How to Help an Alcoholic Spouse [Tips To Keep In Mind]

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You can help an alcoholic spouse by talking to them at the right time and using the right choice of words and tone of voice. This is better done after you arm yourself with enough knowledge about alcohol.

Should this approach fail, you may need to convince your partner to get professional help.

This guide discusses a detailed approach to how to help an alcoholic spouse, along with the available treatment options that you can direct them toward.

Is Your Partner Dependent on Alcohol?

Before you seek treatment, you need to differentiate whether your partner does abuse alcohol or if they’re only drinking a bit more than they should.

Signs that you should look for include:

  • Frequent drinking, with binge drinking sessions (more than 4-5 drinks at a time).
  • A significant amount of time is spent drinking or under the influence.
  • Inability to maintain a decent mood without excessive drinking.
  • Continuous drinking despite negative social, emotional, or occupational consequences.
  • Appearance of withdrawal symptoms if they try to quit.

If you can identify these symptoms in your partner, it’s time to help your partner stop drinking by following this guide:

Step 1: Educate Yourself About Alcoholism as a Disease

Many people mistake alcoholism for a personal choice. While drinking can begin as a benign habit, it can progress into a chronic psychological and physical dependence.

Understanding that alcohol is a disease will prevent you from placing blame, which is one of the primary causes of disconnect between a healthy spouse and their alcoholic partner.

You can utilize online resources like the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), the United Kingdom’s  National Health Institute, and CuredNation for more information.

You can also talk to an intervention specialist for a professional opinion. Intervention specialists will help you navigate your way around your alcoholic spouse, teach you what to do and what not to do, and help you select the proper time to talk to your partner.

Step 2: Help Your Partner Identify the Problem

Many alcohol-dependent people don’t understand the extent of their dilemma. They fail to recognize the effects of alcohol on their health, mentality, and the people around them.

You most likely will need to have multiple conversations before your spouse can understand the gravity of the situation.

Here are some pointers to help you when talking to your partner:

Select the Right Time

No matter how careful and methodical you are, approaching your partner when they’re not ready to listen will likely waste all your efforts.

Being intoxicated places an emotional toll on the affected person. They won’t be thinking straight and will likely become defensive or aggressive at the smallest sign of discord.

As such, you should approach your alcoholic spouse only when they’re sober.

Be Careful With Your Words

Appropriate word selection is paramount to get a positive response from your partner. Avoid words and phrases insinuating that everything happening is their fault.

People who drink already have feelings of shame and guilt. Adding to their negative emotions will only worsen the situation.

Do your best to avoid “you” in your conversation and replace it with “I” or “we.” For example, say, “We are worried about you and would love to help you through this,” instead of “Your drinking problem is getting out of control.”

Using harsh words to describe your spouse, like alcoholic, addict, and drunk, should also be avoided, as they can worsen your partner’s feelings and make them defensive.

Watch Your Tone

Your word choice won’t help if you don’t deliver them with the right tone.

Be compassionate while talking to your partner. You need to genuinely want to help them instead of talking to them just to say that you tried.

Be Ready for Negative Responses

People who excessively drink can be unpredictable, and you may repeatedly get negative responses even if you’re using the proper approach. They might become agitated, dismissive, or —in specific cases, become physically violent.

Don’t Ask, Provide

You don’t ask your alcoholic partner to change and get help; you offer to help them because they likely tried and failed to quit drinking alcohol, or don’t know how to help themselves in the first place.

Most people don’t like to be told what to do. This reaction is usually more accentuated with a person who drinks.

After doing your research, provide the available options to your partner instead of forcing them toward what you think is the best option. Allowing your spouse to choose will make them feel that their opinion still matters and that they’re making the choice to recover themselves.

Know When the Conversation Is Over

Even when sober, your partner may just not be ready for a conversation. It’s important to step back when this happens to avoid your advances being perceived as unduly pressuring

Being pushed back before you even start the conversation can be frustrating, but you need to maintain your composure to make your partner feel that you’re on their side.

Step 3: Prioritize Your Well-being

You need to be in a mental condition that allows you to provide your spouse with adequate help.

If you waste too much energy while trying to do so, you run the risk of burnout, which makes the situation a lot worse. Support groups and therapy can greatly help in this regard.

A notable example is AI-Anon Family Groups, a non-profit organization specializing in helping family members who deal with in-house alcoholics.

