These nine ways to help a husband who drinks too much are from my work in a residential recovery program for men who are alcoholics and drug addicts. I was also inspired to write this post by a reader, who is searching for ways to cope with her alcoholic husband…
“I’m so confused, I love my husband very much but I’m so depressed and sad I can barely stand it,” says Kim on Does He Love You? 7 Signs Your Marriage is Over. “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…think I need help…do you have any comments or suggestions for helping an alcoholic husband? Thank you.”
If you haven’t told anyone that your husband drinks too much, you are 100% normal! It is embarrassing to talk about our problems. We care what people think of us and our husbands, and we don’t want to admit that we’re struggling. It’s painful to be honest about living with an alcoholic. It’s scary to share the truth.
Healing is possible when you share the truth. You are being incredibly courageous by searching for tips on how to help a husband who drinks to much! You’re making a brave new start. Take a deep breath, and know you are not alone. Every hour, thousands of women search for ways to help their alcoholic husbands and boyfriends.
My tips on how to cope with – and help – an alcoholic husband are based on information from Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), as well as my experience working with men recovering from alcoholism and drug addiction in a residential recovery program. These tips range from educating yourself about Al-Anon to letting your husband suffer the consequences of his choice to drink.
8 Ways to Cope With Alcoholism in Your Marriage
Have you contacted Al-Anon? It’s an organization 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. Whether or not this is true – that wives can help their husbands overcome alcoholism – depends on so many factors! For instance, how long has your husband been drinking? Does he want to quit? What has to change in his life? Should he go to a recovery program for alcoholics? Does he need counseling or therapy?
This is a lot to think about. Take a deep breath, and know that everything will be okay. You will figure out how to cope and you will get through this…you just need to take it one step at a time for now.
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.
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 love you with all his heart – and it may break his heart to prioritize his drinking over you and your family – but he has no choice. That is why Alcoholics Anonymous advises families not to get angry. 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. Learn what is involved in an intervention for alcoholic husbands
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
Decide and be determined that your husband’s alcoholism won’t destroy your relationship with your children, your family, or your friends. You can still have a full, interesting, and joyful life even if you don’t know how to help your alcoholic husband stop drinking. Don’t set your heart on reforming him, or helping him stop drinking. You won’t succeed no matter how hard you try.
The most valuable tip on how to cope with an alcoholic husband is to take care of yourself. You have to protect your mind, body, soul and spirit! You need to learn how to love yourself, how recognize what you need and strengthen yourself.
4. Don’t tell him what to do about his drinking
In the “For Wives” chapter on how to help an alcoholic husband, the Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book 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.
Take a deep breath, and allow your husband to make his own choices. But, do not allow him to mistreat you or your loved ones. Draw the line at abuse, okay? You are a beautiful, loved, honorable woman who deserves to be treated with honor and respect. If your husband’s drinking problem causes him to treat you bad, just tell one person. Talk to someone you trust. Don’t keep his secrets — don’t hide in shame. Your husband’s drinking problem is not your fault.
Don’t let your husband’s disease destroy more of your life than it already has.
5. Let your husband explain his behavior 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.
“Enabling” is allowing or encouraging your alcoholic or addicted husband to continue drinking or doing drugs. Enabling an alcoholic 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 your grocery money on booze or drugs).
Another type of enabling is hiding what he’s doing from your family and friends. You’re protecting him and allowing him to continue drinking when you hide his actions from your loved ones. Instead, you need to be honest about what’s going on, even if it embarrasses or shames you. Remember that your husband’s alcoholism or addiction is his problem, and not a reflection of who you are.
Remember that there is a difference between learning how to help your husband deal with alcoholism, and falling into a codependent relationship.
6. Don’t allow your anger or frustration to control you
“Never be angry” is one of AA’s principles for coping with a husband who drinks too much. I’m not sure about this tip on how to cope with an alcoholic husband, but I’m sharing it anyway! The Alcoholics Anonymous Big 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.
“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 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.”
7. Get support for wives of alcoholic husbands
This is the most important tip for coping with a man who drinks too much: join with other women who are going through the same thing. Be vulnerable. It’s scary and difficult, but it’s the best way to learn and 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 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. A drinker can’t summon the willpower to stop drinking – when your husband is an alcoholic, he has no choice but to drink. If he wants to recover, he needs to turn his life, spirit, and body over to God (whatever he understands God to be).
To help your alcoholic husband, you need to do the same thing. Seek God’s love, grace, compassion, strength, and power. He loves you more than you could ever know, and He knows what you are going through.
We are weak and powerless when we are alone. The more you avoid your Higher Power, the weaker you will become. The more you hide your alcoholic husband’s actions and words, the faster your life will downward spiral. The less time you take to lift your face to your Creator and accept His grace and love, the more time you’ll spend in hell.
9. Learn from other husbands in recovery from alcoholism
To understand what your husband is struggling with, listen to what other men say about getting help with their drinking problem.
“Keep things as private as possible when seeking support,” writes Tony on How can I help my husband quit drinking? Some tips for dealing with an alcoholic spouse 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.”
When you’re getting help for your husband, respect his privacy.
Take care of your mind, body, spirit, and soul. That is the only way you’ll cope with a husband who drinks too much. You need to get emotionally and spiritually strong and healthy, and then you’ll know how to help your husband with his alcoholism.
If your husband needs factual information to help him stop drinking, he may find it helpful to read 10 Benefits of Staying Sober.
Coping With an Alcoholic, Addicted Husband
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.
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.
Your thoughts on how to help and cope with an alcoholic husband are welcome below. 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….and that God really is here for you.
You are loved more than you imagine. You were created for a purpose, even in the midst of this struggle. You are stronger than you think – especially when you seek God’s love, grace, power, and courage. Take heart, stay connected to God, and have faith.
Your thoughts are welcome below! I don't give advice, but you can get free relationship help from marriage coach Mort Fertel.