How to Help an Alcoholic Husband?

As a socially acceptable substance, alcohol is easily available and difficult to avoid. Many people drink excessively without even realizing it and the annual death toll caused by excessive alcohol use across the nation is over 95,000.1

While the majority of people who drink excessively are not clinical alcoholics or alcohol-dependent, some can develop a severe drinking problem.1 As many as 15% of people in the U.S. could be considered “problem drinkers”.2

It is often said that alcoholism is a family illness.2 Not only can alcohol abuse have a detrimental effect on the person’s health and functioning, but it can also have a ripple effect on all the people in a person’s life, especially those closest to them.3

Being married to an alcoholic can be an enormous burden and the communication breakdown between the alcoholic and those closest to him or her only further aggravates the situation.3 Living with an alcoholic, especially one who refuses to admit they have a problem and start working on resolving it, can be frustrating, stressful and emotionally draining, and the psychological and even physical effects on the whole family can be severe and long-lasting.3

Fortunately, there are ways to help an alcoholic husband get over his problem, and evidence-based approaches include behavioral therapies and pharmacotherapy.4

Living with a functioning alcoholic husband

Am I Married to an Alcoholic Husband?

A person may be diagnosed with alcoholism if they are frequently and excessively intoxicated, have impaired control over their drinking, show signs of preoccupation with alcohol and continue to use alcohol despite its adverse consequences.2

For a suspected alcoholic to be referred to specialized treatment, the telltale signs have to be there. Signs that a person’s partner or spouse has become dependent on alcohol and developed an alcohol use disorder (AUD) may include:2

  • Craving alcohol and experiencing an uncontrollable urge to drink.
  • Loss of control and being unable to stop drinking.
  • Feeling anxiety and irritability without access to or when denied alcohol.

How to Cope With an Alcoholic Spouse?

Dealing with an alcoholic is not easy, especially when they are unwilling to seek help with alcohol abuse. The following may help a person with an alcoholic spouse cope:5

  • Peer support groups
  • Therapy
  • Friends and family
  • Self-care

Marital and family therapy, in particular, can be effective in helping the spouse and other family members cope better and motivating alcoholics to enter treatment.

How to Talk to an Alcoholic Spouse?

Approaching a spouse who is struggling with alcohol abuse can be difficult, but there are ways to create a more favorable environment to have the talk:6

  • Wait for the person to be sober.
  • Discuss facts rather than putting the blame.
  • Stay away from labels such as “alcoholic”.
  • Be caring and patient.
  • Show concern and readiness to offer support during treatment.
  • Suggest treatment options, counseling and group meetings.

How to Identify the Warning Signs in an Alcoholic Husband?

A person may resort to increased or excessive alcohol use as a way of coping with pressure and managing stress, but that does not necessarily mean they have developed an AUD.1

However, if a person is often under the influence, getting in trouble with the law, or flaking on personal commitments more frequently than usual, there may be cause for concern. Therefore, being on the lookout for warning signs of alcoholism or a drinking problem may be advised.2

A person may have a drinking problem if they:2

  • Often end up drinking more or for a longer period of time than they planned, intended, or promised.
  • Have to increase their intake of alcohol to feel its effects.
  • Wanted or attempted to cut down on or quit drinking but was not able to.
  • Spend a considerable amount of time drinking or recovering from drinking.
  • Feel a strong need to get a drink whenever stressed or under pressure.
  • Experience withdrawal symptoms when the effect of alcohol starts to wear off.
  • Continue drinking even if it is taking a toll on their mental or physical health.
  • Constantly replace previously enjoyable activities with drinking.
  • Get involved in dangerous situations and engage in risky behaviors.
  • Keep drinking even if it is preventing them from functioning normally, interfering with their family life, job, and other aspects of their life and causing issues with family and friends.
  • Had withdrawal symptoms when the alcohol was wearing off. These include sleep disturbances, restlessness, shakiness, irritability, anxiety, nausea, sweating, depression. Those with severe alcoholism may even develop a fever, experience seizures, or hallucinate.

