Over 50% of adults in the United States know one close family member who has abused or is addicted to alcohol. Alcohol dependence can be defined as an increased tolerance to alcohol, withdrawal symptoms as alcohol consumption decreases, and as diminished control over drinking.
The dependent person continues to drink even with changes in cognitive, behavioral, and physiological symptoms. Alcohol abuse is defined as a maladaptive pattern of drinking that leads to clinically significant impairment or distress. The person who abuses alcohol drinks regardless of the alcohol related physical, social, psychological and/or occupational problems.
Impact of Alcoholism on Relationships
When a partner drinks, it can significantly affect the marriage and relationship. When a relationship is affected by alcohol, self-care of the addict couples the compulsive caretaking of the partner. This can create feelings of neglect or abuse in the partner and/or family.
According to the National Healthy Marriage Resource Center (NHMRC) offers some tools for women struggling with an addict partner. Many women and partners often blame themselves for their partner’s alcoholism. Often times because of these feelings, women tend to ignore or minimize the problem to reduce shame and potential social stigma. Alcohol abuse can have various effects on a relationship.
Effects reported are increased marital distress, increase anger and decreased ability of couple to communicate effectively. Increased hostile communication, expression of anger, and decreased unity in the relationship are all factors can create increased tension and psychological distress within the relationship.
Increased drinking can lead to the partners reduced family and home responsibilities. This increases stress on the non-drinking partner and leads to decreased satisfaction within the relationship. Seeking help through counseling can assist the family member with validation, verbalization of issues, and support.
Resources for Women
There are various resources for women with alcoholic partners. One is Al-anon which is a community based support group that works on a 12 step program. There are no dues or fees to attend al-anon. Groups are typically self-supporting and community based.
In 2012, Al-Anon membership survey showed 88% of newcomers who first came to a meeting because of a loved one’s addiction, later came to better understand the seriousness of that person’s alcohol problem.
Secondly, an intervention with the addict may be beneficial and appropriate to get the loved one into a recovery addictions program. The general guideline is to gather several family and friends together to confront the person with how drinking is affecting his or her relationships. In an intervention it is designed to move the addict through the states of change and go to treatment within a defined timeframe following the intervention.
It is advised to have an intervention in the presence of a trained professional and/or therapist to mediate discussions as well as offer program options for treatment. Thirdly, self-care for the non-alcoholic partner, is crucial. This involves getting support to cope with a partner who is an alcoholic. Also, engaging in educational workshops, family therapy, accessing community resources and Al-anon meetings can be tools to self-care and awareness.
Supporting an Alcoholic Partner
There are also several ways to support the alcoholic partner. One is to educate family and self, about the process of recovery and risks to relapse. Working on understanding the addict’s recovery process and barriers to achieving that can help the relationship strengthen.
Secondly, having open and honest communication with the partner can open discussions about best supports for the addict.
Third, understand that the relationship will change. As the addict works through recovery, part of the process is their own self-discovery.
Many times the addict seeks alcohol due to low self-esteem or low confidence. The recovering addict may make new friends, or become passionate about work or a hobby. Give them the space to explore their new interests and life without addiction.
Lastly, work on ways to strengthen the relationship and learning about each other without alcohol. If the alcoholic partner is unwilling to get help, then the non-alcoholic partner can access support for herself. Al-anon and Recovering Couples Anonymous (RCA) are community resources that can offer education, and support.
In conclusion, coping with an alcoholic partner can be stressful, and psychologically painful. There are various resources and supports for both the non-alcoholic partner and the addict. With supports, a treatment team, community resources, and family and friends who can help, it is management to rebuild a life outside of the addiction.
If you are concerned about a loved one’s addiction, please contact www.al-anon.org for further information. If you are concerned about your personal safety within a relationship, please contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline 24 hours a day at 1800-799-7233.
Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!
What resources have you utilized when coping with an alcoholic partner?
About the Author: Libby Lyons, MSW, LCSW, CEDS, is a Certified Eating Disorder Specialist (CEDS) who works with individuals and families in the area of eating disorders. Mrs. Lyons works in the metropolitan St. Louis area and has been practicing in the field for 11 years. Libby is also trained in Family Based Therapy (FBT) to work with children-young adults to treat eating disorders. Mrs. Lyons has prior experience working with the United States Air Force, Saint Louis University, Operating Officer of a Private Practice, and currently works with both Saint Louis Behavioral Medicine Institute within their Eating Disorders Program and Fontbonne University
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The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.
We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.
Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on November 21, 2016
Published on AddictionHope.com