These 10 ways to help a husband who drinks too much are partly based on my work in a residential recovery program with men who are alcoholics and drug addicts. I was also inspired to write this article by a reader, who is searching for ways to cope with her alcoholic husband.
“I’m so confused, I love my husband but I’m so depressed and sad,” says Kim on When to Leave Your Alcoholic Husband. “We fight a lot…he drinks for hours, several days a week. When he is sober he is a wonderful, sweet, funny, loving guy. Our fights happen when he has been drinking and I am sober…I hurt my back and was prescribed painkillers, and he’s taken at least half of my prescription. Tonight I wanted the half tablet I had left on my nightstand. I asked him about taking my medication, he said yes he took it. I tried to explain that I actually need it because my back is hurting, but he didn’t want to discuss it. I don’t tell my friends any of these stories, I don’t tell anyone, I don’t want their opinion of him to change…I think I need help…do you have any comments or suggestions for helping a husband stop drinking? Thank you.”
If you haven’t told anyone that your husband drinks too much, you are normal. You don’t want people to think differently of him, or of you. Plus, opening up about our marriage problems is hard. We care what people think. It’s painful to be honest when you’re living with a man is (or might be) an alcoholic.
It’s important to remember that you can get through this – you will survive! – but you have to be honest with people you trust. It takes courage to search the internet for help when you’re living with an alcoholic man. It takes even more strength, faith and hope to find ways to help your husband strop drinking. You are not alone.
These suggestions on how to help your husband stop drinking are inspired by my experience working with men recovering from alcoholism and drug addiction in a residential recovery program. Since our program was based on information from Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), I include their tips here, too.
10 Ways to Help Your Husband Stop Drinking
Contact Al-Anon. This organization is for the family and friends of alcoholics; they share their experience, strength and hope. You’ll meet other women with alcoholic husbands; you’ll also meet parents of children who drink, teens with parents and even siblings who are alcoholics, and even friends who are concerned about their friend’s drinking habits. Al-Anon has one purpose: to help the families and friends of alcoholics.
Alcoholism is a chronic, progressive disease. The proponents of Al-Anon believe it is a family disease that affects everyone. They also believe a wife can help her alcoholic husband stop drinking.
Can wives help their husbands stop drinking? Yes! But it depends on a variety of factors. For instance, long has your husband been drinking? Does he think he has a drinking problem, or does he refuse to admit he’s an alcoholic? Does your husband want to quit drinking? What has to change in his life? Should he go to a recovery program for alcoholics? Does your husband need counseling; should you and he go to marriage therapy that focuses on helping him stop drinking?
Take it one step at a time. Start with visiting Al-Anon, and reading through my tips for helping a man get sober.
1. Remember that your husband is not choosing to drink
If he’s an alcoholic, your husband no longer has the power to choose not to drink. 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 or a Higher Power, admit how powerless he is, and surrender his life.
Alcoholism is a disease that your husband will never be able to conquer on his own. He is powerless over the urge to drink. He may deeply love you – and it may even break his heart to choose the booze over you and your family – but he has no choice. That is why Alcoholics Anonymous advises people not to get angry when a family member has a drinking problem. It’s like getting mad at your husband’s cancer. Anger doesn’t help, it’s a waste of energy, and it just distracts you from healing and moving forward.
2. Consider an intervention for alcoholic husbands
Here’s some important information from Alcoholic.org’s article How to Help an Alcoholic Husband: If you think your husband drinks too much, take time to consider various ways to help him stop drinking. Remember that an alcoholic must have a desire to change before he accepts treatment. He should also believe that stopping his dependency on alcohol will benefit his life. Treatment centers and interventions can help an alcoholic recover – but there was to be a true desire to want to stop drinking.
A family intervention might help your husband see that his drinking problem is serious. 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 his alcoholism affects you and your family. With the interventionist’s help you may be able to get your husband to admit that he has an addiction problem. This is one way to help your husband stop drinking.
3. Protect your healthy relationships with other people
If your husband’s alcoholism is affecting or even destroying your relationships with loved ones, you must protect your connection with them. You vowed to love and honor your husband, yes…but you also have to make sure you’re healthy and supported.
Perhaps part of helping your husband stop drinking involves taking good care of your relationships with your children, family and friends. Take good care of yourself, too! Be gentle and compassionate, kind and tender to yourself. You’re coping with a husband who drinks too much, and it’s stressful. You’re searching for ways to help the man you married; you may feel angry, guilty, resentful, or even duped. Maintain and cherish your healthy, loving relationships with others. Staying emotionally and spiritually strong will help you help your husband stop drinking.
4. Don’t tell your husband what to do
In the “For Wives” chapter The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous advises women never to tell their husbands to stop drinking, or even say what husbands should do about the alcohol they consume. If your husband sees you as a pain or a nag, you won’t be able to help him stop drinking. He’ll misunderstood and criticized, and will withdraw or even lash out at you.
Allow your husband to make his own choices – even the foolish ones that revolve around his drinking problem. If your husband is abusive, find ways to leave or keep yourself safe. Stop letting your husband mistreat you and others. You do not deserve to be abused or even put on a lower priority than a bottle! Don’t let your husband’s alcoholism destroy more of your life.
If your husband’s drinking leads to verbal or physical abuse, read 5 Stages of Leaving an Abusive Relationship. Talk to someone you trust.