Regardless of your age or relation to the struggling person, you’ll find someone who shares your feelings in a support group there.

Helping an alcoholic spouse is a marathon, not a sprint. Keep your mental health in the right place so you can handle the setbacks you’ll find along the way.

Step 4: Set Boundaries

You can’t control your spouse’s drinking, but you can control your reactions. Refuse to enable their behavior by covering up, making excuses, or providing money for alcohol.

Establish clear boundaries with your partner regarding behaviors that you can and cannot accept. Sticking to those behaviors will let your partner know where you stand and prevent them from trying to deceive you.

Step 5: Encourage Professional Help

Let your partner know that they don’t have to endure alcohol withdrawal on their own. There are multiple treatment options, both online and offline, that specialize in handling alcohol addiction regardless of the stage it’s currently in.

Enlisting Professional Help to Overcome Alcohol Addiction

Here’s how professional help can help your spouse overcome their alcohol addiction:

Alcohol Treatment Centers

Only one out of six people who struggle with alcohol seek and receive treatment.

Yet, according to a 2024 study that gathered findings from several large multisite studies, people who received alcohol treatment reduced their alcohol consumption by 87%, with one out of four clients stopping alcohol completely. As such, the most difficult step in alcohol treatment is beginning the treatment itself.

Specialized alcohol treatment centers are among the most successful methods of treating alcohol addiction. They host the person coming in for inpatient or outpatient treatment and oversee their recovery plan. The process goes as follows:

Intake Assessment

Once your spouse reaches out to a treatment center, they get their condition assessed to identify the severity of the problem.

Your spouse will then be placed in a suitable program based on their needs. If they are physically dependent on alcohol, detoxification will be needed.

Detoxification

The primary goal of detoxification is to help the struggling person through the withdrawal symptoms safely, sometimes using medication.

Depending on how severe the condition is, your partner may stay in the detoxification process for 3-10 days. The process involves gradually withdrawing from alcohol in a controlled manner, along with using medications like naltrexone to make alcohol less desirable.

Naltrexone isn’t addictive, but it blocks the opioid centers in the brain to prevent alcohol from achieving its effect on the body, which helps reduce cravings.

After the detoxification process is complete, and depending on their case, your spouse may be admitted to an inpatient or outpatient program.

Inpatient Programs

These programs last from 30-90 days, depending on the severity of the condition.

Throughout this period, your spouse receives 24/7 support, individual and group therapy, structural activities, and relapse prevention education.

Outpatient Programs

Outpatient programs allow your spouse to maintain some aspects of their daily life while still receiving professional help.

These include regular therapy sessions, group support meetings, and medication management.

Telehealth Services

Telehealth refers to delivering health care and services remotely using technology like video conferencing, phone calls, text messages, and various other approaches. It can be done in complete anonymity, making it a feasible option for those who don’t want people around them to know that they’re undergoing alcohol therapy.

It’s also useful for those who are unable to leave their homes for mobility issues.

Telehealth alcohol treatment options vary depending on the service provider, but they revolve around three primary aspects: Therapy & counseling, medical consultation & care, and peer support groups.

Therapy & Counseling

Telehealth platforms allow people to attend one-on-one counseling sessions and group therapy sessions from the comfort of their homes.

This removes barriers like transportation, stigma, and inflexible schedules that can prevent people from getting and maintaining alcohol therapy.

According to a 2013 study, video conferencing can be just as effective as personal meetings in most cases. Therapists utilize cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and motivational interviewing, among other standardized treatment methods, in the process.

Medical Consultation & Care

Telehealth consultations with physicians, nurses, and psychiatrists allow for medical evaluation and oversight of alcohol withdrawal symptoms.

This remote monitoring is especially helpful if your spouse can’t or refuses constant checkups associated with treatment centers.

Further, alcohol treatment medications, like Naltrexone, can be prescribed and monitored via telehealth services.

Peer Support Groups

Peer support groups for alcohol addiction are available through online forums, video chat apps, and mobile apps.

These groups help recovering alcoholics connect with other people who are living with the same condition, making it easier for your spouse to feel included.

Peer coaches who are further along in the recovery process can offer practical tips and guidance from first-hand experience, which could be more useful and personalized than medical advice.  

Final Words

Alcohol use disorder is a challenging disease. However, with the proper approach, you can help your spouse seek alcohol addiction treatment and improve their mental health.

Encourage them to book an appointment with CuredNation today to start on their journey to recovery.

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