These tips for coping with an alcoholic husband – or a spouse who drinks too much – are inspired by my work in a residential recovery program for men who are alcoholics and drug addicts.
Read Reclaim Your Life: You and the Alcoholic/Addict by Carole Bennett for specific communication tools that empower you to implement confident boundaries in your marriage. I can’t tell you everything you need to know about coping with an alcoholic man in this blog post. You need to work through this process — and know that reclaiming your respect, dignity, and peace of mind are achievable goals.
Below, my tips on how to cope with – and help – an alcoholic husband are based on information from Alcoholics Anonymous, as well as my experience working with men in the residential recovery program for alcoholics and drug addicts.
These tips range from educating yourself about Al-Anon to letting your husband suffer the consequences of his choice to drink. I hope they help you face the reality of alcoholism and get the support you need.
Remember that you can’t help your husband cope with alcoholism by yourself. In fact, there is nothing you can do to reform or change him…you can only change how you respond to his drinking problem.
The more you read and learn about alcoholism, the better able you’ll be to help the man you love, save your marriage, and pull your family back together. But remember that stopping him from drinking is not YOUR responsibility. You can support and walk alongside your husband, but you can’t make him change unless he is ready.
8 Ways to Cope With an Alcoholic Husband
Have you contacted Al-Anon yet? It’s is an organisation for the relatives and friends of alcoholics, who share their experience, strength and hope with each other in order to solve their common problems. Al-Anon has one purpose: to help the families and friends of alcoholics. Anonymity is an important principle of the Al-Anon program.
Alcoholism is a chronic, progressive disease – and the proponents of Al-Anon believe it is a family disease. They also believe a wife can help an alcoholic husband stop drinking.
1. Remember that he is not choosing to drink
As an alcoholic, your husband no longer has the power to choose not to drink, so he needs spiritual power to quit drinking. He can’t overcome the disease of alcoholism by himself or through willpower. The only thing he can do is turn to God, admit how powerless he is, and turn his life over to a Higher Power who can save him.
2. Think about having an intervention
Here’s some important information from Alcoholic.org’s article How to Help an Alcoholic Husband:
If you think he drinks too much – or if you even find yourself thinking but not saying “My husband is an alcoholic” out loud – then you need to think about the best way to help your husband stop drinking. Remember that an alcoholic husband must have a desire to change before he accepts treatment, and he should believe that stopping his dependency on alcohol will benefit his life. Treatment centers and interventions can help an alcoholic recover. Admitting that there is a problem is the first step to recovery, so it may be important to have an intervention.
During an intervention, a special interventionist can help you work with your husband and talk out the problem. You will be able to express how the alcoholism affects you, and with the interventionist’s help you may be able to get your husband to admit that he has a drinking problem.
3. Do what you can to protect your relationships with others
Be determined that your husband’s alcoholism won’t spoil your relationship with your children, your family, or your friends. You can still have a full, interesting, and good life even if you can’t learn how to help an alcoholic husband stop drinking. Don’t set your heart on reforming him, or helping him stop drinking. You may be unable to do so, not matter how hard you try.
4. Don’t tell him what to do about his drinking
In the “For Wives” chapter on how to help an alcoholic husband, it advises women never to tell their husbands to stop drinking or what to do about his drinking. If he sees you as a nag or killjoy, your chance of helping him may be zero. He will feel misunderstood and criticized, which won’t help him stop drinking.
5. Let your husband explain his life to people
Whenever possible, let him make his own excuses to his employer, coworkers, family members, neighbors, church community, etc. Don’t protect him, don’t lie to people to cover up his drinking problem. If you are serious about helping your husband with his alcoholism, you won’t lie to people who have a right to know where he is and what he is doing. Talk about this with him when he is sober and in good spirits.
Remember that there is a difference between learning how to help your husband deal with alcoholism, and falling into a codependent relationship.
6. Never be angry
I’m not sure about this tip on how to cope with an alcoholic husband, but I’m sharing it anyway! The Alcoholics Anonymous book says that the first principle of success is to never be angry with your husband for his drinking problem (disease). Even though he may become unbearable and you have to leave him temporarily, they advise you to go in peace, patience, and a good temper.
4 Ways to Create Love and Peace in an Unhappy Marriage might help you learn how to rein in your anger and frustration.
7. Get support for wives of alcoholic husbands
This is the most important tip for coping alcoholic husbands: Get help.
Find the closest Alcoholics Anonymous group, or the nearest Al-Anon group. Trying to deal with your husband’s alcoholism on your own is futile, and will set you up for disappointment and despair. Join forces with other women who need help with their alcoholic husbands.
Get support, give support. Help yourself, and you’ll learn how to help an alcoholic husband help himself.
8. Hold on to your own spirituality
The foundation of Alcoholics Anonymous is spirituality. The alcoholic is powerless to stop drinking because alcoholism is a disease. A drinker can’t summon the willpower to stop drinking – when he is an alcoholic, he has no choice. He needs to turn his life and body over to God (whatever he understands God to be)…and I believe that to help an alcoholic husband, you need to do the same thing.
To learn more, read How to Live With and Love an Alcoholic Boyfriend.
I welcome your thoughts on coping with an alcoholic husband. I can’t offer advice, but you may find it helpful to share your experience. I know I haven’t offered any brilliant insights or ways to help him overcome his drinking problem, but I hope you see you’re not alone.
I especially hope you reach out to other women whose husbands are struggling with alcoholism, so you can gain strength, comfort, and solidarity.
Your thoughts are welcome below! I don't give advice, but you can get free relationship help from marriage coach Mort Fertel.