Alcohol addiction is a legitimate medical condition that requires treatment, but if your partner refuses treatment, it may be time to consider ending the relationship.

Article at a Glance:

If your spouse or significant other has an alcohol addiction, they’ll show symptoms like being unable to reduce their drinking, continuing to drink despite causing problems at work or home, and drinking even when it’s dangerous, like driving under the influence.

If you’re in a relationship with an alcoholic, you may experience financial difficulties, stress related to managing household responsibilities on your own, and frequent conflict around your partner’s alcohol abuse.

Alcohol addiction can be treated, but if your partner continues to abuse alcohol and does not seek help, it may be time to consider whether you should leave the relationship.

When Should I Leave an Alcoholic?

Being in a relationship with a spouse or significant other who has an alcohol addiction can be complicated. It can be emotionally painful to watch someone you love fall victim to alcohol abuse, and you may live with constant stress and worry about their health and well-being. If you are taking on the brunt of the household duties because of your partner’s alcohol abuse, you are probably also exhausted and overwhelmed.

If you have been living with a partner with an alcohol addiction, you may be wondering when it’s time to leave an alcoholic. There’s no right or wrong way to deal with an alcoholic significant other, but understanding the warning signs of alcohol abuse and when to seek help may allow you to make a more informed decision regarding your future together.

What are the Warning Signs of Alcohol Addiction?

It’s hard to be objective when determining whether or not your significant other has a problem with abusing alcohol. Also, it’s not always easy to know how much is too much within a culture of social drinking.

Although it’s not always clear-cut, here are some of the most common warning signs of alcoholism:

  • They lie about or hide their drinking from you.
  • They regularly black out after drinking.
  • Once they start drinking, they are unable to stop or cut themselves off.
  • They drink in dangerous situations, such as before work or driving.
  • They neglect their responsibilities like work or school.
  • They struggle to maintain positive and healthy relationships.
  • They’re able to drink significantly more than they used to.
  • They experience withdrawal when they try to stop drinking.
  • They try to quit but can not.

These signs are related to an alcohol use disorder, which is the clinical term for alcoholism or an alcohol addiction. If your partner has an alcohol use disorder, they will demonstrate some of the diagnostic criteria for this condition. There are 11 symptoms associated with an alcohol use disorder, but a person only needs to demonstrate two of them for a diagnosis. Some symptoms include spending a significant amount of time drinking, continuing to drink even when it interferes with relationships, and showing signs of alcohol tolerance and withdrawal.

What Problems Come With Dating or Being Married to an Alcoholic?

If you’re asking yourself whether it is time to leave a partner who has an alcohol addiction, you’re probably experiencing some of the problems that go along with being in a relationship with an alcoholic. These can include the following:

  • Bills go unpaid because your partner is spending household funds on alcohol.
  • You have to manage the majority of household responsibilities because your partner spends a significant amount of time drinking or being sick from drinking.
  • Your partner has lost their job due to alcohol abuse, and you feel pressure to be the family breadwinner.
  • You and your spouse or significant other spend a considerable amount of time fighting about their alcohol use.
  • Your partner neglects the children because they’re spending so much time away from home drinking or recovering from alcohol use.
  • Your partner refuses to participate in activities you once enjoyed, such as going for walks together or going out to movies or sporting events, because they only want to spend time in activities involving alcohol.
  • This may not always be the case, but sometimes, alcohol can lead to domestic violence within a relationship. In fact, research shows that husbands who are dependent upon alcohol are more likely to perpetrate violence against their wives.

Can Alcoholics Change?

People who struggle with alcohol abuse can change because the reality is that alcohol addiction is a legitimate medical condition that can get better with treatment. This doesn’t mean that change will be easy; overcoming addiction requires a conscious choice to make changes and active participation in recovery.

A recent study found that 59% of people with an alcohol addiction were able to successfully complete treatment within a year without having to return to treatment within six months of completion. People were more likely to be successful with treatment if they were employed, received treatment within their communities after completing an inpatient or residential program, and were referred to treatment by family or self-referral.

How Can I Encourage an Alcoholic Partner To Get Help?

Although it may not feel like your place, it’s not unreasonable to ask your significant other to get help for their addiction. You are their life partner, and their addiction has a serious effect on your relationship. However, it’s often a difficult subject to approach.

Sit down one-on-one in a quiet setting and talk about the situation. Let them know how you feel and your concerns about their drinking habits. Express your love and concern, and encourage your significant other to get help – whether it’s by attending AA meetings or entering inpatient alcohol addiction treatment.

