Living With An Alcoholic

Medically Reviewed By Kayla Loibl | Last Edited : FEBRUARY 09, 
| 2 Sources

Living with an alcoholic isn’t easy. An alcoholism marriage is very difficult to maintain, and many end in divorce.

Some of the difficulties involved in marriage include:

  • The alcoholic often lies about his or her drinking problem, damaging trust.
  • The non-alcoholic spouse often begins to lie for the alcoholic spouse, making excuses for him or her, covering up the problem.
  • The alcoholic often withdraws from his or her spouse.
  • There are often frequent arguments, about drinking and other things.
  • There are often financial problems.
  • Stress from alcoholism affects the entire family, not only the spouse - children are particularly affected.

All of these problems may have been going on for a long time before the alcoholic or the non-alcoholic spouse decides to seek help. Often, the non-alcoholic spouse will decide something must change but the alcoholic may not agree. This can be very frustrating to the spouse wanting to improve the marriage.

Coping with an Alcoholism Marriage

For an alcoholism marriage to survive and become healthy again, both parties must acknowledge there is a problem and commit to solving it. That means the alcoholic must acknowledge he or she has a drinking problems and be willing to seek help.

That is the first step toward saving the marriage.

The alcoholic needs to get a professional assessment to determine the level of care he or she needs, and follow all recommendations for treatment. This may involve inpatient care, outpatient care, and/or 12-Step self-help groups like AA. Individual counseling should be a part of treatment.

The non-alcoholic spouse needs to seek help, as well. In most cases, the non-alcoholic spouse has been engaging in unhealthy behaviors, such as those listed above. Attending a 12-Step self-help group like Al-Anon or Co-Dependents Anonymous is recommended.

He or she will learn to accept responsibility for his or her own behavior, learn new ways of coping with challenging situations, and receive support from other people living with an alcoholic.

The treatment program that the alcoholic is attending will probably have a family component, as well. The non-alcoholic spouse should attend and participate in whatever services are offered to family members. These are often educational programs as well as support groups.

Once each party is receiving individual help and support, it’s time to work on the marriage. Couple’s counseling should be sought. They need to learn healthy communication skills, rebuild trust, and deal with any other problems in the relationship.

If this all sounds like a lot of work, it is. Living with an alcoholic is not easy. Coping with an alcoholism marriage is not easy. Alcoholism damages relationships and it is hard to heal that damage.


Where to Get Help for an Alcoholism Marriage

There are a number of places to get help for a marriage that has been affected by alcoholism. If you have health insurance, check your policy to find out what mental health services are covered and which providers you can see.

If you don’t have health insurance that covers mental health services, or if you prefer not to use your health insurance, check your local yellow pages or use the internet to look for the alcoholism council or mental health board in your country.

Call to ask where you can get a drug and alcohol assessment. If you have low income, your county should have services available on a sliding scale based on your income. Ask the mental health board where you can receive these services.

To find an AA or Al-Anon group in your area, look online or check your telephone book. You can also call the national offices of AA at 212-870-3400 or Al-Anon at 757-563-1600 for help finding a meeting.

Please let us know if you have any questions about living with an alcoholic.

More about living with an alcoholic on our alcoholism and marriage page

Alcoholism home page

Lead Writer/Reviewer : Kayla Loibl

Licensed Medical Health Professional 

I am a Mental Health Counselor who is licensed in both New York (LMHC) and North Carolina (LPC). I have been working in the Mental Health field since 2015. I have worked in a residential setting, an outpatient program and an inpatient addictions program. I began working in Long Island, NY and then in Guelph, Ontario after moving to Canada. Read More