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Risks Associated With Having An Alcoholic Spouse

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes more than 95,000 people die yearly from excessive alcohol use, and 7% of adults who drink have an alcohol use disorder. Nearly 15 million Americans are battling an alcohol use disorder, and some research states that alcohol use has increased with the spread of COVID-19 due to stress and isolation. Addiction is a family disease, and those who live with an alcoholic spouse face a unique set of challenges. 

The impact of alcohol on families and relationships can be severe. Individuals living with an alcoholic spouse can suffer challenging circumstances ranging from emotional distress to financial hardships. In other cases, spouses of loved ones facing alcoholism can suffer extramarital affairs, domestic violence, and conflict in their marriages. Each situation will vary from couple to couple, the exposure to alcohol, and the severity of their alcoholism.

Alcoholic Spouses: Effects On Children

Additional risks of having an alcoholic spouse is the impact on their children. Some risks include children witnessing a parent battling alcoholism and engaging in drinking. Children of alcoholic parents were more likely to experience depression, anxiety, and self-esteem issues compared to other children. One study found that 10% of American children were exposed to alcohol abuse or dependency. Characteristics of alcoholic parents, like low self-esteem and poor adjustment skills, can contribute to unstable homes that could result in traits such as:

  • Disruption of regular routines 
  • Poor academic performance
  • Children gaining exposure to alcohol at younger ages 
  • Abuse of substances
  • Impulsivity
  • Codependency
  • Poor social skills
  • Abandonment issues
  • Strained family dynamics  

Children can become more likely to abuse alcohol if they grow up in an alcoholic family, or attract and stay in a relationship with an alcoholic. 

Challenges Of Living With An Alcoholic Spouse

The US National Library of Medicine uses the term “alcoholic marriage” to refer to married individuals where one or both partners have an alcohol use disorder. In the case of one alcoholic spouse and one sober spouse, alcoholism can contribute to emotional distress, disconnection, negligence, abuse, poor communication, and a lasting impact on one’s family. Additionally, alcoholism can be problematic on an individual level as it has damaging effects on the body and mind.

The influence of alcohol within a relationship can create emotional distance and negatively impact relationship dynamics. Sober spouses that had an alcoholic spouse reported or exhibited negative feelings, including:

  • Decreases in marital satisfaction
  • Moodiness in the spouse who drinks
  • Hostile marital interactions
  • Lack of support from partner who drinks 
  • Stress/distress

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, families living with alcoholics may possibly experience:

  • Violence
  • Abuse
  • Conflict
  • Jealousy
  • Economic insecurity
  • Divorce 
  • Infidelity
  • Spousal aggression

Alcoholic Spouses, Marital Satisfaction, And Divorce

Studies have examined alcohol’s effects on marriage and divorce. Some evidence finds more alcoholic spouses are married to spouses who also also drink compared to other groups. The effects on marriage in this dynamic can lead to marital conflict, financial challenges, and enabling. Since both spouses drink, the ongoing influence of alcoholism can keep one or both partners stuck in a cycle of alcoholism. As a result, tapering off or becoming sober can seem impossible. 

According to Alcoholics Anonymous, marital satisfaction can become affected as poor communication occurs when under the influence of alcohol. Stress between a concerned spouse and possibly defensive attitudes of an alcoholic spouse can contribute to marital dissatisfaction. Emotional distance that stems from nurturing an addiction can create strain.       

Intimate Partner Violence

Alcohol lowers inhibitions, and can result in reckless behavior, angry outbursts, aggression, and risk of sexual assault. Married people who already have conflict can engage in more conflict if alcohol use is present. A study published by the National Library of Medicine found connections between husbands who had a standard number of drinks within a 12-hour period, “was significantly higher prior to violent versus nonviolent conflicts for both self and collateral reports.” Numbers of alcohol-related domestic assault can vary based on age, gender, and race.

Finding Treatment For Your Loved One

Treatment can provide counseling for families and alcoholic spouses. In inpatient and outpatient rehab, patients can receive one-on-one counseling and group therapy. This helps the individual address motives for alcoholism, and how it has affected their loved ones. Family therapy can assist in repairing troubled relationships and addressing concerning behavior. If factors like codependency are present, counseling can bring about suggestions for growth. Couples therapy is a strong suggestion for loved ones of an alcoholic who wish to repair their union.

Family, couples, and one-on-one therapy are often provided while in an alcohol rehabilitation facility. Licensed treatment professionals can assist in creating a plan for sobriety that the alcoholic spouse and their loved one can work towards together. If you are searching for help for yourself or your loved one, contact a treatment provider to discover what programs are available.