When it comes to gender differences regarding alcohol consumption, men are more likely than women to drink excessively—a quantitative description that includes both binge drinking and heavy drinking.1 According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), 15.1 million adults age 18 and older battled with an alcohol addiction in the United States in 2015.2 Of those, 9.8 million were men, making up 8.4% of the male population in this age group.2 However, among this large group of men some of them are husbands struggling with compulsive alcohol use, only 7.4% had received treatment in the past year.2
Excessive drinking is also associated with significant increases in short-term and long-term risks to health and safety.1 Annually, an estimated 62,000 men die from alcohol-related causes in the U.S., accounting for more than 70% of the total 88,000 alcohol-related deaths each year.2 Excessive alcohol consumption can also increase aggression which can increase the risk of physical assault.1
Although alcoholism, or alcohol use disorder (AUD), affects all people, for the wives of men who struggle with this disease, it can be particularly difficult.3 Often they suffer psychological, physical and social trauma related to their partner’s problematic drinking.3 Various studies indicate that substance abuse may co-occur in as many as 40-60% of all incidents of intimate partner violence.7
For these reasons and more, if your husband is struggling with an AUD, it’s important to understand how to best approach the subject of treatment, to learn more about what rehab involves, and to know what steps you can take to keep you and your family safe should the situation turn violent. Alcoholism is a complex yet treatable disease that can be managed through specialized programs to help your husband regain control of his life and maintain a life of sobriety.
How to Help An Alcoholic Husband
What Defines Alcoholism?
People who can no longer control their use of alcohol, experience emotional distress when they are not drinking, and/or compulsively abuse it despite negative ramifications may be suffering from an alcohol use disorder.4 AUD is diagnosed based on an individual meeting certain criteria outlined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). To be diagnosed with AUD, individuals must meet any two of the below criteria within the same 12-month period:5
- Being unable to cut down on alcohol use despite a desire to do so.
- Using alcohol in higher amounts or for a longer time than originally intended.
- Spending a lot of time obtaining, using, and recovering from the effects of alcohol.
- Cravings, or a strong desire to use alcohol.
- Developing tolerance (i.e. needing to drink increasingly large or more frequent amounts of alcohol to achieve desired effect).
- Using alcohol in physically dangerous situations (such as driving or operating machinery).
- Being unable to fulfill major obligations at home, work, or school because of alcohol use.
- Continuing to abuse alcohol despite negative interpersonal or social problems that are likely due to alcohol use.
- Giving up previously enjoyed social, occupational, or recreational activities because of alcohol use.
- Continuing to abuse alcohol despite the presence of a psychological or physical problem that is probably due to alcohol use.
- Developing symptoms of withdrawal when efforts are made to stop using alcohol.
Host an Intervention
Committing to getting sober and seeking treatment for alcoholism takes courage. Yet, often times, those struggling with alcohol may not immediately be receptive to discussing treatment or admitting that they have a problem. If your husband isn’t yet ready to seek treatment, it may be time to consider an intervention.
An intervention is a process that typically involves a physician, drug and alcohol counselor, or an intervention specialist along with family and friends.6 During this time, you’ll let your husband know how his addiction affects you and ask them to seek professional help. You’ll also be asked to provide specific examples ahead of time, offer a pre-arranged treatment plan, and provide consequences for him if he refuses to seek help.6 Regardless of the consequences you set forth, you need to be prepared to carry them out if he doesn’t agree to treatment.
Here are some additional ways to prepare for a discussion with your husband:
- Only talk to him when he is sober and receptive to hearing what you have to say. Sometimes, it may take several small, honest, and simple conversations to get your point across.
- Educate yourself on the disease and treatment options that exist near you.
- Consider seeking out support for yourself via a therapist or support group, such as Al-Anon, a self-help program for family members of substance abusers.
- If at any time you feel unsafe physically or emotionally in your home when your husband is under influence of alcohol, seek immediate professional help. Do not try to diffuse the situation by yourself.
- Try not to take his drinking personally.
- Keep up with the family schedule regardless to keep a sense of normalcy and balance at home.
Getting Your Husband Through Treatment
Once your husband has agreed to treatment, the real work begins—not only for him but for you as well. As you work through this new way of life, you may experience feelings of doubt, anger, resentment or sadness. This is completely normal and okay. But remember to be kind to yourself and don’t blame yourself for his actions or behaviors.
One of the most important things to do while your husband is going through treatment is ensure you are taking care of yourself and your family, both physically and emotionally. One way to do this is by seeking support in the form of private counseling and/or peer support groups (such as Al-Anon). The latter offers programs of recovery for the families and friends of those struggling with alcoholism.
Whether your husband is working toward recovery in an outpatient or inpatient setting, it is also a good idea to set healthy boundaries with consequences for when they are around. This could mean that if they relapse, you stay with friends or family until they’ve chosen to get sober again. But also understand that relapse is common, as addiction is a disease, and has a 40-60% relapse rates—similar to other chronic illnesses such as asthma and hypertension. Be prepared in case it happens and have a plan in place so that you know exactly what to do at that time.
Recovery is a lifelong process that doesn’t end once treatment is completed. But with the right treatment, a solid support network, and aftercare services, you and your husband can go on to live healthier, more fruitful lives.
. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2016). Fact Sheets - Excessive Alcohol Use and Risks to Men's Health.
. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2018). Alcohol Facts and Statistics.
. U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2016). Living with an alcoholic partner: Problems faced and coping strategies used by wives of alcoholic clients. Ind Psychiatry J.; 25(1): 65–71.
. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (n.d.). Alcohol Use Disorder.
. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.). American Psychiatric Publishing; 490-491.
. Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration. (2012). Alcohol and Drug Addiction Happens in the Best of Families.
. American Society of Addiction Medicine. (2014). Intimate Partner Violence and Co-Occurring Substance Abuse/Addiction.