How to Help an Alcoholic Partner
Does My Partner Have an Alcohol Problem?
When you’re close to someone, it’s not always easy to see the progression from casual drinking to alcoholism. According to The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, AUD is the inability to control your alcohol intake even in the face of dangerous consequences. Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a medical condition that affects brain function. People can have mild or severe AUD, just like any other disorder. AUD is a chronic condition, which means relapse can occur and ongoing treatment is usually best.1
While only a doctor or a licensed addiction specialist can diagnose someone with an AUD, there are some signs that may mean your partner has a problem with alcohol. These signs include:1
- Spending a lot of time drinking and drinking more.
- Getting sick regularly from drinking.
- Focusing on or expresses the need to have a drink.
- Saying they will cut down or stop drinking, but don’t.
- Difficulty keeping up with family responsibilities because of drinking.
- Struggling to maintain family relationships or friendships due to drinking.
- Stopping or cutting down on doing activities they once enjoyed because they want to have more time for drinking.
- Continuing drinking even if physical or mental health starts to decline.
- Drinking more now than in the past due to an increased tolerance.
- Trying to stop drinking but having withdrawal symptoms, such as insomnia, the shakes, nausea, restlessness, sweating, and a rapid heart rate.
Even if you are noticing just a few of the signs from the list, there are ways you can provide support for your loved one and point them in the right direction to find help.
How to Talk to Your Partner about Their Alcohol Use
When talking to your partner about their alcohol use, there may not be a “right time” for the conversation. Your partner might not want to talk about it, but that doesn’t mean you should put it off. Starting the conversation is the first step to getting help.
First, it’s a good idea to wait until your partner hasn’t been drinking. Otherwise, they will probably be less willing to hear your concerns. Choose a quiet moment in a private setting with few distractions, such as at home or on a walk. You might be nervous or unsure, but that’s normal and completely okay. Remember to stay calm, be patient, and take a few deep breaths to help yourself stay on topic.
What to Say to Someone with Alcohol Use Disorder
It can be helpful to approach your partner in these ways:6
- Start by telling them that you are concerned about their drinking. Try saying something like, “I am worried about you, can we talk?”
- Listen to and acknowledge their feelings.
- Offer to help, such as by finding them a treatment program. You can also try asking, “What is the best way that I can support you?”
- Stay patient. Change doesn’t happen right away.
What Not to Say to Your Partner
It can be helpful to avoid some of these common pitfalls when talking to your partner about their alcohol use:5–7
- Don’t lecture them or say critical things.
- Don’t make them feel guilty.
- Don’t bribe or threaten them.
- Don’t call names or use labels. Remember that labels like “addict” or “alcoholic” can be hurtful.
- Don’t be confrontational. The types of “interventions” that you see on TV are rarely effective. They can even backfire and lead to anger or refusal to get treatment.
How to Help My Partner Seek Alcohol Treatment
The first step can be reaching out and calling an alcohol hotline for advice. Your information will be kept confidential, and you can get the necessary resources to move forward.
You can also encourage your partner to schedule an appointment to see their primary care physician.2 Talk openly about your concerns and let them know a medical professional can guide them toward proper treatment at an alcohol recovery center.
For alcohol rehab treatment to be effective, it’s best for the person to be in a supervised setting so that alcohol use can be monitored or prevented. This is especially important in the beginning stages of recovery. Also, since patients may be taking medication and going through the detox process, experts recommend at least three months of inpatient rehab and then continuing to outpatient and group therapies.4
Treatment Process for Alcohol Addiction
There are many different treatment options, such as:8
- Detox, which helps your partner safely undergo alcohol withdrawal and prepares them for further treatment.
- Inpatient rehab, where your partner will live onsite for the length of treatment and get 24/7 care and support.
- Outpatient rehab, which lets your partner live at home while going to rehab appointments on a set schedule.
Which setting is right for your partner depends on different factors, such as how much and how often they drink, their overall health, the level of support they have at home, and their insurance coverage. No matter which setting your partner chooses, treatment will most likely be a mix of different therapies, medications, and other services to help them start the path to recovery.9 This can include:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy to help your partner find ways to cope with triggers and modify behavior.4
- Group meetings provided by Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or SMART Recovery to get support from their peers.
- Family therapy, which is a way you can support your partner through the process and offer encouragement on their recovery journey.
Support for Partners of People with Alcohol Use Disorder
The need for support for partners of alcoholics is extremely common due to the mental and emotional strain of having an alcoholic partner. Some ways of making sure you’re also supported during this time include:
- Support groups, such as Al-Alon. This program consists of people who have been affected by someone else’s drinking, and it allows them a space to uplift, encourage, and support one another.
- Practice plenty of self-care. It might be easy to forget about your own life and health when caring for someone with an alcohol use disorder. However, if you don’t take care of yourself, you may not be in shape to help your partner. You can do this by eating healthy, exercising, meditating, spending time with friends and family, and attending therapy.
- Knowing the warning signs of alcohol misuse, expressing your concerns, and encouraging your partner to reach out for treatment.
- Not enabling your partner, and setting healthy boundaries. This can look like not lying for your partner about their alcohol use, loaning them money, or calling into work for them.
How to Find Alcohol Treatment for My Partner
No matter how things might seem right now, it’s never too late to get help. American Addiction Centers (AAC) can help you understand treatment options and answer questions if you’re not sure how to help a partner with alcohol use disorder.
We offer evidence-based AUD treatment at rehabs across the country that can help your partner regain control of their life. Please contact our free, confidential helpline at any time, day or night, to learn more about treatment options.