Alcohol use disorder is the medical term for alcohol addiction. As is commonly understood, addiction to alcohol involves a compulsion to drink despite the negative impact of doing so. Doing so leads to frequently to tolerance and physical dependence. Alcohol addiction affects 17 million adults in the US, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, and it has a major impact on the lives of these individuals, their social relationships and society in general.
People who struggle with alcohol use disorder face a lot of challenges – both personal and interpersonal. They may or may not be aware that their condition is hurting others and not just them. One of the first persons to get adversely affected by it is the patient’s spouse. It’s not just being drunk that affects them, but also the financial toll drinking has on the family, as well as the decline in productivity, personal care, and self-esteem, all lead to adverse consequences in the couple’s/family’s life. Each case has a different story – sometimes the alcoholic addiction occurs during marriage, and other times the individual might have been a high-functioning alcoholic at the time of getting married but slowly slipped to full-blown addiction. Each of these scenarios poses a different challenge for the spouse who is struggling to deal with the multidimensional impact of this condition as well as striving to keep the relationship emotionally alive. Spouses often have to live with this fear for their loved one’s health and happiness
What to do if your husband or wife is an Alcoholic
Wives of alcoholic husbands have to deal with myriad challenges associated with this condition. They often end up blaming themselves for the problem. This often occurs because the husband may have blamed them for their drinking problems and other issues it has caused. A lot of times, that kind of talk is done while the husband is inebriated, but it seeps into the mind of the wife and she may start believing it and blaming herself for the situation.
Wives of addicts often take the condition very personally, especially when a therapy fails, they may feel like they have been lied to or coerced. They fail to realize that while it can be easy to take things personally, an alcoholic doesn’t have full control over their behavior. They may also erroneously feel that they will be safer if they can keep their partner drinking at home instead of at a bar. Or they may measures such as hiding the liquor in the house, or resort to scolding, shaming, or coercing their partner to get them to stop drinking. What they don’t realize is that while they may have the right intentions, but this approach is not only ineffective but can actually be counterproductive and in fact, detrimental to both partners. Sometimes, the wife can be in denial of the problem herself, and need to wake up to the situation and accept the reality and address it by getting the right kind of help. They need to know that excusing their husband’s drunk behavior is in a way enabling it, but it needs to handled in a productive and helpful manner, as opposed to headbutting it, as that leads to resentment and disappointment. Any kind of aggressive, depressed, suicidal, abusive, or dangerous behavior should be addressed by professionals with immediacy. Another key thing to be careful about is not enabling the condition. There can be a number of ways spouses tend to do that – giving money to get out of a tough financial spot; driving them to and from bars to keep them safe on the road; make excuses at social events for the person’s behavior or their absence; or avoiding the issue altogether. While it may seem that way, pointing out these behaviors is not an attempt to blame their husband, but only to help people recognize if they may be hurting themselves. The real help is identifying the problem and seeking professional help to best deal with it.
A very important thing to remember is that the spouses have to manage their expectations. They may expect high level of functionality from their alcoholic husband, or that they will be responsible, or abstain like they “ought to”, and be emotionally attached, and composed, and socially presentable, etc. All such expectations are bound to meet with failure when dealing with an alcoholic husband. This is not to say that these expectations are unreasonable in general, but they are unrealistic in the given scenario. They need to come to terms with the fact that their husband is suffering from a major illness and barely holding on to any kind of personal or social normalcy. They are not going to be productive, social or responsible. And the fact they can’t does not mean that they don’t value their relationship with their spouse, it’s just that their addiction have taken over control and they can’t get to feel and behave as they might want to. Realizing that as a wife is very important – because managing expectations is the first step towards making any real progress, no matter how small it is. Some spouses may tend to live in the past and getting depressed how the husband has changed – how he used to care, and how he use to be fun, etc. That’s another way they can be detached from reality. It only hurts them because it fosters feelings of resentment and frustration, and even hopeless and depression. Again, the right step is to address what the present holds and get professional help so that there is a shot at a happy and healthy future.
One final take-home message for all the spouses dealing with alcoholics who have done one or more of the things mentioned above, is that they have to look after themselves as well. It is very easy to get entirely consumed by this condition, and to get so tangled and deeply affected by it all that it starts affecting their own health and well-being. It is important to remember that one can’t do anything for their loved one unless they are functional and able themselves. One must protect oneself from the deleterious effects of this condition, keep one’s sanity and emotional strength to be able to address the situation and help in ways that are useful. This is why recovery programs for alcoholics take into account the personal well-being of the spouse and address their needs as well, because they are indeed deeply affected by it and need the support themselves as well.