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How To Live With An Alcoholic Parent Or Spouse

Published on July 30, 2021
How To Live With An Alcoholic Parent Or Spouse

Like many diseases, alcohol use disorder (AUD) affects a person’s whole family. When your spouse or parents can’t stop drinking, you may feel frustrated, depressed, and helpless.

Fortunately, you can take steps to make life easier for both you and your loved one. 

Take Care Of Yourself

When you’re constantly worried about your alcoholic spouse or parent, it’s easy to neglect your own health. For example, you may miss out on sleep, follow a poor diet, or never take time to relax. 

To rebuild your physical and mental health, you’ll probably have to change the way you think. In particular, don’t blame yourself for your loved one’s addiction. 

Remember that alcohol use disorder is a disease. You did not cause it, just like you couldn’t cause your loved one to have cancer or heart disease. 

Don’t Take It Personally

In addition, don’t take your loved one’s addiction personally. For instance, if your loved one refuses to seek help, lies about their alcohol consumption, or steals money from you to buy more alcohol, you might assume they don’t love you. 

However, alcohol use disorder changes a person’s brain and makes them act in ways they normally wouldn’t. When you keep this in mind, your loved one’s behavior will seem less hurtful.

Boost Your Well-Being

As you adopt healthier thinking patterns, you can further boost your well-being by:

  • getting at least eight hours of sleep a night
  • exercising regularly
  • eating plenty of vegetables, fruits, and other nutritious foods
  • journaling your thoughts and feelings
  • spending time with friends and family
  • trying meditation and/or yoga
  • making time for hobbies and creative pursuits 
  • starting therapy, where you can learn additional coping strategies for living with an alcoholic partner or parent

Find Support

When you’re the child of an alcoholic mother or alcoholic father, or if you’re married to an alcoholic, it’s normal to feel alone. However, many people face similar challenges. That’s why there are multiple support groups for people whose loved ones struggle with alcohol abuse. 

Al-Anon & Alateen

The most popular example is Al-Anon. Similar to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Al-Anon features a 12-step program that can help you deal with your loved one’s alcohol addiction. There’s also a version of Al-Anon for teenagers called Alateen

Codependents Anonymous (CoDA)

Another popular 12-step program for people whose loved ones have alcohol addiction is Codependents Anonymous, or CoDA

This program can help you recover from codependency, which occurs when you become so fixated on helping your loved one that you lose your sense of independence. 

SMART Recovery Family & Friends

Al-Anon, Alateen, and CoDA ask group members to trust in a higher power such as God, nature, or the universe. If you’re not spiritual, this step may make you uncomfortable. Luckily, there are also non-spiritual support groups, such as SMART Recovery Family & Friends.

Whether spiritual or non-spiritual, support groups allow you to share your experiences, learn coping tips, and feel less alone. 

Don’t Enable Your Loved One

While trying to support your loved one, you might make excuses for their bad behavior. At first, you may only excuse mild problems, such as your alcoholic wife showing up late for work. Over time, though, you could end up excusing severe issues, including domestic violence.

When you make these excuses, you not only put yourself in danger but you also prevent your loved one from seeking treatment. That’s because making excuses is a form of enabling. 

How Enabling Works

Enabling occurs when you protect someone from the consequences of their drinking problem. Without consequences, your loved one will likely keep drinking and refuse treatment. 

Other forms of enabling include:

  • giving money to your loved one
  • paying your loved one’s bills
  • bailing your loved one out of jail
  • taking on your loved one’s responsibilities 

Set Boundaries

You may feel that if you truly love your alcoholic spouse or parent, you must stay in their life. 

However, if your loved one is being verbally or physically abusive, you should distance yourself from them. If it’s your spouse, you may want to consider divorce. While divorcing an alcoholic may seem cruel to some people, it’s important to protect yourself from abuse.

Help Them Find Treatment (But Recognize Your Role)

You should also set boundaries when it comes to helping your loved one recover from addiction. While you can offer support, it’s not your responsibility to cure them. Even if you wanted to, you can’t cure alcohol addiction without professional help. 

Instead, share your concerns with your loved ones so they’ll feel more motivated to seek treatment. 

Gently discuss specific issues caused by their alcohol problems, such as a drunk driving accident or damaged relationship. Without judging or attacking, explain that these issues make you think they need rehab.

Enlist Professional Help

If they deny they have a problem, ask someone to help you talk to them. A therapist, doctor, interventionist, or trusted family member can help you determine a more effective way to communicate. 

If your loved one struggles with alcohol use disorder, please contact an Ark Behavioral Health specialist. Our substance abuse and addiction treatment centers provide a variety of recovery-focused services, including therapy, medical detox, and support groups.

Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
This page does not provide medical advice.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism - Understanding Alcohol Use Disorder
U.S. National Library of Medicine - The Impact of Substance Use Disorders on Families and Children: From Theory to Practice
U.S. National Library of Medicine - Tips for supporting loved ones with alcohol use disorders

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