Alcoholism In Marriage: Loving an Alcoholic Spouse

Medically Reviewed By Kayla Loibl | Last Edited : October 05, 
| 4 Sources

Dealing With An Alcoholic Spouse
Effects On A Marriage

It’s tough to cope with alcoholism in marriage and difficult to deal with an alcoholic spouse.

The phrase “alcoholism in marriage” is usually used to describe a union in which either or both of the partners have a history of alcoholism and it affects with successful, day-to-day marital functioning. Even though alcoholic marriages are relatively common in the U.S., with estimated prevalence rates ranging from 10% to 45% the start and subsequent course of the alcoholic marriage is anything but common.

Not surprisingly, studies show that alcoholics have shorter marriages than people that don’t have addictions to alcohol. Those marriages may be less happy and more troubled than marriages not affected by alcoholism, as well, although of course there are many other things that affect the happiness and success of a marriage, not just the drinking habits of spouses.

3 Reasons Alcohol Could Be Affecting Your Relationship

Alcohol is not necessarily the culprit. However, if you are not aware of how it impacts you, your partner, and your relationships, it could definitely bite. Here are three main reasons why alcohol affects you and your relationships in negative ways:

  1.  It is a drug. Alcohol (even in minimal amounts) could change someone’s emotions, perception, and even thought process. A widely-used depressant, alcohol could lower your inhibitions and mood—a impending recipe for faster-to-fight circumstances between you and your partner.
  2.  Alcohol enjoys a cultural "pass." It is widely accepted in almost any culture. Deliberately or not, we usually downplay its adverse effects and see it as a nearly mandatory aspect of de-stressing, celebrating, and so on. These can already be red flags that you are failing to see the power that alcohol could have on you and your partner. 
  3.  Its psychological impact directly influences social interaction. As mentioned before, alcohol could impact your mood. Heavy or even moderate alcohol drinking could trigger an individual to be more aggressive, sensitive, dis-inhibited, defensive, and irrational. These effects could persist even after alcohol is already out of a person’s system, and in the long run could significantly change brain function.

Effects of Alcoholism in Marriage

Alcoholism in Marriage

In a lot of circumstances, people could drink moderately with relatively few adverse consequences. Nonetheless, heavier alcohol consumption could affect one’s marriage in many serious ways. According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, some common effects of alcoholism in marriage include:

  • Lack of effective communication skills
  • Frequent disagreements or arguments
  • Broken promises, lies, and lack of follow through with commitments on the part of the spouse with the drinking problem
  • Jealousy on the part of the alcoholic spouse
  • Infidelity (on the part of either spouse)
  • Sexual problems
  • Lack of involvement in family activities on the part of the spouse with the drinking problem (such as not helping with household chores, not joining the family for meals, missing important family gatherings like birthdays, etc.)
  • Financial problems
  • Legal problems that impact the relationship
  • Domestic violence (initiated by the spouse with the drinking problem)
  • Disagreements related to parenting or poor relationships between the spouse with the drinking problem and any children)
  • Separation or divorce

Family members of alcoholics may experience significant levels of stress, anxiety, and depression, too.

How Do You Deal with an Alcoholic Spouse?

Please note that, while here we refer to the alcoholic as “he,” women are sometimes alcoholics, too, and their drinking can affect a marriage as much as a man’s drinking can. It’s just easier to read information if we use one pronoun instead of saying “he or she” over and over again.

Dealing with a spouse with a drinking problem is stressful. It’s important to understand that you cannot make your spouse stop drinking. You can’t make him get help. There are things you can do to help and support him, but in the end, he is the only one that can control his behavior.

  • Don’t try to talk to him about his drinking when he’s drunk or hung over. Wait until he’s sober.
  • Don’t cover for him (enabling an alcoholic). That means don’t call his boss with an excuse if he is too hung over to go to work, don’t make excuses about his drinking to his friends or family members, and don’t bail him out of jail if he gets arrested while intoxicated. Let him deal with the consequences of his own behavior.
  • Be honest about how his behavior affects you and the rest of the family.
  • Let him know what the consequences of alcoholism in marriage will be if he continues drinking or refuses to get help for his drinking, but don’t make threats you won’t keep. For instance, don’t tell him you’ll take the children and move out unless you really mean it.
  • Tell him you want him to seek help for his drinking but don’t nag him about it and don’t try to do it for him. For instance, let him make an appointment to see his doctor or let him make some phone calls to find out where the local Alcoholics Anonymous meetings are; don’t try to do all the work for him. Let it be his responsibility.
  • Get help and support for yourself. Attend meetings for Al-Anon, a mutual support group for individuals whose lives have been affected by their loved one’s drinking. Consider seeing a professional counselor. You can’t control what your spouse does but you can control what you do.

You Can Help!

If your spouse is struggling with alcoholism, there are treatment providers who can help them determine the best options for them. Reach out to a treatment provider today.

Lead Writer/Reviewer : Kayla Loibl

Licensed Medical Health Professional 


I am a Mental Health Counselor who is licensed in both New York (LMHC) and North Carolina (LCMHC). I have been working in the Mental Health field since 2015. I have worked in a residential setting, an outpatient program and an inpatient addictions program. I began working in Long Island, NY and then in Guelph, Ontario after moving to Canada. Read More


Al-Anon Family Groups. What Is Al-Anon and Alateen?.

Clinical and Research Institute on Addictions. RIA Reaching Others: Does Drinking Affect Marriage?. October 13, 2014.

NCBI. For better or for worse? The effects of alcohol use on marital functioning. June 23, 2009.

Psychology Today. Is Alcohol Impacting Your Relationship?. May 10, 2019.

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