How to Recognize the Warning Signs of Alcoholism in a Partner

A person can quickly slip into alcoholism and even those closest to them may not realize that the problem has escalated.5 Warning signs that a partner in a relationship may have a problem with alcohol misuse may include:5

  • Frequent drinking-related arguments.
  • The partner who drinks may use the stress and tension caused by above arguments to justify their drinking.
  • Having to come up with excuses to cover up for the partner who is drinking too much.
  • Drinking is the only or one of the few activities partners do together.
  • Domestic violence when alcohol is involved.
  • The inability of one or both partners to be affectionate or discuss relationship issues when sober.
  • Distancing from friends and family in order to hide alcoholism.

What Is Binge Drinking and Heavy Drinking?

Binge drinking is an indication of a person’s excessive use of alcohol. Frequent binge drinking can increase the risk of developing alcohol use disorder (AUD), which can rapidly lead to a range of detrimental consequences. Not everyone who binge drinks has an AUD, but they are at higher risk for getting one.1

Binge drinking is defined as consuming a large quantity of alcohol within a short timeframe. For men, this is 5 or more drinks on an occasion, within 2 or 3 hours, and for women, a minimum of 4 drinks on an occasion within the same timeframe.1 Heavy drinking is defined as 15 or more drinks a week for men, 8 or more drinks a week for women.2

Binge drinking and heavy drinking increase the risks of:1

  • Certain cancers.
  • Fatty liver disease and cirrhosis.
  • Brain damage and damage to other organs in the body.
  • Fetal damage: drinking by pregnant women can also cause serious harm to their unborn babies.

Alcohol can be especially detrimental for individuals taking certain over-the-counter or prescription medications or experiencing certain medical conditions.1 Finally, excessive alcohol use raises the risk of death from accidents, injuries, car crashes, as well as homicide and suicide.1

What Does Alcohol Do to a Marriage?

Chronic alcohol abuse can affect everyone involved, including the person’s family, partner and children. Potential effects include:1

  • Mental trauma, anxiety, depression or other mental health effects.
  • Family issues, conflicts, violence, physical abuse.
  • Sleep quality deterioration and poor stress coping skills.
  • Alcohol intoxication can alter a person’s thoughts, judgment, and decision-making.
  • Impaired coordination ability and diminished alertness.

Additionally, living with an alcoholic can be an enormous financial burden.1

What Does Alcoholism Do to a Man?

Alcoholism is much more prevalent among men than among women in the US. According to the 2019 NSDUH survey conducted by SAMHSA, there were almost twice as many adult males who suffered from alcohol use disorder in the US, with roughly 9 million alcoholics compared to 5.2 million females. Men are also disproportionately likely to die from chronic and acute alcohol-related causes, with 97,182 fatal outcomes compared to 43,375 for women.23, 24

AUD is a chronic disease that negatively impacts a person’s everyday functioning and quality of life. It’s also a progressive condition that worsens over time. Alcoholics have to increase their consumption in order to achieve the same level of intoxication because of rising alcohol tolerance. This combination of aging and rising alcohol intake increases the risks of developing long-term health issues, and in the worst cases, the possibility of alcohol poisoning.25

AUD is a brain disorder that changes the way the brain works. The brain of an alcoholic has a heightened concentration of alcohol and due to its plasticity becomes used to functioning that way. Once the effects of alcohol start to wear off, alcoholics experience irritability, anxiety, and the urge to drink to “feel normal” again. Alcohol-saturated brains lose the ability to control balance, speech, and movement resulting in potential blackouts and unwanted injuries. It also influences people’s judgment and decision-making capabilities.26

Typical alcohol withdrawal symptoms include:25

  • Sweating
  • Headaches
  • Anxiety
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Insomnia
  • Alcohol shakes
  • Hypertension
  • Tachycardia
  • Seizures
  • Hallucinations
  • Delirium tremens

Besides mental health issues and negative effects on the brain, alcohol has numerous other short- and long-term health consequences. People who drink have a compromised immune system that can be targeted by diseases like pneumonia, cancers, tuberculosis, and other types of infectious diseases. Heavy alcohol intake weakens the body’s ability to fight infections and diseases for up to 24 hours after intoxication.27

A whole host of health conditions is associated with prolonged or excessive alcohol use. Apart from debilitating damage to the bones, muscles, pancreas, brain, and lungs, alcohol causes serious and life-threatening damage to other parts of the body, including:26

