How to Help An Alcoholic Wife
If you’re concerned about your wife’s drinking, you may have struggled to find ways to help her. It’s normal and understandable to want to help because you care about her wellbeing, and you want her to be happy and healthy. Seeking help early may help lower her risk of many alcohol-related problems, including severe mental and physical health concerns, relationship and family issues, and more.1
This article will help you understand what you should know about alcohol addiction and explain different ways that you can help your spouse..
What Is Alcohol Addiction?
Medical professionals diagnose alcohol addiction as an alcohol use disorder (AUD).1 AUD is a chronic medical disease that can cause lasting changes in the brain and body.1,2 These changes can make it hard for a person to stop drinking, and many people keep drinking to avoid withdrawal symptoms.1,2
AUD can impact a person’s thoughts and behaviors to the point where they are unable to control their alcohol use. People with AUD cannot “just stop drinking” on their own; it can require multiple attempts at treatment, support, and dedication to start and maintain lasting recovery.1
I Think My Wife Drinks Too Much
Only a doctor or licensed addiction specialist can diagnose someone with AUD, but it can be helpful to know the criteria and potential warning signs. Diagnostic criteria include:1
- Drinking more than the person originally intended.
- Wanting to cut down their alcohol intake but being unable to do so.
- Having problems in their lives caused by drinking.
- Feeling cravings or strong urges to drink alcohol.
How to Deal with an Alcoholic Wife
There are many ways to help your wife if you’re worried about her drinking. Keep in mind that if she’s drunk, it’s probably not the best time to start the conversation about her alcohol use. It’s better to wait until she’s sober and you’re in a private setting with no distractions so you can address your concerns.4 At the same time, you don’t have to wait to talk to an alcoholic spouse until she seems ready, because that may never be the case.
However, confrontation may not be the best way because this can cause her to become defensive, and your efforts may backfire.5 Instead, approach your wife from a place of love and empathy, not judgment or criticism. You should also understand that while it’s not up to you to get your wife to stop drinking, your encouragement and support may motivate her to seek help.6
What to Say to Someone with Addiction
Helpful, productive ways to talk to your spouse about drinking include:4,6
- Being direct and honest. Let your wife know that you are concerned about the impact her drinking is having on her life and your relationship. Use “I” statements, such as “I am concerned about you,” rather than stigmatizing or critical statements like “you’re becoming an alcoholic.”
- Listening to her feelings. Let your wife know that her feelings are valid and express a desire to hear what she has to say without judgment.
- Offering to help. Tell your spouse you’re willing to help her do what it takes, such as scheduling a doctor’s appointment for an evaluation, calling treatment centers, or bringing her to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings. You could also offer to attend family or group therapy or provide whatever additional support she may need.
- Being patient and calm. It can take several attempts at the conversation, so don’t force things if she’s not yet ready or willing to hear you.
What Not to Say to Your Loved one
There are also common pitfalls when it comes to talking to your wife about her alcohol use. For example:
- Don’t lecture or criticize her. This can cause her to shut down or become defensive, and no one wants to be told what to do or what they’re doing wrong.
- Don’t be confrontational. Research shows that confrontational interventions can cause defensiveness, and your wife may be less willing to hear what you have to say. Instead, encourage her to at least talk to her doctor if she doesn’t want to talk to you.5
- Don’t blame her. It’s important to let your wife know that you see she’s struggling and that you only want to help her get better.
- Don’t enable her. This means avoiding actions and activities that seem like helping but only perpetuate her alcohol use.
Resources and Support for Spouses of Alcoholics
Taking care of yourself is important because living with an alcoholic spouse is challenging, and your needs matter too. Plus, if you’re exhausted or drained, you’re going to be much less equipped to help your wife. You might consider seeking counseling, which can provide a safe place for you to talk about your feelings and discuss ideas about ways to support your wife.
As mentioned above, it’s important to stop enabling your wife’s alcohol use. Enabling behaviors can include:6
- Calling in sick to work for her when she’s hungover.
- Buying alcohol for her or giving her money to do so.
- Making excuses to family or loved ones about her alcohol use.
- Paying her bills or legal fees.
- Drinking alcohol with her or around her.
Setting boundaries is another important tool to help you stay safe and healthy. Good boundaries let your wife know what you will and will not tolerate. This protects you and helps her understand the limits in your relationship, which can set the stage for a healthier, and ultimately happier, relationship. You can say things such as:6
- “I will not lie to our friends or family about your drinking anymore.”
- “I will not call in sick for you anymore.”
- “I will not give you money to buy alcohol anymore.”
- “I do not want to be around you when you’re drinking.”
Treatment for Alcohol Addiction
There are many different treatment options that can help your wife recover from alcohol addiction. The type of treatment that is right for her can depend on her unique needs, such as:
- The severity of her alcohol use.
- Her overall health.
- Whether she uses other substances.
- Her insurance coverage.
- Detox. This is often the first step in the recovery process. It can help your wife safely stop drinking, go through withdrawal in a supportive environment, and help her become medically stable so she can enter further treatment.
- Inpatient rehab. Your wife will live onsite for the duration of treatment and get 24/7 care, support, and monitoring.
- Outpatient rehab. Your wife will live at home and attend rehab on a set schedule.
If your wife refuses to enter treatment, you might consider finding a therapist who can teach you the CRAFT approach. CRAFT is a type of therapy for loved ones of people with alcohol problems. It provides a variety of strategies that may help you get your wife into treatment.8
How to Find Treatment for My Wife with AUD
If you think your wife may be struggling with alcohol use, it’s better to take action now, because alcohol problems can worsen if left untreated.9 American Addiction Centers (AAC) is a leading provider of alcohol treatment in the United States, with facilities and programs throughout the country.
No matter how bad things might seem right now, there is always hope; with proper treatment, people can and do recover from AUD.1 Please reach out to our free, confidential helpline at to learn about the rehab options that might be right for your wife’s needs.