, but it does mean that you shouldn’t take responsibility for their healing.
While AUD is a definable disorder, nobody’s experience is the same; AUD expresses itself in a host of different ways. Your experience will be different from anyone else’s, and that’s to be expected. Your struggles are not any less real and you will need the same kind of support that you will be offering your spouse.
Some common tropes that many spouses of those who have suffered AUD have reported are similar, and you might be able to resonate with any of the below:
- Self-regret. Whatever struggles that your relationship has faced in the past, that doesn’t mean that you are in any way responsible for your partner’s drinking. You can shoulder some of the burdens that come with getting sober, but you should not take any of the blame that is associated with becoming an alcoholic in the first place. AUD is a chronic medical condition. It’s not something that you somehow gave to them, that’s simply not how it works.
- Obsessive micro-management. This is often the result of a guilt-driven conscious. Perhaps if you find yourself in this situation you will believe that you can cure them by either limiting or eliminating their alcohol intake. In most cases, this does not end well. An addicted individual’s brain does not operate the same way that a normal brain does, as AUD is a chronic medical condition. This means that if you cut them off from their addiction, they will do whatever it takes to get it back. This can lead to some very hard situations in some cases and extremely dangerous situations in the worst cases. Instead of controlling your spouse’s behavior, realize that you are not going to be able to heal them yourself, do what you can to get them the support that they so desperately need.
- Enabling your partner. This third response is another that often comes from a guilty conscience. You are not responsible for your spouse’s addiction, you are not the cause of it. Oftentimes, a spouse will find themselves needing to cover for their partner. This actualizes itself as you calling into work “sick” for them, allowing them to drink more than they should, turning a blind eye when they are struggling, and not reaching out for help when they know they should. This will also often lead to a lite form of the above point, micro-management. They will enable them in small doses, hoping that what’s been given is enough to satiate them for the day. Of course, an addict’s mind works differently, and they will not be able to stop after “enough” has been enough.
If you see yourself in any of the above points, don’t be discouraged. You are part of a large group of people that are all experiencing the same thing. Many people have come before you and many people will be where you are today. There is hope, there is a way out. Understand that there is progress in their success and that they can learn from their mistakes. Blame does not lie with you when it comes to their addiction, supporting them looks like you getting them real help.
Taking care of yourself is important. You might be the last person that they have in their lives, and while that’s never a reason to stick around if there are extenuating circumstances, such as abuse, if they are trying to genuinely get help, one must be fully supporting themselves before they can do anything for their partner.
Coping with an Alcoholic Spouse
So, what then does this self-care and support look like? It can take many forms, and while it’s not a perfect science, there are many things that have worked for so many people before. Different types of support are also good for different seasons of life. Try out a few of these coping methods and see what works for you.
- Peer support groups. These can look like a variety of things. A church homegroup can be something that you look to support from, though there will likely be many who cannot share in your specific struggles. Thankfully, if you’re in search of something more specific, there are support groups for family members of alcoholics. A quick google search will likely find you what you are looking for, and if you have decided that rehab is what’s best for your partner there are often groups already associated with that specific rehab center.
- Me-time maintenance. When living with an alcoholic spouse that wants to work on themselves to get better, it can be quite exhausting. You might spend most of your days focused on your spouse and how you can help get them whatever support you can, which in turn will drain you. Finding the time for yourself to allow yourself to be filled back up is important. Without this time, you will eventually have nothing to give. These can be simple activities such as meditation, yoga, quiet book reading time, anything that you can set aside an hour or more just for yourself to help get yourself centered again.
- Call for backup. You don’t have to do this alone. Living with an alcoholic spouse is exhausting, and if they are trying to get themselves back together, good things often come in involving more supporting individuals in their pursuit of sobriety. Exhaustion is not a sign of weakness, it’s a realistic evaluation of your limits and recognizing when you can’t do more. Having these additional family members or friends to fall back on will aid you in the most difficult of times and help encourage you in the better times.
- Therapy. If you find yourself able to get therapy, it is a great opportunity. So much of our lives revolve around clear communication, and while people communicate daily since they were born, some deep emotions and feelings are more difficult to communicate effectively than others. This is what’s great about a therapist. They are experts in understanding what’s going on in a given situation and helping you or your spouse communicate things that have gone unsaid for long periods of time.
- Read more about your spouse’s condition. This one can become an obsession, and that should be avoided, but learning more about your spouse’s condition can help you understand better what they’re going through on a deeper level. You are not experiencing the same things that they are, though you might have been with them for every moment of their condition. Learning about what they are going through can be very cathartic for some and will help you be more understanding in times when you just don’t understand what’s going through their head.
AUD is a chronic medical condition. It requires treatment in some form or another. It will not go away on its own, and it will often not go easily. Though that sounds hard, the result is always worth it. Living a sober life is so much more fulfilling than living in addiction.
There are many different kinds of treatment for AUD, the most commonly used is rehab. These centers specialize in helping addicted individuals detox and get back to a regular rhythm. Detox can be a very difficult and even dangerous process if not done in a safe manner, and this is why rehab facilities are so popular. It is not a sign of weakness to go to rehab, but a sign of strength that you’re committed to beating your addiction.
If you’re living with an addicted individual who is on the fence about starting treatment or maybe hasn’t decided at all to go to rehab yet, there are some things that you can know that often make rehab more likely when they make the decision to get clean.
- Treatment should be ready and waiting for them. This means knowing what rehab centers are near you and if they can supply the services that are needed for your spouse.
- Treatment needs to be personalized. Getting sober is not a “one size fits all” kind of deal. It needs to be formed for the person who’s going through the treatment.
- Treatment needs to last until they are ready to stay sober. This doesn’t just mean go in, detox, get out. This means that if there are other opportunities for you to use, take advantage of them. Most people need at least 3 solid months of treatment before they’re ready to get back into the regular swing of things.
- Treatment needs to get at the heart of the issue. Treatment for AUD is usually pointing to something deeper, not just the AUD itself. This means a good rehab center is one that can help your lpartner work through the other issues/stress that is going on in their life.
Reach out Today.
Addiction is hard. If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, reach out to us at ecosoberhouse.com today. We have the tools and the ability to get you started on your journey to sobriety.