Alcoholism in Marriage: How to Cope When You’re Married to an Alcoholic


Being married to an alcoholic or even a recovering alcoholic can understandably lead to feelings of stress and hopelessness. When alcoholism and marriage coincide, a lot happens among both parties and the family. As you might know, alcohol use disorder affects the entire family and suddenly changes the family dynamics. When you’re married to someone with a substance use disorder, you might feel lost and scared about your relationship’s future. Keep reading to learn how to cope when you’re married to an alcoholic and how to be a supportive partner.

Alcoholism and Marriage

Someone with an alcohol use disorder makes drinking their priority, pushing other people and other things to the side. It’s common for marriages with alcoholic
partners to get into physical altercations, struggle with financial difficulties, and place strain on all family members.

Estimates believe between 10% to 45% of marriages in the United States are alcoholic marriages. Over time, researchers have studied the effects of alcoholism in marriage and found that:

  • Alcoholics are by far less likely to marry than nonalcoholic
  • Alcoholics who get married often either do so earlier or later than nonalcoholic
  • Recovering alcoholics are likely to reduce their alcohol use once married
  • Alcoholics are more likely to get divorced than nonalcoholic

Alcohol abuse can contribute to marital conflict, infidelity, domestic violence, unplanned pregnancy, and financial instability. Not to mention, it places a layer of stress and psychological strain that can be burdensome for anyone.

How Alcoholism Affects the Family Dynamics

Alcoholism can increase rates of divorce by at least 20%. It also increases irrational actions, including domestic abuse. Alcoholism in marriage can also cause significant distress, anger, resentment, dysfunctional communication, and mental health strain.

Today, about 1 in every 8 children grow up in a home where a parent or caregiver abuses drugs or alcohol. Being around alcoholism can also affect how children function later in life. In the short term, children may develop indifferent or demanding behaviors. Long-term, children who grew up in alcoholic marriages can develop PTSD, anxiety, and depression. Children of addicts are more likely to develop substance use disorders when they grow up. They’re also three times more likely to be neglected physically and sexually abused.

When there’s a family unit, alcoholism significantly changes the family dynamics. First of all, nonalcoholic spouses might often blame themselves or try to control the problem by themselves. These effects will trigger a chain of reactions that can place a significant burden on any marriage.

Another interesting result of alcoholism in marriage is the dynamic of the enabler. The enabler figure often appears in families with small children. As nonalcoholic partners want their children to live in a happy and safe environment, they’re likely to make excuses and cover up the evidence of alcoholism to make the problem disappear. However, in reality, they’re enabling the alcoholic’s behavior and patterns.

Codependency is another common effect of having an alcoholic marriage. Once a partner becomes an enabler, they can become co-alcoholics by helping their loved one with their alcohol abuse without noticing. Codependency treatment is also available in rehab and can be highly effective.

Top Books On Alcoholism and Marriage to Consider

For alcoholic marriages, there are many books on alcoholism and marriage that can be helpful. These are some popular books on alcoholic marriages to consider:

Can a Marriage Survive Alcoholism?

Many marriages do survive alcoholism. The first step is to seek help and consider having an intervention. With an intervention, your loved one can hopefully recognize their need for help. In this case, it’s always best to come prepared and already have a treatment center selected. Many rehab centers will work with you in organizing the intervention. The idea is to have everything ready in case the addict accepts help.

But addiction affects everyone in the family. Since alcoholism often strains relationships, it’s important to incorporate couples counseling and family therapy as part of the treatment. Seeking help for your loved one, for yourself, and your family is important.

It’s also important to note that you’re not supposed to save anyone from addiction – it’s not your role., if ultimately you have to consider divorce, don’t blame yourself. Seek help from support groups like Al-Anon family groups, or consider speaking to an addiction counselor to find the support you need to focus on your mental health as well.


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