Article at a Glance:

  • One person’s addiction affects the entire family.
  • A spouse of an addict can choose to do nothing, which is a common option but often a bad idea.
  • A spouse can confront the addict through a personal conversation or intervention.
  • Spouses should not enable addicts by excusing their behavior or caring for them when hungover.
  • It is important for spouses of addicts to get help for themselves too and not just for the addict.

If you are struggling with alcohol abuse, or you are involved with someone who is struggling with alcohol addiction, you’ve likely heard the phrase “alcoholism is a family disease.” But what exactly does this phrase mean, and what steps should you take if someone’s addiction begins affecting family life?

“Alcoholism is a family disease” basically means that one person’s addiction has effects on an entire family, whether that be physical or verbal abuse, failing to meet duties, or the person’s personality changing.

When this is the case in a family, all members should address the effects of alcoholism on themselves individually and as a whole. Sometimes this means attending Al-Anon meetings while other times it means removing oneself from the situation.

The following are options to consider when dealing with an alcoholic spouse:

1. Do nothing. While this may sound like an awful option, it is the decision that many with alcoholic spouses choose. Sometimes it becomes difficult to separate the person they married the person they have become.

Some spouses hold on to memories of the person they first knew, and cling to hope that that person will return on their own. In reality, an alcoholic will not likely get better on their own. This may not be a smart option, but many still choose it.

2. Confront them. This could be in a one-on-one conversation or in the form of intervention with others who are concerned about the person. Without confrontation, it’s unfair to expect a person to change. If you never tell them how their actions affect you, they will likely never know.

Confrontation can end badly, especially if the person is a functioning alcoholic in denial or has a history of verbal or physical abuse. For this reason, it may be smart to have other people present when confronting the alcoholic.

3. Do not enable them. This means you can’t take care of them when they’re hungover, or make excuses for their behavior.

If an alcoholic refuses to get help, the last thing you should be doing is making it easier for them to use and indirectly supporting their behavior and choices.

This may mean leaving the home you share, which can seem like too brash of a decision. However, it sometimes takes a harsh reality to make an alcoholic see a situation for what it is.

4. Find support for yourself. There are groups, like Al-Anon, that offer support to people who are struggling or suffering because of alcoholism or addiction.

The situation is not one you will be forced to go through alone, and you shouldn’t have that mindset. Some people have gone through and are going through the same situation, who can offer insight and advice, but most of all, understanding.

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