Don’t be surprised if they’re in deep denial or defensive when it comes to their addiction. This is common among high-functioning alcoholics, but there are ways to deal with it. Approach the situation in a calm, non-defensive manner, and ask if your partner has noticed any ways that alcohol has negatively affected them or the family. Be prepared to share with your partner the way their drinking has negatively affected you as well.

Do I Need To Stop Drinking if My Partner Is an Alcoholic?

If your partner is an alcoholic and you want them to have a successful recovery from alcohol addiction, you will probably need to stop drinking. One of the key symptoms of an alcohol use disorder is an inability to cut back on drinking. People with alcohol addictions also tend to drink more than intended. While you may be able to limit yourself to one drink during a social outing, your partner who lives with alcoholism will struggle to limit their drinking. Witnessing you drinking can trigger their own alcohol abuse and lead to a relapse.

Seeing you drinking can also make it difficult for your partner to give up alcohol. They may tell themselves that if you are drinking, it is okay for them to drink, too. Furthermore, your partner may feel that you do not support their recovery if you continue to drink.

When is it Time to Leave the Relationship or Marriage with an Alcoholic?

There are many reasons a person chooses to stay with an alcoholic significant other, but it often boils down to fear. People may be fearful of living without their significant other or subjecting children to their parents’ separation. Although the fear may be there, it’s no reason to stay in a relationship that makes you unhappy or puts you in danger.

If your significant other is committed to getting help and is ready to make a change, the best choice may be to stay with them and support them on their recovery journey. On the other hand, if you’re stuck in an unhealthy relationship full of lies, arguments or abuse, it may be best to leave. This is especially true if you have given your significant other the opportunity to enter treatment, but they have continued to refuse or deny that there is a problem. You may have to give a final ultimatum, in which you tell your partner you will leave if they do not immediately enter treatment for alcohol addiction.

Related: How to Leave a Toxic Relationship

If you are the partner of someone who abuses alcohol, there is support available. You may consider attending a local Al-Anon group, where you can receive support from others who are worried about a loved one’s drinking. If your spouse or significant other is ready to seek treatment, The Recovery Village has locations across the country and can treat alcohol use disorders and co-occurring mental health conditions like depression. We believe in involving the family in the treatment process to increase your partner’s chances of success. Reach out to us today.

a man sitting on a bed with his head in his hands.
Can I Detox From Alcohol At Home?

Alcohol detox isn’t easy and not everyone can do it on their own. That is why alcohol detox and alcohol withdrawal treatment is administered by medical professionals.

a person holding a glass of beer on a couch.
Am I An Alcoholic?

Alcoholism takes many forms, and the stereotype doesn’t always hold true. So when do a few drinks with friends become a full-blown alcohol addiction? How do you know if you are an alcoholic?

a woman holding her stomach in front of her stomach.
Repairing Liver Damage From Alcohol Use

While cirrhosis scars from excessive drinking are irreversible, quitting alcohol and leading a healthier lifestyle can help your liver heal from alcohol-related liver disease.

a table topped with fruits and vegetables next to juice.
Foods to Eat When Detoxing From Alcohol

When detoxing, hydration is key. However, certain food groups also have benefits when it comes to helping with the discomfort of withdrawal symptoms and detoxification.

a white alarm clock sitting on top of a wooden table.
How Long Does Alcohol Detox & Withdrawal Take?

Detox from alcohol can begin within hours. Typically, alcohol withdrawal symptoms happen for heavier drinkers. Alcohol withdrawal can begin within hours of ending a drinking session.

a group of people holding glasses of beer.
What Are the Effects of Daily Drinking?

Daily drinking can have serious consequences for a person’s health, both in the short- and long-term. Many of the effects of drinking every day can be reversed through early intervention.

a woman wearing glasses and a blazer.
Editor – Melissa Carmona
Melissa Carmona puts years of writing and editing experience to work helping people understand substance abuse, addiction and mental health disorders. Read more
a close up of a person with blue eyes.
Medically Reviewed By – Jenni Jacobsen, LSW
Dr. Jenni Jacobsen is a licensed social worker through the Ohio Counselor, Social Worker and Marriage and Family Therapist Board. She has over seven years working in the social work field, working with clients with addiction-related and mental health diagnoses. Read more

Eastwood, Brian, et al. “Effectiveness of inpatient withdrawal and residential rehabilitation interventions for alcohol use disorder: A national observational, cohort study in England.”  Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, May 2018. Accessed May 10, 2021.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Understanding alcohol use disorder.” April 2021. Accessed May 10, 2021.

Testa, Maria, et al. “Husband and Wife Alcohol Use as Independent or Interactive Predictors of Intimate Partner Violence.” Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 2012. Accessed May 20, 2021.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.