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What Should I Do If My Husband Can’t Stop Drinking?

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Unfortunately, there is no one answer to “What should I do if my husband can’t stop drinking?”. However, knowledge is power, and if you have come here looking for solutions then you are already on the right path. 

Continue reading below to discover, not only how to tell if your spouse is drinking too much, but also what you can do to help intervene. 

How Do I Know My Husband Is Drinking Too Much?

If you are concerned about your husband’s alcohol consumption, you are not alone. Alcoholism is a pervasive problem that, some studies show, is a leading cause of death and disability across the world. 

Knowing when to be concerned about a loved one’s drinking can be difficult, particularly as the person who is drinking may deny there is a problem, or even hide their drinking from you. The shortest answer to whether or not your husband is drinking too much, is a question: 

Does your husband continue to drink despite his drinking causing or exacerbating problems in his life, your life, or your family’s lives?

Alcohol addiction, at the root of things, is about compulsive drinking despite negative consequences and with a loss of control over the alcohol consumption. Whether someone meets criteria to be diagnosed with an addiction or not (discussed further below), their drinking can still be having a negative impact on you and your loved ones. 

Some other signs you can keep an eye out for that may indicate the need for intervention include: 

  • Changes in social behaviours or circles
  • Changes in mood or personality
  • Decline in work or academic performance
  • Neglecting responsibilities
  • Changes to weight or appearance
  • Hiding or lying about drinking
  • Defensiveness about their drinking
  • Neglecting their health and wellbeing

Is My Husband an Alcoholic?

This question can depend on whether a person is looking for clinical diagnostic criteria of ‘alcoholism’ (properly referred to as substance use disorder) or a more generic label of ‘alcoholic’. Above we explored some non-clinical ways in which a person may demonstrate a problematic relationship with a substance. 

Based on the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition), diagnostic criteria for substance use disorder, here are some more clinically based questions you may use to determine if your husband may have an addiction to alcohol: 

  • Does he ever drink alcohol in larger amounts or over longer periods of time than he intends to?
  • Has he ever made an attempt to cut down or stop drinking alcohol altogether, but was unable to? 
  • Does he spend a great deal of time obtaining, drinking, and recovering from the effects of alcohol?
  • Does he ever express cravings or strong desires to drink?
  • Does he continue to drink alcohol, despite it causing him to fail in fulfilling his responsibilities at home, university, or at work? 
  • Does he continue to drink alcohol despite it causing social problems, or problems within his relationships that are either caused by, or exacerbated by his drinking?
  • Has he drank alcohol in situations that were physically dangerous, multiple times?
  • Has he continued to drink despite experiencing, and being aware of, recurring physical or psychological problems that have been caused by, or exacerbated by, alcohol?
  • Does he need to drink more alcohol than he used to to get the same effects?
  • Does he ever experience withdrawal symptoms when not drinking, that are then alleviated when he starts drinking again?

It is important to remember that only a qualified mental health professional can diagnose someone with a substance use disorder. If you notice that your husband meets 2 or more of these criteria, it may be time to see that professional guidance and support. 

It is also worth noting that someone may have a ‘problematic relationship’ with alcohol, without necessarily being addicted to it. The key difference is mainly that problems resulting from drinking are less common and do not serve as a chronic and pervasive drain on quality of life. These individuals also demonstrate more flexibility and control over their drinking, being able to limit and stop drinking when needed or desired. 

What Is Labelling?

In this context, labelling refers to using a term such as ‘addict’ or ‘alcoholic’ to ‘label’ someone, and identify them based on their behaviour regarding substances, or more specifically, alcohol. While this is very common in everyday language, using terms like this can have a range of negative effects and impacts. 

Primarily, this kind of language is very stigmatising. This means it can create situations where people are unfairly judged and then unfairly treated. It may then further contribute to a lack of empathy towards this person, with many people seeing a stereotype as opposed to the person themselves. 

Stigmatisation can go a step further, and lead to internalisation of these labels which then negatively impacts the person’s self-esteem and belief in their ability to change or recover from their addiction. Labels can create a sense of permanence, making it more challenging for individuals to envision a future without the constraints of the label. 

Even if someone with an addiction did want to make changes, the fear of being labelled as an ‘addict’ or ‘alcoholic’ can be a significant barrier to seeking help. Individuals may avoid treatment due to concerns about how they will be perceived by others.

