July 11th, 2023
Watching your husband, wife, or partner struggling with alcoholism is one of the most difficult experiences you can go through. You may be feeling powerless, overwhelmed and even angry not knowing what to do or how you can help. Helping an alcoholic partner or spouse can seem like a huge task but with the right plan in place, you can be the catalyst they need to change their life around.
On this page, we will explain how to help an alcoholic partner including identifying the signs of alcoholism, how to have the all-important conversation and how you can continue to support them when they are going through recovery treatment.
Does my partner have an alcohol addiction?
Alcohol addiction doesn’t mean your husband or wife going to the pub with friends and having a few too many or drinking a bottle of wine with dinner each night. While many people in the UK regularly drink to excess (often causing problems in their relationships), that doesn’t mean they are an alcoholic. Alcohol addiction is when your partner is no longer able to control their drinking, despite negative impacts on their health, life and your relationship.
As well as the normal signs of alcohol addiction, here are some other signs to look out for in your partner:
A change in mood or behaviour towards you or your family
One of the worst things about alcoholism is how it can change people’s personalities and cause them to lose interest in things that were previously important to them. They may neglect you or your children or become disinterested or easy to anger at home. If your husband or wife ever becomes aggressive, intimidating or violent when drinking, then they need help right away. If this is the case, you may need to leave the home and help them from a distance. Look after yourself first and foremost.
If your partner regularly goes out and comes back drunk without telling you where they went and who they met, this is another sign that there may be a problem. They could be drinking alone (a major sign of alcoholism) or with other people who fuel their addiction. Alcohol addiction is often able to make people secretive and deceitful so that the person is able to lie to themselves and their loved ones. Try to find out what has been going on by speaking to their friends or other people who know them well.
Hiding finances from you
Alcohol in the UK is not cheap and if your partner is drinking heavily on a regular basis, it is going to be costing them a lot. If they try to conceal the state of their finances or it is clear that they are spending a lot of money with no explanation, this could be another sign that they are struggling with alcoholism.
If you notice any of these signs, then your partner may need help with alcoholism. Get in touch with UKAT today and we can advise you on how to help an alcoholic spouse or partner.
How to talk to your partner about alcoholism safely
Having a conversation about a loved one’s drinking can be very difficult, especially when it is a husband or wife. Tell them honestly about your feelings and the effect that their drinking is having on you and your family. This may include the impact on your romantic relationship, how much your children are suffering and how worried you are about their health.
Alcohol addiction can cause people to act erratically, unkindly and even violently. While supporting an alcoholic partner can help give them the strength they need in recovery, it is crucial that you keep yourself and your family safe.
Unfortunately, there are cases where partners can become heated or aggressive. In fact, one study found that men with alcohol addiction are six times more likely to commit domestic abuse. If your husband or boyfriend (or indeed your wife or girlfriend) becomes aggressive or abusive, walk away and make sure you and anyone else in the home such as children are safe.
Sometimes tough love is needed and if they refuse to change or become aggressive or violent, you may need to walk away from the situation until they make the decision to seek help themselves.
The importance of not enabling an alcoholic partner
Alcohol addiction is a master at manipulating both the individual and the people around them. It is so important that you stay strong and never enable your partner’s drinking because this will only make the situation worse.
Do not allow yourself to be convinced there isn’t an issue when you clearly see there is. Never make allowances for their alcohol addiction either to yourself, your children or your partner themselves. This will only feed into their own denial and exacerbate their addiction.
We advise you never to drink with your partner or give them alcohol or money for alcohol. Refrain from going to the pub with them or any other place where you know there will be alcohol available. This may cause a strain in your relationship but it is vital if they are going to recognise they have a problem and seek the help they need.
How to help an alcoholic husband or boyfriend
Whilst alcohol addiction can affect anybody, men are more likely to internalise which can both exacerbate their drinking and make their addiction worse. This may be because of the traditional idea of “strong men” not discussing their feelings which is a barrier to treatment across men’s mental health issues. There is sadly still a stigma around men talking about their problems and a “laddish” culture of vulnerability being seen as weakness. This often results in husbands struggling with their alcoholic addiction alone which can cause frustration, anger and low self-esteem.
Helping an alcoholic husband or boyfriend can be particularly difficult because of the effects alcohol abuse can have on their emotions or personality. They may become defensive, angry or lash out when you approach them with your concerns. The most important thing is to make sure you stay safe. If you are worried, try to speak to their family or friends who may be able to get through to him or even take the lead in the conversation.
How to help an alcoholic spouse or partner into treatment
The best way to help your partner get into residential treatment for alcoholism is to research the options with them. If your partner is expressing a desire or willingness to talk about alcohol rehab then that is a huge step in the right direction. Offer to speak to treatment facilities for them or go with them to look at rehabs that they like. Help them decide what is important to them in their treatment and the place they stay.
Make sure your partner knows that you fully support them and reassure them that you will be there throughout the rehab process and when they come out of treatment. Find out if there is anything they need you to do whilst they are in rehab to ensure that their transition back to normal life is as smooth as possible. Most rehab centres provide visit times so make sure your partner knows you will come and see them regularly if they want that support.
Can I force my husband or wife into treatment?
This is a question we get asked a lot by people who are trying to find out how to help an alcohol partner. The simple truth is you can’t force anybody into treatment unless they are ready to make a change.
One of the key ingredients to a successful alcohol treatment programme is an honest, heartfelt desire to be sober. If your spouse or partner hasn’t reached that stage yet, try to work it out with them – find the positives of sobriety, discuss, listen and respect your set boundaries until they are ready.
Unless your partner can admit that they have a problem, and want to do something about it, it is unlikely that any rehab will be able to help them long-term. They will either leave rehab before their treatment is done or will relapse as soon as they come home. Ensure that your partner knows that you still support them, even if they don’t want to go into treatment right away.
As hard as it might be, try to positively encourage them to do the right thing. Reach out to friends for support, or if your children are grown up, then check in with them regularly too as you will all be feeling the same. If you are really worried about your partner’s immediate safety, there is always the possibility of an intervention that you could consider. UKAT can help to connect you with a professional interventionist who will be able to advise you or even lead the intervention for you.
What to do next
If your husband or wife is struggling with alcohol addiction, it is important to know that you do not have to deal with it alone. We have helped thousands of people overcome their addiction to alcohol and we can help your partner too. Get in touch with us today to find out more about our alcohol addiction treatment and rehab centres.