Loving an Alcoholic
When you come to the full realization that your boyfriend or husband is an alcoholic, it feels like a light bulb has gone off in your head. Living with an alcoholic puts you on an emotional rollercoaster that takes a heavy toll. Now you know that the level of alcohol in his bloodstream is responsible for his anger, neglect, irrational behavior, mood swings, lies and secrecy. You have admitted that he is an alcoholic, yet you still love him and want to stand by him. Perhaps it is for the sake of your children or because you remember a relationship that was once mutually loving. Regardless of your personal motives, standing by and loving an alcoholic is challenging. The following are a few key things that can help you persevere when you love an alcoholic boyfriend or husband:
Know That You Are Not Alone
About 17.6 million adults in the U.S. currently suffer from alcohol abuse or dependence. Several million more people engage in risky, binge-drinking patterns that can lead to alcohol problems.1 Men are more likely to drink excessively and have twice the rate of binge drinking as women. Furthermore, men are more prone to risky behaviors associated with alcohol misuse including aggression, drunk driving and suicide.2 These sobering statistics confirm that alcohol is a major public health burden and indicate that millions of other people are experiencing similar turmoil caused by loving an alcoholic. As such, there are many available programs that can help you cope, including support groups for family members.
Remember That It’s Not Your Fault
People who love alcoholics too often blame themselves until they realize that alcoholism is a disease. As such, you cannot stop it or prevent it, but you can be the catalyst to make him realize he has a problem. If he chooses not to take the path of recovery, you are not at fault and need to banish any feelings of guilt so you can heal.
Provide Help, but Don’t Enable
It can be difficult to recognize the difference between support and harmful enabling. It may seem like you are helping him and being a loving partner when you make excuses for his behavior or you assume responsibilities he typically handles. If he does not face the consequences of his alcoholism, there is no reason for him to get sober. Support his positive choices and his attempts to get sober, but never make excuses for him. Allow him to face the negative fallout from his drinking.
Urge Him to Seek Professional Help
Alcoholism is a serious disease that requires professional treatment. Nearly 88,000 people die from alcohol-related illness every year in the U.S.3 Your partner will never get better if he does not seek help. While he will likely accuse you of nagging, try to provide the impetus to make him admit he needs help. He may get angry or allege that you don’t love him, but encouraging him to seek help is the most loving thing you can do. In fact, doing so may save his life.
Prepare for His Recovery
If your boyfriend or husband has accepted the challenge and is in rehab or actively involved in another form of treatment, you need to prepare for the long road ahead. Living with a recovering alcoholic poses many challenges. Be aware that he will crave alcohol and experience many moments of weakness. Make your home a safe haven by discarding all alcohol. Ask friends and family to respect his newfound sobriety and not serve alcohol when you get together. Understand that relapses may occur, but it is possible for him to start anew if he stays committed to recovery.
Communicate With Your Children
If you have children together, be open about the problem and discuss it in a manner that is age appropriate. While there is no reason to keep secrets from younger children, you need to discuss this in terms they can understand. Talk about addiction by explaining what it is and how it is treated. Encourage your children to discuss their feelings and to never fear asking questions.
Take Care of Yourself
Loving an alcoholic is never easy. It is a major burden that will take an emotional, mental and physical toll on the entire family. Take time to talk to someone you trust, join a support group like Al-Anon or seek professional therapy. Individual therapy is important for the mental health of you and your children. Family therapy can help improve communication among family members, rebalance the family dynamic and provide a safe environment to express anger, fear and other concerns. You also need to eat right, get enough exercise and sleep and find time to do things that you enjoy.
Know When to Walk Away
Research indicates that marriages in which only one spouse drinks heavily end in divorce 50% of the time.4 Wives and girlfriends of alcoholics are often subjected to many types of alcohol-related abuse. Verbal, emotional, physical and financial abuse should not be tolerated. If your partner refuses to get help, if he is abusive or you and your children are suffering, you may need to make a tough choice. Do not feel like you have failed if you decide to leave. Your decision doesn’t mean you don’t love him, or that your relationship has no future. Being apart for a period of time may be necessary for your own safety and well-being.
Living with and loving an alcoholic is extremely difficult. If you choose to stand by your partner and help him attain sobriety, do not forget to take care of yourself. Support him without enabling him, and never waiver from your stance that the only path to recovery is professional treatment.
- Facts About Alcohol. National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence website. https://www.ncadd.org/about-addiction/alcohol/facts-about-alcohol Updated July 25, 2015. Accessed July 21, 2016.
- Fact Sheets – Excessive Alcohol Use and Risks to Men’s Health. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. http://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/mens-health.htm Updated March 7, 2016. Accessed July 21, 2016.
- Stahre, M, Roeber, J, Kanny, D, et al. Contribution of excessive alcohol consumption to deaths and years of potential life lost in the United States. Preventing Chronic Disease. 11:E109, 2014.
- Heavy Drinking Will Lead To Divorce, Unless Both Partners Are Equally Alcoholic. Medical News Today website. http://www.medicaldaily.com/heavy-drinking-will-lead-divorce-unless-both-partners-are-equally-alcoholic-263648 Published November 25, Accessed July 21, 2016.