Living with an Alcoholic - Understanding & Co-existing with Your Spouse

Gay couple at home, with one finding it challenging to live with an alcoholic

Table of Contents

Living with an alcoholic can be an incredibly challenging and emotionally draining experience. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, approximately 5.8% of adults aged 18 and above in the United States are affected by alcohol use disorder. The impact that alcoholism can have on a family is significant, leading to emotional, financial, and even physical problems. 

It’s essential to have a deep understanding of your spouse and their struggles to provide effective support and create a conducive environment for their recovery. By educating yourself about alcoholism and its impact, you can play a critical role in supporting your spouse’s journey toward recovery.

Looking for a LGBT-Focused Rehab?

Living with a Spouse with Alcohol Use Disorder: The Challenges

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 17.7 million people were classified as heavy drinkers. Heavy drinking and binge drinking alcoholics can negatively affect a spouse, causing emotional turmoil, financial strain, and communication breakdown.

Emotional Turmoil

The emotional consequences of living with an alcoholic spouse can be incredibly challenging and far-reaching. A non-alcoholic spouse may often find themselves grappling with a wide range of emotions, such as:


  • Anger: Frustration with the alcoholic spouse’s behavior and the impact it has on their lives can lead to feelings of anger and resentment.
  • Resentment: As the non-alcoholic spouse takes on additional responsibilities and sacrifices, they may develop a deep-seated resentment towards their partner.
  • Fear: The unpredictability of an alcoholic spouse’s behavior, the potential for violence, or concerns about their health can cause persistent fear and anxiety.
  • Guilt: Non-alcoholic spouses may blame themselves for their partner’s alcoholism or feel guilty for not being able to “fix” the situation.


Living with an alcoholic spouse can cause intense emotions such as anger, resentment, fear, and guilt. The non-alcoholic spouse may feel overwhelmed and isolated, lacking support from others. This can make it challenging to cope with their partner’s alcoholism and may lead to avoidance of social situations.

Financial Strain

When an alcoholic spouse prioritizes alcohol over other essential expenses, the financial repercussions can be severe and far-reaching. The consequences of such financial difficulties include:


  • Unpaid bills: Alcoholic spouse neglects to pay bills on time or at all, leading to late fees and service disconnection.
  • Mounting debts: Reliance on credit cards and loans to cover expenses leads to growing debt.
  • Job loss: Alcoholism can impact employment, leading to punctuality and productivity issues and straining finances.


Financial challenges can increase stress for the non-alcoholic spouse. They may struggle to cover essential expenses or maintain financial security, which can worsen existing relationship tensions and affect their mental and emotional well-being.

Breakdown in Communication

Alcoholism can have a profound effect on communication within a marriage, often leading to misunderstandings, hurt feelings, and emotional distance. Some ways that alcoholism impacts communication include:


  • Feeling unheard/dismissed: Non-alcoholic spouse struggles to express concerns, needs, or emotions effectively.
  • Defensiveness: Alcoholic spouse becomes defensive when confronted about their drinking, refusing to accept responsibility for their behavior.
  • Withdrawal: Alcoholism causes emotional withdrawal, leading to less time spent together, avoidance of meaningful conversations, and secretive behavior.


These communication barriers can strain the marriage, eroding trust and intimacy and potentially leading to feelings of loneliness, frustration, and resentment for both partners. Effective communication is critical for maintaining a healthy relationship, and addressing these issues is essential for couples navigating the challenges of living with an alcoholic spouse.

Unstable Family Life

On top of having trouble communicating between spouses, there’s always the added issue of what happens when children are thrown into the mix. There have been numerous studies showing that there is a connection to alcoholism and genetics.

It’s important for families that grapple with an alcoholic that they understand the risks for their children. Regardless of whether you take the nature or nurture debate, it isn’t health to continuously expose children to alcoholism.


Take our high-functioning alcohol quiz if you have any doubts about whether your spouse is an alcoholic. This quiz can help determine if your spouse is at risk of developing alcoholism, even if they appear to be functioning normally.

Strategies for Managing Life with an Alcoholic Partner

There are several strategies that can help you cope with an alcoholic spouse and maintain your well-being.

  • Establish boundaires
  • Engage in self-care
  • Attend support groups
  • Maintain open communication

Living with an alcoholic spouse can be a challenging and emotionally draining experience. The non-alcoholic spouse may experience feelings of anger, resentment, fear, guilt, and isolation. They may also face financial difficulties, relationship tensions, and communication challenges. To cope with these challenges, there are several strategies that can be helpful.

One such strategy is to establish clear boundaries and communicate them to the alcoholic spouse. It is essential to communicate your limits and expectations and be prepared to follow through with consequences if these boundaries are violated. Prioritizing self-care activities such as exercise, healthy eating, and seeking support from friends and family can also help in protecting your emotional and physical well-being. 

Support groups like Al-Anon can provide a supportive environment to share experiences, gain insights, and learn from others in similar situations. Finally, maintaining open and honest communication with your spouse, expressing concerns and needs without blame or judgment, can be crucial for addressing the issues at hand.

Benefits of a Sober Living Home

Sometimes, the best way to heal a damaged bond is to create space, which is exactly what a sober living facility aims to do. At a sober living, your spouse will be among others who wish to start or continue their path toward sobriety.

Your spouse may not be receptive to the idea of sobriety at first, but with the right encouragement, they may end up finding themselves sober curious. If there’s no chance of your loved one even considering a sober lifestyle, there’s always the option of an intervention to help set them on the right path.

Alcoholism Treatment at No Matter What

At No Matter What Recovery we offer a holistic and personalized approach to alcoholism treatment. Our comprehensive alcohol rehab program includes:

  • Individualized Treatment Plans: Tailored to each client’s needs, addressing the root causes of addiction.
  • Detoxification: Medical supervision and support during the withdrawal process for a safe and comfortable detox.
  • Evidence-Based Therapies: Techniques such as CBT, DBT, and Motivational Interviewing to develop coping skills and emotional resilience.
  • Holistic Approach: Complementary therapies like yoga, meditation, art therapy, and physical fitness for overall well-being.

After your partner has achieved successful recovery, it is crucial to continue providing support for their sobriety. This is especially important during holidays, which can be challenging. You can explore our techniques for maintaining sobriety during holidays that can benefit your partner.

Living with an alcoholic is a challenging and emotionally taxing experience. By understanding alcoholism, its impact on family and relationships, and implementing coping strategies, it is possible to manage the situation more effectively. Encouraging an alcoholic spouse to seek treatment and engage in recovery is vital for their well-being and the well-being of the family as a whole.