5. Let your husband explain his behavior to people
Let your husband make his own excuses to his employer, coworkers, family members, neighbors, church, etc. You aren’t protecting or honoring him by covering up or lying about his behavior. You’re creating a co-dependent marriage, which doesn’t help your husband stop drinking. If you really want to help your husband into recovery, don’t lie to people on his behalf. If you’ve been covering for your husband, wait until he’s sober and in good spirits before you tell him you can’t lie for him anymore.
When you cover for him, you’re enabling his behavior. This means you’re allowing and even passively encouraging him to keep drinking. Enabling an alcoholic husband includes covering up, providing alibis, minimizing the addiction, attempting to take control by getting rid of the alcohol, and removing consequences (such as bailing him out of jail or spending the grocery money on alcohol).
How will letting him make his own excuses help your husband stop drinking? By forcing him to be honest about what’s happening. If he can’t tell the truth about his behavior and choices, he can’t expect you to. It’s painful and embarrassing to be honest about what’s really happening in your home and marriage, but the truth can set the stage for healing and recovery.
6. Don’t allow your anger or pain to control you
“Never be angry” is one of AA’s principles for coping with a husband who drinks too much. According to The Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book, the first principle of helping your husband stop drinking is to not get mad at him. Even though he may become unbearable and you have to leave him temporarily, learn how to go in peace, patience, and a good temper.
“Leaving your marriage is an option to take, particularly if you are married to an alcoholic who is being abusive towards you,” writes Deborah Morrow on a website called Wives of Alcoholics. “This is a brave step to take and many who have been involved in an alcohol fueled relationship for some time find it hard to do. Why? Because their self esteem is at a low and such a brave decision is beyond them. It is generally advised to seek counseling or some other kind of help before making such a choice. However, if you are involved in an abusive relationship GET OUT AS FAST AS YOU CAN.”
If you can’t afford to leave your marriage, read How to Leave Your Husband When You Have No Money.
7. Find people to walk with
Who is walking with you? Sometimes the best way to help a husband stop drinking is to join forces with other wives. Consider gathering regularly to share tips, insights, resources and love.
Even better, find an Alcoholics Anonymous or Al-Anon group. Trying to deal with your husband’s drinking problem by yourself is futile. You can’t fight this battle alone – and neither can he. Get together with other women who need help and support coping with addicted family members.
8. Nurture your emotional and spiritual health
The foundation of Alcoholics Anonymous is spirituality; the belief is that the alcoholic is powerless to stop drinking because alcoholism is a disease. Your husband can’t summon the willpower to stop drinking. If he’s an alcoholic, he has no choice but to drink. If your husband wants to stop drinking he has to surrender his life, spirit, and body to God or a Higher Power.
To help your husband stop drinking, you need to do the same thing. Accept that you’re too weak and powerless to help your husband stop drinking. You can’t do this alone; you need to fall on God’s love, grace, compassion, strength, and faith. He loves you more than you know, and He will walk you through this…if you surrender to Him.
9. Remember that different husbands stop drinking in different ways
Some wives help their husbands stop drinking by reaching out to a pastor, counselor, parent, or even a supervisor at work. Will this help your marriage? It depends on you and your husband. Here’s what one husband said:
“Keep things as private as possible when seeking support,” writes Tony on How can I help my husband quit drinking? on the Daily Recovery Blog. “Another key point in our marriage. After my breakdown, my wife went to the pastor and her family for help. In doing so, I effectively became an outcast. What could have been a short term private separation became the talk of our small town. I don’t fault my wife for seeking help, but things became very public without my consent. Even in recovery I’m not sure how to even return to that town.”
3 thoughts on Tony’s advice to keep a husband’s drinking problem secret:
- Would Tony have stopped drinking if his wife hadn’t talked to their pastor? She needed help from an external support system; her husband may never have admitted that his drinking problem was so bad if their pastor wasn’t involved. External help is embarrassing and uncomfortable for both the recovering alcoholic and the family…but it may be the very thing a husband needs to stop drinking.
- People – especially spiritual advisors, counselors, family and close friends – knowing about his drinking problem is a natural consequence of recovering from alcoholism. If your husband was recovering from a different disease, people would know about it.
- Tony’s recovery isn’t something to be ashamed of or embarrassed about. In fact, recovering from alcoholism is something to celebrate and be proud of! If your husband doesn’t want anyone to know he stopped drinking, he doesn’t realize what a powerful impact he could have on others…especially those who are hiding secret addictions of their own.
10. Learn how to help your husband stop drinking
In Reclaim Your Life: You and the Alcoholic/Addict Carole Bennett offers specific communication tools to help and empower you. You’ll learn how to help your husband stop drinking, set realistic expectations, and implement healthy boundaries in your marriage.
Carole is also the author of Is There a Dry Drunk in Your Life? Answers to Unsettling Questions. Loving an alcoholic or drug-addicted husband is often confusing, unsettling and disheartening. It’s painful to watch your husband drink too much and destroy his life, health, relationships, and marriage.
You might be questioning if you contributed to his alcoholism or if it’s your fault – which may be partly why you’re searching for tips on how to help your husband stop drinking. Ultimately, you will realize that you are helpless. You can’t fix your husband’s problem…and this is heartbreaking.
Get the help you need by reading books like these, visiting Al-Anon, and leaning on your friends and family for support.
Your thoughts – big and little – are welcome below. How are you coping with your husband’s drinking problem?