Last Updated on December 13, 2020
When your significant other struggles with a drinking problem, it can have a major impact on the health of your relationship. You may find yourself anxious, worried, and arguing more frequently. You’ll likely feel concerned about your partner’s health, your finances, and how their drinking affects your family. At the same time, you might feel helpless. What can you do to help your partner quit drinking?
Below, we’ll discuss how to recognize alcohol use disorder, how to talk to your partner about their drinking, and the best ways to support them towards recovery. And, regardless of where they’re at in their journey, we’ll look at the best ways to take care of yourself.
Signs of Alcohol Use Disorder
Sometimes, it’s hard to determine whether someone truly has a problem with alcohol. You might tell yourself that your partner is just a social drinker, or they just like to relax with a drink after a long day.
Before discussing how to help your spouse quit drinking, ask yourself the following questions. In the past year, has your partner:
- Ended up drinking longer, or more than they meant to?
- More than once tried to cut back, but found it too difficult?
- Spent a lot of their time either drinking or recovering from it?
- Experienced strong drinking urges or cravings?
- Noticed their drinking interfering with their job, family, or education?
- Continued drinking despite the problems it was causing with friends and family?
- Spent less time on activities they once enjoyed in order to drink?
- Gotten into dangerous or risky situations more than once after drinking (e.g., driving, swimming, unsafe sex)?
- Continued to drink despite memory blackouts, feelings of anxiety or depression, or other health problems?
- Noticed a significant increase in their alcohol tolerance?
- Experienced withdrawal symptoms when the effects of alcohol began wearing off (e.g. shakiness, irritability, trouble sleeping, anxiety, depression, sweating, or nausea)?
If you answered “Yes” to any of these questions, your partner’s drinking may be a cause for concern. Anyone meeting two or three of these criteria during a 12-month period receives a diagnosis of mild alcohol use disorder (AUD). Four to five of these symptoms signals moderate AUD, and six or more means your partner likely has severe alcohol use disorder.
Is my partner an alcoholic? Take our Alcohol Use Survey to learn where they fall on the spectrum.
Effects of AUD on Romantic Partnerships
Studies link heavy drinking to numerous relationship issues, including increased conflicts, intimate partner violence, and overall dissatisfaction. The probability of divorce among married couples with one heavy drinker is four times higher than among the general population.
You may also notice your partner becoming more isolated and less interested in family activities. Secrecy, lying, and financial problems are other signs that your partner’s drinking is growing out of control.
If your partner is exhibiting these signs, it’s important for both of you (and for any children in the household) that your partner seeks help. Partners and children of alcoholics are more likely to develop mental health issues and struggle with confidence and self-worth. Long-term alcohol abuse can lead to serious financial issues, and trauma for the entire family.
So, if your partner is struggling with alcohol, it’s important to take the right action. Below, we’ll discuss how to help an alcoholic husband or wife stop drinking, and look after your own well-being.
How to Talk to Your Partner About Their Drinking
Whether you want your husband to stop drinking, or your wife to cut back on alcohol, starting the conversation can be challenging. Keep in mind that if your partner does not want to change their drinking habits, you can’t make them do so—it’s ultimately their decision. But it’s possible to encourage them to make a change.
Begin by choosing a good time to talk:
- Choose a time when distractions are limited, and you won’t need to rush your discussion.
- Have the conversation when your partner is sober and not hungover, if possible.
- Make sure that you feel composed and prepared to have a calm, logical conversation.
Keep your conversation focused on simple, honest facts, and try not to become overly emotional. It’s helpful to provide specific examples of how your partner’s drinking impacts you and your family. Avoid lecturing or attacking, and express genuine concern for your partner’s well-being.
You can also try offering your partner a few options for getting help, to make things easier for them. If they’re ready to make a change, you can offer to help find the right treatment program or support group.
