Warning Signs of Alcohol Abuse in a Spouse

alcoholic wife drinking a bottle of wine to herself

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 try and rationalize substance abuse behaviors. After all, no one wants to believe their partner is suffering from an addiction. Just as the sufferer often denies reality in hopes of living in a state of ignorant bliss a little longer, a spouse sometimes does the same.

Nonetheless, marriage might actually act as a protective factor against substance abuse and a proponent toward treatment. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reported 60.7 percent of individuals who sought treatment in 2007 had never been married; 16 percent were divorced; another 16 percent were married; 5.8 percent were separated, and 1.5 percent were widowed. Among those who were never married, 47.7 percent cited alcohol as their primary substance of abuse with 60 percent citing a secondary drug of abuse alongside it. Only 21.5 percent of the married clients were abusing alcohol alone with 14.7 percent of them reporting polydrug abuse.

What Alcohol Abuse Looks Like

There are some telltale signs of alcohol abuse that spouses need to be aware of when wondering whether their partner’s alcohol use habits have crossed the line from social drinking to abuse or addiction. Some of these signs are:

  • The need to drink more over time to be able to achieve a drunken state
  • Blacking out
  • Violent outbursts
  • Neglecting responsibilities at work or home
  • Blaming others for their poor behaviors or negative experiences in life
  • Legal issues stemming from their drinking
  • Drinking even when they know they have to go to work, drive, or remain sober for other reasons
  • Lack of control and inability to stop drinking after they’ve started
  • Lack of interest in things they once enjoyed because they’d rather drink
  • Hiding how much or how often they drink
  • Drinking when alone or for the majority of the day

Know the Risks

time to talk to your loved one about detox

Without proper treatment, alcohol abuse develops into addiction, and the path to recovery is far more difficult. In addition, long-term abuse of alcohol can wreak havoc on not just the body and mind, but also on careers, the lives of children, and marriages. Fatty liver disease, kidney failure, and hepatitis are just a few common side effects of heavy alcohol abuse. The World Health Organization reports alcohol consumption is responsible for 5.1 percent of the world’s burden of disease.

A couple’s relationship suffers greatly when one party is abusing alcohol. According to Live Science, people who struggle with alcoholism are more than twice as likely to separate from their husband or wife as people who don’t battle abuse of the substance. Alcohol often fuels arguments between spouses. Per a study published in the Journal of the Society of Psychologists in Addictive Behaviorsin the four hours following alcohol consumption, verbal aggression may be as much as twice as likely to occur between spouses as it is when both parties are sober.

Addressing Alcoholism in a Spouse

Another Journal of the Society of Psychologists in Addictive Behaviors study noted almost half of married couples where one party drank heavily had divorced over the nine-year period of examination, whereas only 30 percent of unions ended this way when heavy alcohol consumption wasn’t a factor in the marriage. In many cases of alcohol abuse, divorce is imminent. In extreme cases, spouses can request the legal right to have their partner committed to treatment against their will through the court system.

Approaching the subject of a flaw in a spouse is never easy. It can often turn into a power struggle.

It’s important to stress that addiction isn’t a character flaw; it is a medical disease.


doctor reviewing treatment options for alcoholism

Treating alcoholism starts with detox. Detox should not be attempted at home without the oversight of medical care. Due to the potential for life-threatening withdrawal symptoms when physical dependence is present, medical detox is always required for alcohol withdrawal.

Instances of mental illness that co-occur alongside alcohol abuse require integrated treatment. Depression, lapses in memory, and anxiety are all common side effects of persistent alcohol abuse, according to the American Psychological Association. Alcohol abuse may also worsen the symptoms of underlying mental health disorders.

Treatment doesn’t have to disrupt the individual’s career or family life. It can be structured to fit around work schedules and family events as needed. Severe cases of alcohol abuse often necessitate inpatient treatment, as do long-term cases of addiction and cases of co-occurring disorders. In other instances, outpatient treatment may be appropriate.

Serious withdrawal symptoms only occur in around 10 percent of people in treatment, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports. Under professional care, symptoms of withdrawal can be medicated so the detox process isn’t too uncomfortable. The treatment period that follows will focus mostly on the underlying causes of the person’s addiction. While detox is crucial to the recovery process, the bulk of treatment involves therapy.

Spouses are encouraged to visit their partners in treatment and attend couples therapy sessions with them. This is a good time to work on mending relationships that may have been damaged during active addiction, as well as to teach the family unit how to work together to ensure the person in recovery has the support needed to stay sober. Spouses can help their partners by encouraging them to stick with treatment.

About The Contributor
Editorial Staff
Editorial Staff, American Addiction Centers
The editorial staff of Laguna Treatment Hospital is comprised of addiction content experts from American Addiction Centers. Our editors and medical reviewers have over a decade of cumulative experience in medical content editing and have reviewed... Read More
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