In addressing addiction and alcoholism, it’s important to adopt person-first language and emphasise the individual’s potential for change and growth. Using non-stigmatising language helps promote understanding, empathy, and a more supportive environment for individuals seeking help. 

Why Does My Husband’s Drinking Bother Me So Much?

It’s natural for a spouse to be affected emotionally when their partner’s drinking becomes a concern. Addiction especially is a family illness, and the ripple effects of alcoholism are wide-reaching. There are many ways addiction can impact you and your partner, and this may be contributing to why you are so concerned. 

The primary reason for your concern is likely rooted in care and love. Witnessing someone you care about engaging in potentially harmful behaviour can be emotionally challenging. Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to various health issues, including liver problems, cardiovascular issues, and an increased risk of accidents or injuries.

Alcohol use disorder can also strain relationships. It may lead to communication breakdowns, emotional distance, and conflicts within the family. Seeing a loved one struggle with alcohol can evoke a range of emotions, including worry, fear, sadness, frustration, and helplessness. 

If your husband’s drinking is causing significant distress, be sure to communicate your feelings openly and encourage him to seek professional help. Seeking support for yourself, such as through therapy or support groups for family members of individuals struggling with alcohol use, can also be beneficial in navigating these challenging situations.

What Can I Do to Help My Husband Stop Drinking?

It is important to remember that people will only engage in behaviour change if they perceive their behaviour to be change-worthy. That is to say, no one can be forced to stop drinking and enter recovery; it must be a choice they make themselves. 

However, this does not mean that we are powerless and must wait patiently until some outside force intervenes. Some steps you can take to support your partner in reducing or quitting drinking include: 

  • Express Concern With Empathy: When you broach the subject with your husband, try to remember that you are doing so from a place of love and concern. Use “I” statements to avoid triggering defensiveness such as “I am worried about your drinking” instead of “You’re an alcoholic”
  • Encourage Open Communication: Create an environment where your husband feels comfortable discussing his struggles without fear of judgement. Active listening is crucial during these conversations.
  • Avoid Enabling Behaviours: Avoid inadvertently supporting or covering up for your husband’s drinking. Set clear boundaries to prevent enabling, and stick to them.
  • Encourage Healthy Coping Mechanisms: Help your husband find alternative ways to cope with stress or difficult emotions that don’t involve alcohol. This could include exercise, hobbies, or mindfulness practices.
  • Plan Sober Activities: Suggest and participate in activities that don’t involve alcohol. This can help shift the focus away from drinking while still spending quality time together.
  • Seek Professional Help: Identify sources of professional help that can support both you and your husband in the recovery process. Medicalised inpatient facilities such as Clinic Les Alpes are able to provide both detox and rehabilitation treatment in a secure, luxurious, and fully confidential environment under one roof. This can be a great way to jumpstart recovery and hit the reset button on drinking. 
  • Consider an Intervention: If your husband is resistant to seeking help, you may explore the option of a professionally guided intervention. This involves a carefully planned and facilitated discussion about the impact of his drinking on himself and those around him.

Please remember that these recommendations are delivered under the assumption that you and others are not at risk of danger, harm, or abuse. Addiction is not an excuse to justify abuse, and if you are at risk, please seek immediate support and intervention from a local provider. There is no cause or justification for you to suffer needlessly, and you can continue to support your husband’s journey to sobriety from a place of safety. 

Conclusion

The answer to “What should I do if my husband can’t stop drinking” is not a simple one, but armed with knowledge and compassion, Clinic Les Alpes hopes to support you in your family’s journey towards recovery. 

Clinically Reviewed By

Brittany Hunt

Brittany Hunt is an internationally experienced clinician, specialised in treating addictions and co-occurring disorders. Having worked in the public and private sector, she utilises holistic and evidence-based approaches designed to empower the patients in their recovery journeys. A graduate of The University of Auckland, she has a Bachelor of Health Sciences majoring in Mental Health and Addictions, a diploma in Psychology and Counselling and a Post-Graduate degree in Health Sciences, majoring in Addictions. She is a fully registered practitioner under the Drug and Alcohol Association of Aotearoa New Zealand (DAPAANZ).

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