Warning Signs of Alcohol Abuse in a Spouse
There may be no closer relationship than the one between two spouses. When something is off with half of the duo, the other partner can usually tell. Still, it’s easy to ignore signs of trouble and rationalize a spouse’s drinking. After all, admitting your partner is struggling with alcoholism can be painful. However, it’s essential to watch for the warning signs and to be honest with yourself when you notice these signs in your partner. Getting help can save your relationship and improve the health of your family, and it may even save your spouse’s life.
How to Tell If Your Spouse Is an Alcoholic
Signs that may indicate your partner’s drinking may have crossed the line into an alcohol use disorder include:1
- Often end up drinking more drinks, or drinks for longer periods, than they intended?
- Spends significant amounts of time being drunk or feeling hungover?
- Crave, or have a strong urge, to drink alcohol?
- Ignore their responsibilities (at home, work, or school) due to being drunk or hungover?
- Drink despite alcohol causing increased conflict with you or other family/friends?
- Try unsuccessfully to stop drinking?
- Stop or reduce their participation in activities or hobbies they once enjoyed in order to drink?
- Continue drinking knowing that it causes or worsens physical or mental health problems, or drink after having blackouts?
- Drink before driving or drinking while or during other activities that increases their chance of being physically harmed?
- Need to have more drinks than they used to in order to feel the same effects?
- Have withdrawal symptoms (shaking, nausea, insomnia, etc.) when cutting back or trying to stop drinking altogether?
If you answered yes to any of the questions above, your spouse may need professional treatment for alcoholism.1
Risks of Alcoholism to Your Spouse & Family
Chronic alcohol abuse can wreak havoc on your partner’s health, but it can also cause turmoil in your relationship and your family.
Health Risks of Alcohol Abuse
Drinking to excess regularly is associated with physical and mental health risks that include but are not limited to:2
- Injuring oneself or others.
- Alcohol poisoning.
- Risky sexual behaviors that can result in unwanted pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections.
- Miscarriage and fetal alcohol spectrum disorders in pregnant women.
- Decreased immune system functioning.
- Several types of cancer, including liver, colon, and breast.
- High blood pressure, heart disease, or stroke
- Liver disease.
- Digestive problems.
- Mental health disorders such as depression.
- Impaired social functioning that may result in job loss or family problems.
- Cognitive issues such as problems with memory and learning.
The World Health Organization states there is evidence linking alcohol consumption to increased risk of over 200 health conditions.3
Familiar Effects of Living With an Alcoholic Spouse
Relationship and family health can suffer greatly when one spouse is abusing alcohol. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, family problems that often co-occur with alcohol problems include:4
- Marital strife.
- Domestic violence.
- Financial problems.
Alcohol is associated with an increase in aggressive behaviors (verbal and/or physical) in couples, even when consumed at levels that wouldn’t be considered heavy drinking. One study found that the likelihood of aggressive behavior between partners rises significantly in the 4 hours following an episode of drinking.5
Children may suffer from the destabilizing effect of alcohol abuse in the family, as well. Even young children can recognize a parent’s alcohol use and the resulting changes in behavior.4 Children of alcoholics are between 2 and 10 times more likely to develop alcoholism than children whose parents are not alcoholics.6
Treatment for alcoholism, especially programs that include family therapy, may help to reduce familial conflict as well as restore a sense of stability to the family unit.
How To Help an Alcoholic Spouse
If your spouse is struggling with an alcohol problem, you may encourage your loved one to seek help and help them look for treatment services.7
It’s important to remember that your loved one may not agree to accept help the first time you ask, or even the second, third, or fourth time. But eventually, your message may sink in. Continue to express nonjudgmental support for your spouse as well as hope for the future. You can also clearly state that alcohol use disorder is a disease and that, like other diseases, it gets better with treatment.
For more information about ways to address your partner’s alcohol use, see our family guide to dealing with addiction.
Alcohol Use Disorder Treatment
Treating alcoholism starts with medical detox. Detox should not be attempted at home without the oversight of medical care due to the potential for life-threatening withdrawal symptoms in an alcohol-dependent individual.8
After detox, the type of treatment will depend on your spouse’s needs, and factors like how much time they can commit to treatment, whether they can leave the area, how severe the alcohol use disorder is, etc. A doctor or addiction professional can help to outline an appropriate care plan for your spouse. Beyond detox, treatment options for alcoholism include:
- Inpatient/residential rehab. This involves your spouse living at the treatment facility for a designated period of time while receiving care. Some programs will have more medical oversight than others. Programs described as “inpatient” or “intensive” rehab may offer a higher level of medical or psychological care then “residential” programs.
- Partial hospitalization programs. Offering an intensive amount of therapy hours per day most days of the week, this type of treatment combines a high level of support with the convenience of living at home.
- Outpatient programs. You can choose a more intensive version of outpatient (IOP) where you attend therapy for several hours per day several times per week, or standard outpatient that offers a minimal amount of therapy (1-2 hours) per week.
Laguna Treatment Hospital’s hospital-based detox and inpatient treatment program offers the perfect place for your spouse to begin their recovery from alcoholism. With both 24/7 medical oversight and treatment for co-occurring disorders such as depression, your partner will get the integrated care they need to begin a lifetime of recovery. Call us at to discuss how our programs can help your family today.
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (n.d.). Alcohol Use Disorder.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019). Alcohol Use and Your Health.
- World Health Organization. (2014). Global status report on alcohol and health 2014.
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2003). Alcohol Problems in Intimate Relationships: Identification and Intervention.
- Testa M, Derrick JL. A daily process examination of the temporal association between alcohol use and verbal and physical aggression in community couples. Psychol Addict Behav. 2014;28(1):127-138. doi:10.1037/a0032988
- Sher K. J. (1997). Psychological characteristics of children of alcoholics. Alcohol health and research world, 21(3), 247–254.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (n.d.). Alcohol and Drug Addiction Happens in the Best of Families.
- Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. Detoxification and Substance Abuse Treatment. Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 45. HHS Publication No. (SMA) 15-4131. Rockville, MD: Center for Substance Abuse Treatment, 2006.