How To Cope With An Alcoholic Husband Or Wife, And Support Recovery
Alcohol addiction is a difficult situation to cope with, not only for the alcoholic husband or wife but for their families and spouses, as well. In fact, when your spouse is addicted to a substance, you immediately become the go-to person to pick up the pieces and deal with the consequences as they arise.
There are several stages that most spouses must go through if they are to successfully help their husband or wife recover from alcohol addiction. There are also post-help stages you may encounter if your alcoholic husband or wife refuses treatment or becomes a hazard to his or her family.
Stage 1: Getting Past Denial
Naturally, the denial stage is often the first phase that alcoholics experience – and also their loved ones as well.
During this time, one has to first acknowledge and truly accept that the problem exists before changes can even be considered.
This is harder than it sounds. If someone has an addiction disorder, their natural tendency will be to deny it and continue with life as normal. The addicted may be manipulative, secretive, and do whatever it takes to ensure you continue doubting the seriousness of her condition.
To get around this, you yourself must fully accept the fact that your spouse has a problem and likely needs help. You must also ready yourself to “stick to your guns”, so to speak, when he or she cries or complains that you are exaggerating the situation or overstepping your boundaries.
Alcohol addiction, by definition, is both a disease and mental illness. You cannot expect your spouse to approach it logically. If he could, then he would likely not be in this situation in the first place. Your job is to listen, but do not allow yourself to back down from facts you perceive to be true.
Stage 2: Expression Feelings And Concern
One of the hardest aspects of dealing with an alcoholic husband or wife is determining the best way to approach them about their problem.
When confronting a spouse about addiction, you have be strong and firm. However, using your own negative feelings to hammer down a point will only serve to make her defensive.
By negative feelings, I am primarily talking about blame, shame, and guilt. I cannot stress this enough – you cannot shame or guilt someone out of an addiction, nor should you try.
Instead, be supportive. Ask questions. Communicate your feelings, and listen to hers. Building a common ground and establishing a mutual agreement that there is a problem is the first step. From here, it is time to move forward and begin to consider changes that need to be made, and where and how help will be sought.
Stage 3: Moving Foward
There are many ways to move forward at this point, but realize that there is an “art” to getting your spouse to agree to changes without terrifying him right out of the gate
One way is to explore options with him to identify recovery approaches he appears most willing to try, and also which would be the best suited.
Getting him to take that step forward may be the hardest part of the whole process, but it’s also the most critical and most rewarding. For example, some people start the process by attempting to cut back and/or using a support group such as a 12-step program.
It’s true that it’s hard for many addicts and alcoholics to simply cut back, but it is still a step in the right direction. It’s called “harm reduction” – a concept that more and more addiction and substance abuse professionals are beginning to embrace.
Support groups can also include the participation of family members, and help normalize the experiences you and your spouse are going through. They can offer a tremendous amount of peer support, and provide a forum for both learning and expressing feelings.
That said, these approaches are a good start, but don’t work for everyone. Once you and your spouse begin to venture down your chosen path, you must continually monitor progress, without being too invasive. This can be difficult in of itself, because alcohol addicts need much support, but also some level of autonomy. This can be a very hard balance to achieve.
For this reason, many people seek out either outpatient therapy or residential treatment. When addicts and alcoholics enter a treatment program, they are individually assessed and needs and goals are identified at the onset.
This takes strain off of loved ones, and places them into an environment conducive to recovery where excuses no longer fly.
Additionally, professional treatment can involve a wide array of comprehensive approaches, including detoxification services, individual, family, and group therapy, as well as medication-assisted and holistic treatment approaches.
I’m not saying that addiction is something you necessarily have to throw everything at, including the kitchen sink. But truthfully, the more treatment options you employ, the better the chance of success. And often, multiple therapies working in conjunction with each other are found to be more effective than any one therapy is alone.
Stage 4: Considering The Worst Case Scenario
If your spouse does well during stage 3 (i.e. they cut back, quit, and/or receive treatment) you may never have to deal with stages 4 or 5. But they exist, unfortunately, because addiction is often a lifelong condition that not everyone is willing to accept for an extended period of time.
Moreover, if your alcoholic husband or wife is unwilling to change, get help, or can’t seem to make any progress, there comes a time when you may have to consider separation or divorce. This is especially true if there are children involved, and they are under distress over the substance abuse, as well.
Sometimes, people experience an extra boost of incentive when faced with losing their support system. But often, even the threat of divorce or losing custody of children is not enough. Addiction changes the way a person’s brain functions.
Simply put. this change is not easily undone, and the effects are long-lasting. There is no easy road to sobriety – not for the addicted, or for the ones that love them.
I would also like to add here that addiction is not personal – that is, the addict does not willingly choose the substance over his or her family, even though it may appear that way. Sometimes, it really is out of their control – at least for that moment.
This is an important concept to digest, because often, spouses of the addicted feel that they are less loved that the substance of choice, when in most cases, that is simply not true. It is just a matter of how the brain chemistry of the addict hijacks priorities, pleasures, and rewards.
Stage 5: Sticking To A Decision
If you do decide to leave, under whatever provisions, you have to stay true to your word. Backing down due to pleas such as “Give me one more chance!” isn’t going to help you, your alcoholic husband or wife, or your family.
Whether he or she changes because of divorce is up to him or her, not you. You can continue being a supportive friend without being in a relationship.
In the end, you have to protect yourself and your children from an environment conducive to substance abuse. Many people, during this final stage, continue to feel guilty about leaving. Honestly, however, if you have done everything in your power to help your spouse and stand by them, there often comes a point where there is simply no more you can do.
My sincerest hope for those of you who struggle with an alcoholic husband or wife is that you encourage him or her to receive professional help as soon as possible. Life has no guarantees, but as the condition progresses, many people come to the epiphany that immediate intervention and therapeutic treatment are the best options for breaking the downward spiral of addiction.
~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A., Psychology