Married to an Alcoholic: How to Help Your Spouse

Medically Reviewed By Kayla Loibl | Last Edited : July  03, 
| 3 Sources

Approximately 14.1 million adults in the United States are married to an alcoholic/married to a dry drunk. This leaves the majority of individuals struggling with their addiction. 

Living with an alcoholic can be challenging, and can lead to a marriage falling apart. One thing we know is that for some couples, staying in the relationship can be unhealthy and quite harmful.

A common behavior of someone addicted to alcohol is that they are focused on their next drink. As a result, the emotional and other needs of their partner and family members are often neglected which can add to the demise of a relationship.

When drinking is a priority, a person can lose interest in family time, not attend important events, forget events and anniversary’s and become angry or annoyed when others criticize their drinking. These behaviors can lead to resentments which can be harmful to a relationship,married to an alcoholic

Chances are, if you believe that your spouse has an addiction to alcohol, that you have had a feeling that something was not quite right for some time. Maybe you feel a sense of guilt for their drinking. There comes a time when you have to accept the situation you are in, and decide how you want to move forward.

Continuing to brush your partners drinking under the rug, they will likely will see your inaction as a green light to continue drinking. So even by not saying anything, you are saying something.

Married To An Alcoholic;
What You Can Do If Your Spouse Is An Alcoholic

There are a number of courses of action you can take (and some you shouldn't take) if you believe you are in love with an alcoholic:

  • Do Nothing. Pretend everything is OKAY and carry on as 'normal'. It's your choice, but if you're reading this then obviously you are not happy with 'normal'. In the beginning this can be a form of denial and not wanting to accept the situation, however when you see enough evidence, there is little room to deny that your spouse has a problem with drinking.
married-to-an-alcoholicPhoto by Alex Green
  • Walk Away. Some find that this is their only option, and if you can relate, know that it is a perfectly acceptable choice. If it has all become too much for you then get out. Particularly if there is abuse of some sort going on. If you have children then walking away might be the safer option. Also, it doesn't have to be final. Leave the door open for a return if the situation improves. Perhaps such an event might make your spouse do something about his/her drinking.
  • Set Boundaries. Tell the alcoholic (preferably when he/she is sober) what you will and will not accept from them. Tell them what you will do if they continue drinking and do not make healthy changes in their lifestyle. It is of the utmost importance you stick to these boundaries. If you don't then the alcoholic will know you are not serious and continue with their drinking. Whatever you do, don't give them 'one more chance' - if you do you will find yourself giving them 'one more chances' on a regular basis. Boundaries are necessary for any healthy relationship and can be challenging to set if you are not used to doing so.
  • Do not Enable. Enabling is when you make it possible for the addict to continue with their alcoholism with your behavior. A simple example might be buying them drinks or making excuses for their drinking. Many forms of enabling would fall into the “do nothing” option listed above. Enabling can lead to codependency, which is a relationship with unhealthy boundaries. You can look at enabling an alcoholic for further examples.
  • Offer Support When Earned. If your spouse is making an effort to stop their drinking then offer support, if they ask for help then give it. Even if they have hurt you in the past, today is what matters and if they are making concrete offers to change then embrace them. Show support, and try to have empathy as being in recovery is not easy. Everyone finds motivation in their own way, and if your spouse has found their motivation for a healthier life style, try to support them. This could include removing all alcohol from your home, not going to events and places that sell alcohol, driving them to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting or whatever else is appropriate.
  • Don't Coerce. Forcing an alcoholic (through emotional blackmail, threats etc.) is not the way to solve the problem of an alcoholic spouse. They might get sober for a while but ultimately they will, in all likelihood, go back to the drink. You cannot force anyone to change. Unless someone is truly motivated for themselves to change, any change made will likely be short lived. It is also important to note that coercion would not be a quality found in a healthy relationship, so it’s best to avoid adding it to a marriage that is already struggling.

Support for Those Married to an Alcoholic

If you are married to an alcoholic, they would not be the appropriate person for you to reach out to for support.

There are, however, other people you can turn to for assistance:


Al-anon is an international "fellowship of relatives and friends of alcoholics who share their experience, strength, and hope in order to solve their common problems."

Al-anon is a 12 step group. It was set up specifically for relatives and friends of alcoholics. A group of people who have their own set of problems, many resulting from their relationship with an alcoholic or addict.

Some problems could include low self-esteem, the inability to tell the difference between love and pity, and codependency attributes.

Al-anon is not for everybody. Some people feel that 12 step groups are too 'culty' and focus too much on the spiritual. However, give yourself the chance to test it out and see if you feel that way. If you are married to an alcoholic - What do you have to loose?

Al-anon does offer support among an empathetic group who can relate to your problems. You are not under any obligation and can take it or leave it. Al-anon can also be a good place to learn about addictive behaviors and recovery.

Please click al-anon meetings for more on this organization.

Being married to an alcoholic is one of the most painful things you will ever have to cope with. Yet, it doesn't need to be, C.P.Lehman in his book, Help Me! I'm In Love With An Addict gives you the strategies that will enable you to find happiness and get your life back on well as other skills that are crucial when attempting to cope with an alcohol dependent.


Another option if you are married to an alcoholic is to go for counseling and/or therapy. You could do individual therapy by yourself, or you could opt to do marriage counseling if you spouse is agreeable to attending and participating.

The advantages of this (over Al-anon) is that it is one-to-one which means it is tailored just for you and your problems. Mental Health Professionals are unbiased, empathetic individuals who provide you with a safe space to talk through you worries, fears and concerns. 

Individual therapy would be an appropriate place to gain support for enabling behaviors, co-dependency and with learning to set healthy boundaries.

Therapy does take time, and depending on your insurance coverage, may be expensive to maintain.

Alcoholism and Marriage;
Should I Leave?

There are times when enough is enough, which is not uncommon with a marriage where one person is addicted to alcohol.  

It is never an easy decision to make and one that only you can make. It is not a sign of failure or weakness, rather it is a sign of strength.

There are many people who stay in loveless marriages that resulted from alcoholism. If you can relate to that, utilize your supports to figure out what a good plan for you would be. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Married To an Alcoholic;
When you MUST Leave

There are also times when it becomes necessary to leave an alcoholic spouse.


Abuse can take many forms. There is physical, verbal, emotional, even, financial abuse. If you are a victim of physical abuse then get out as quickly as you can. I know that it isn't that easy but there are places and people you can turn to for help.


If there are children or other dependents involved (that is living in the family unit). Then it is essential to take their welfare into consideration. Nobody likes to break up a family. But better a safe broken family than an unsafe family that doesn't work.

Married To an Alcoholic;
Alcoholic Intervention

An alcoholic intervention is when you employ the services of a third party.

His or her job is to help confront the alcoholic about their behavior and the impact it is having on them and those around them.

The ultimate goal of an alcoholic intervention is to persuade the alcoholic to go into alcohol addiction recovery.

Read alcoholic intervention for more on this course of action and employing the services of a professional interventionist.

"If your loved one is struggling with alcoholism and you want to speak to someone that understands, call our support assistants. As former addicts they are empathetic to the struggle you are facing. The conversation is free & they are available 24/7."

If you found this page helpful, then you might find the following related pages of interest:

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


Facts and statistics regarding alcohol use in the United States: Alcohol Facts and Statistics | National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) (

An article providing information about how to recognize addiction as well as how to talk to an alcoholic: How to Talk to an Alcoholic: Reaching Out, Connecting, and Offering Help (

An article discussing how alcohol affects family life: When alcohol affects family life | nidirect

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