If you’re willing to stick to them, you can also set boundaries and consequences if your partner does not agree to change their drinking habits. These may include separating yourself and your children from the situation, or no longer covering for your partner with family, friends, and work. This part can be difficult, but it’s also important for your own well-being to set limits, as we’ll discuss below.
Know That Your Partner’s Drinking Is Not Your Fault
No matter how difficult it gets, remember it isn’t your fault that your partner abuses alcohol. Significant others and family members of heavy drinkers sometimes struggle with the belief that if they were “good enough,” their loved one would be able to stop. You may sometimes blame yourself, or think that if you were a better partner, their drinking wouldn’t have spiraled out of control.
Addiction is a complex and chronic disease often linked to mental health issues or childhood trauma. No one can make someone else drink to the point of developing alcohol use disorder. Similarly, no one but the individual with alcohol use disorder can fix the problem. Feeling responsible for your partner’s addiction is damaging to you, and does nothing to address the real problem at hand.
Avoid Enabling Your Partner
Although you are not the cause of your partner’s alcohol consumption, you can take steps to avoid enabling it. “Enabling” refers to actions and behaviors that make it easier for your significant other to continue drinking. These might include:
- Handling your partner’s responsibilities for them when they are unable because of drinking or a hangover
- Drinking with your partner
- Ignoring the problem
- Lying or making excuses to cover up your partner’s drinking
- Not following through with boundaries or consequences that you establish
- Agreeing with their excuses or rationalizations (e.g. “That’s true, you did have a very stressful week”)
- Prioritizing your partner’s needs over your own
It’s easy to slip into enabling behaviors because you want to protect and care for your partner. However, these same behaviors prevent them from feeling the consequences of their actions. As long as there are no consequences, there will be no clear reason to change. When you stop enabling your partner’s drinking, they are more likely to feel its harmful effects and choose to seek help.
Loving and living with someone with alcohol use disorder can be a draining, stressful, and potentially damaging experience. The most important thing you can do right now is to take care of yourself. Don’t become so focused on your partner and their drinking that you neglect your own needs.
You may want to join a support group for loved ones of alcoholics, or discuss your feelings with trusted friends, family, or a professional. Engage in calming, enjoyable activities like writing in a journal, painting, yoga, going for walks, or anything else that helps you feel happy and relaxed.
Remember that taking care of your physical health improves your mental and emotional health. Eat nutritious meals, get restful sleep, and exercise regularly. You can’t control your partner’s drinking, but you can prioritize your health and happiness.
How to Support Your Partner During Recovery
If your partner makes the decision to change their relationship to alcohol, know that recovery is a journey. Life will not immediately return to normal. It’s important to practice patience and continue prioritizing your needs as your partner prioritizes their recovery.
Both you and your partner will need to work through the trauma of addiction, and the difficult feelings that linger. For instance, your spouse may struggle with guilt, shame, and feelings of inadequacy or regret. And if drinking alcohol was a coping mechanism for other mental or emotional challenges, these may come to the surface when your partner stops drinking.
You may also feel lingering sadness, resentment, anger, or fear that your partner will start drinking heavily again. It takes time to rebuild trust and navigate a new normal for your relationship. Empathy and healthy communication are key. Some form of counseling and therapy can make a big difference for both of you, through the treatment process and beyond.
Other ways to help your partner cut back or stay sober include:
- Learning more about addiction and recovery
- Giving your partner time and space to focus on recovery and healing
- Finding fun, substance-free activities for the two of you to enjoy together
- Writing in a journal when you feel the need to vent about past issues
- Continuing to practice patience and self-care
- Being understanding if some aspects of your life need to change (such as declining some social invitations, or not keeping alcohol in the house)
With time, you and your partner can move forward and build a healthier, happier relationship together.
Online Help for Problem Drinking
If your partner is ready to quit or cut back, alcohol abuse treatment online is one convenient option. Programs like Ria Health offer convenient, affordable, and effective treatment via an app on your smartphone. We combine medication for alcoholism, recovery coaching, support groups, and digital tracking tools to help members meet their own personal goals.