My Husband Is an Alcoholic: How Can I Help?

Almost 10 million American men battled alcohol addiction in 2015, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) reports. Alcoholism impacts entire families as individuals face negative social, emotional, physical, behavioral, financial, legal, and occupational consequences as a result of chronic alcohol abuse. Someone struggling with alcoholism spends the majority of their time drinking, thinking about drinking, or recovering from drinking and therefore has difficulties fulfilling daily family, work, school, and other obligations.

The Industrial Psychiatry Journal publishes that wives are the most adversely affected by a spouse's alcohol abuse and alcoholism. High stress and emotional (and potentially physical) trauma related to alcohol abuse can significantly impact family life, and wives may suffer from anxiety, depression, guilt, shame, isolation, fear, anger, and more. About 40 percent of all violent crimes involve alcohol. In addition, alcohol is the number one mind-altering substance contributing to instances of spousal abuse, the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) warns. A partner may have to pick up the slack for an alcoholic husband who is no longer able to carry their weight financially, socially, or with the family.

If your husband is an alcoholic, there are steps you can take to get him professional help. Alcoholism is a treatable disease that can be managed through specialized programs.

How to Help Others Struggling with Alcohol

Hosting an Intervention

An important component of getting help for your husband is to stop enabling his drinking behaviors. It can be easy for a spouse to make excuses for a husband's tardiness, absence, or behaviors due to the drinking in order to "save face" and help them keep their jobs, protect appearances, and so on. It is important to stop doing this. Your husband’s drinking is not a reflection on you in any way.

The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) defines addiction as a brain disease that is chronic and reoccurring. It can be managed with specialized treatment. Less than 10 percent of people who struggle with alcoholism will seek professional help, however, and of those who don't seek help, more than 95 percent don't think they need it, the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) reports.

It may be helpful to stage an intervention to show your husband how his alcohol abuse has disrupted your life personally and to guide him into entering into an addiction treatment program. An intervention is a structured meeting that is hosted by loved ones with the goal of getting the person to agree to willingly go to rehab. It can be helpful to hire a professional interventionist to guide you through how to plan and carry out a successful intervention. NCADD publishes that the majority of interventions are effective when a professional interventionist is involved in the process.

If your husband struggles with co-occurring disorders; is prone to self-harm, aggression, or violent outbursts; or abuses other drugs in addition to alcohol, it is always best to have the guidance and support of a trained professional when hosting an intervention. An intervention is often planned without the knowledge of the person involved, and a spouse can be a key member of the intervention team. This team may also be made up of neighbors, coworkers, friends, other family members, teammates, or others who are close to the person and have been impacted by their alcohol abuse.

Members of an intervention team will often write letters ahead of time to read to the person during the meeting. These letters will detail specific instances when alcohol abuse has been a problem. They should be nonjudgmental, sticking to "I" statements rather than blaming the person. The point of your letter is to help your husband see that their alcohol use is affecting others around and get him to recognize that he needs help.

It is important to host the intervention when he is not drunk or hungover, so he will be most likely to hear what is said. As his spouse, you will need to be prepared to outline consequences, that you will stick to, if he decides not to enter into a treatment program after the intervention. This may mean that you ask him to leave the home or stop supporting him financially. Regardless of the consequences you set forth, you need to make sure you carry them out. Hopefully, your husband will decide that admission into an alcohol rehab program is preferable to the outlined ramifications.

Steps for Offering Help While Staying Safe

It is important to take care of yourself when your husband is prone to alcohol abuse and struggles with alcoholism. Since alcohol is a mind-altering substance, it impacts moods, thoughts, and behaviors, and can increase the odds for aggression, increased risk-taking behaviors, lowered inhibitions, out-of-character behaviors, and intensified situations. Refrain from self-blame and stick to non-confrontational, honest, and private conversations when discussing his alcohol use. Try not to lecture or place blame on him; rather, offer understanding and compassion. Reiterate that you are in this together and you want what is best for both of you.

Family members are often the most important people in a person's life; therefore, they are highly impactful in addiction treatment and recovery. Here are some guidelines for helping an alcoholic husband get professional addiction treatment while protecting yourself from further harm:

  1. 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.
  2. Educate yourself on the disease of alcoholism and treatment options that exist near you.
  3. Consider seeking out support for yourself via a therapist or support group, such as Al-Anon, which is a self-help program for family members of substance abusers.
  4. Get help planning and carrying out an intervention, and have treatment programs already lined up ahead of time.
  5. Stop covering for your husband and start asking him to take responsibility for his actions. Do not accept negative behaviors and stop enabling him to continue drinking.
  6. Don't try to control his drinking on your own as this will often lead to outbursts and additional issues. Instead, enlist professional help to host an intervention.
  7. If at any time you feel unsafe physically or emotionally in your home or at the hands of your husband who may be under the influence of alcohol, seek immediate professional help. Do not try to diffuse the situation by yourself.
  8. Try not to take his drinking personally. Remember that alcoholism is a progressive disease involving brain chemistry, and it often takes a professional treatment program to heal and recover.
  9. Commit to making positive changes in your own life. Engage in hobbies, social outings, and recreational activities that make you happy.
  10. Get help for yourself, and find healthy outlets for support. Join a support group and/or attend therapy.
  11. Keep up with the family schedule regardless of whether or not your husband is participating in normal family functions. This can help to keep a sense of normalcy and balance at home to ease stress and tension.
  12. Research treatment programs, and offer them to your husband at an intervention or at other times when he may be the most receptive to hearing you.
  13. Offer your husband love and support throughout treatment and recovery, remembering that you are one of the most influential people in his life. Visit him while he is in treatment during designated times and actively participate in the program when possible.
  14. Make sure your husband knows you love him, but that you do not love his actions when he is drinking and therefore you will not tolerate these behaviors anymore. Outline concrete consequences for his inaction if he refuses to enter treatment and stick to them.

When addiction is present in one partner, codependency is often present. Marital or family therapy can be key to overcoming issues related to codependency, helping each partner to get their own needs met in a healthy and balanced way while improving communication skills and the overall family dynamic. Individual therapy can be important for you, as you have been significantly impacted by your spouse's drinking and alcoholism.

Again, alcoholism is a treatable disease, and with professional treatment, marriages can be repaired. There is hope for your husband in recovery.