  • Heart-related issues
    • Arrhythmia
    • Hypertension
    • Ischemic heart disease
    • Cardiomyopathy
    • Stroke
  • Liver diseases
    • Alcoholic hepatitis
    • Steatosis
    • Fibrosis    
    • Cirrhosis
  • And various types of cancer
    • Lip and oral cavity
    • Pharynx
    • Larynx
    • Esophagus
    • Liver
    • Colon

How to Help an Alcoholic Husband Who Refuses to Get Help

Alcohol use is one of the leading health risk factors, not only in the US but globally as well. Recent research published by The Lancet medical journal found that global intake of alcoholic beverages increased as much as 70% during the 1990-2017 period. It also shows that the volume of alcohol consumption rose faster than the number of new drinkers. This illustrates the rising trend of binge drinking and the rise in individual alcohol consumption.17

Excessive consumption of alcohol can have devastating consequences for the physical and mental health of drinkers, shortening their lives and increasing the risk of chronic illnesses, cancers, and behavioral complications. It also drains the economy of finances that are used to mitigate this issue. However, alcohol isn’t detrimental only to the economy and alcoholics themselves, but also to their friends, families, loved ones, and even the community as a whole.18

Living with people who suffer from alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a constant battle. Chronic alcohol use can inflict lasting damage on interpersonal relationships. Alcoholics have accountability issues that affect their ability to support their families, stay productive on the job, or achieve success in their studies. In many cases, alcoholics are unaware of the damage their actions are causing to people in their surroundings.19

In addition to the alcoholics themselves, spouses and children are the ones who pay the highest price. Excessive use of alcohol can weigh heavily on a marriage. Trust and communication issues are one of the first challenges that arise when people realize their spouse has alcohol use issues. This is especially true if a person tries to hide their alcoholism and doesn’t confront their issues openly and transparently.20

It’s not uncommon for families with an alcoholic father to experience financial difficulties. Maintaining a drinking habit costs a lot of money. Research shows that the benefits of alcohol addiction treatment far outweigh the costs of rehab. When all the costs of alcohol use are put together, including but not limited to healthcare issues, alcohol-related crime, loss of productivity, traffic accidents, criminal justice, and fatal overdose, it turns out that addiction treatment represents just a fraction of the overall amount.21

Negative effects of alcohol misuse on the marriage include:22

  • Mental health issues such as anxiety, insomnia, stress, trauma, irritability, and depression.
  • Family issues such as intolerance, conflict, neglect, violence, and various forms of abuse.
  • Financial issues such as loss of a job, loss of career advancement opportunities, and costs of addiction itself.

Getting Help for My Alcoholic Spouse

If you are concerned about your spouse’s alcohol abuse or other forms of substance abuse and the far-reaching ramifications of this, help is available. Evidence-based approaches to addiction treatment that rely on pharmacotherapies and behavioral therapies can be effective at treating all forms of substance abuse, including alcohol abuse.4

Finding information about alcoholism treatment payment options and insurance coverage in absolute confidence is just a phone call away. American Addiction Centers is a trusted provider of addiction treatment services across the country, offering professional help and guidance to those struggling with alcohol and other types of addiction. By calling an AAC helpline, you can acquire all the important information on available treatment options and possible payment plans.

Additionally, admissions navigators who answer the call can also check your insurance coverage while you’re still on the line and help you initiate the process for yourself or a loved one.

Other helpful and anonymous resources for the loved ones of individuals struggling with alcohol use disorders include:

What Can I Do to Help My Alcoholic Husband?

It takes a lot of willpower, internal strength, and awareness of how far things have developed to terminate alcohol consumption. The problem then becomes that people who suddenly decide to stop or decrease their alcohol consumption experience unbearable withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms can be unpleasant and painful, but they can also have far-reaching and even lethal consequences. All of these issues make AUD a stubborn condition that won’t go away without professional treatment. If you need help with an alcoholic husband, it is strongly recommended that you reach out to a dedicated alcoholism hotline or get in touch with a reputable treatment center, and discuss your situation with the professionals.28

Frequently Asked Questions