Drinking alcohol from time to time is normal – many couples may have a glass of wine with dinner, enjoy a beer at a game of baseball, or go to a bar at the weekend. Drinking in moderation is generally not something to worry about, but excessive drinking can cause severe damage to our physical and mental health, social life, and work.
Maintaining a healthy relationship with a loved one who is struggling with alcohol addiction can be hard work. For those living with an alcoholic, there is rarely a break from the stress. It can be emotionally exhausting to watch as your spouse battles with alcohol abuse, and many family members struggle to live with the constant stress and worry about their health and well-being. You may feel helpless and confused, but it is important to remember that tending to your own needs is essential to supporting your husband.
Alcohol contributes to approximately 88,000 deaths annually in the US, making it the third leading preventable cause of death. Alcohol Use Disorder is serious, but it is important to remember that you are not alone. Help is out there and recovery is possible.
Understanding the Terminology – Alcohol Addiction and Alcohol Use Disorder
The terminology around addiction and alcohol abuse can be confusing, as you try to support your husband, understanding the vocabulary used can be helpful.
Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)
Alcohol abuse is medically defined as the excessive consumption of alcohol. It is the inability to control or stop alcohol consumption, even when you are aware that it is negatively affecting your life. The individual consuming alcohol may develop a tolerance and experience withdrawal symptoms when attempting to quit or cut back.
Alcohol abuse, alcoholism, and alcohol addiction are all terms that fall under the diagnosis of AUD.
According to the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 14.5 million people over the age of 12 had an Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD). AUD is a medical diagnosis that encompasses the conditions more often known as alcohol abuse, alcohol dependence, alcohol addiction, and alcoholism. AUD is considered a brain disorder, with alcohol misuse causing changes in the brain that perpetuate AUD, causing a cycle of dependence that is difficult to break.
Healthcare professionals use criteria from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), to assess whether a person has AUD and to determine the severity of the disorder if present. Depending on the number of questions the person answers ‘yes’ to, the alcohol addiction is considered to be one of the following:
- Mild Alcohol Use Disorder: If two or three criteria are present, a person will be diagnosed with mild alcohol use disorder.
- Moderate Alcohol Use Disorder: Moderate alcohol use disorder is diagnosed in the case that four to five of the criteria are present.
- Severe Alcohol Use Disorder: Severe alcohol use disorder indicates that there are six or more criteria present and that a person is unable to quit due to physical and psychological dependence.
This is the consumption of excessive amounts of alcohol in a short period of time. This kind of alcohol abuse has serious health risks and a person with a binge drinking problem is at risk of developing alcohol addiction.
What Increases the Risk of Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)?
There are a number of factors that can make an individual more ‘at risk’ of developing AUD, including mental health, genetics, family history, and upbringing.
Starting alcohol consumption at a young age
Studies have shown that individuals who began drinking before age 15 are more than five times as likely to report having AUD in the past year as people who did not start drinking until they were aged 21 or above. Knowing the warning signs and risk factors may help you spot a drinking problem early.
Genetics and family history of alcohol abuse.
Some things that we have no control over, such as genetics, play a role in alcohol addiction. For example, alcohol has a heritability of approximately 60 percent. As is the case in most health conditions, the risk of developing AUD is influenced by the interplay between a person’s genes and their environment.
Upbringing and family history of alcohol problems.
In childhood, the behavior of parents around alcohol influences the chances of developing AUD. Growing up with parents who abuse alcohol increases the likelihood of replicating that behavior later in life.
Mental health conditions and a history of trauma.
A number of psychiatric conditions are recognized as being risk factors for developing AUD. Depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder are associated with alcohol abuse. People with a history of childhood trauma are also vulnerable to AUD.
What You Can Do
There are many ways to support an alcoholic partner, and knowing the different options available can be empowering. Heavy drinking has adverse effects on family members and loved ones of individuals with alcohol addiction, and self-care is an incredibly valuable tool. If you are searching for ways to support an alcoholic husband, these are good steps to take.
Joining a local support group for the loved ones of alcoholics can be a great method of connecting with others and verbalizing the ways that you are being affected by the drinking habits of your spouse in a safe and confidential setting. When a person who abuses alcohol feels threatened or judged, they may lash out with verbal abuse, blame, or anger. Peer support groups such as Al-Anon can help the family members of someone with an alcohol problem to learn coping skills that help them detach from the person’s behaviors and take care of themselves.
Seek Professional Medical Advice
It may seem obvious, but in many cases, alcohol use disorders are not recognized as medical problems. In addition to the negative consequences of drug and alcohol use on the body, AUD itself is a medical issue, and people struggling to manage their alcohol consumption should be encouraged to speak to their doctor. If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, you can always contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
Limit Enabling Behavior
Maintaining healthy relationships with alcoholics can be like walking a tightrope. You want to stay involved in the person’s life and take part in activities you both enjoy, but avoid encouraging or enabling your husband’s drinking.
Examples of enabling behavior include:
- Ignoring the problem
- Making excuses for an alcoholic spouse
- Taking care of his responsibilities when he can’t complete them because of alcohol use
It is important to avoid putting your husband in social situations that encourage alcohol consumption or that may trigger your husband’s substance abuse or mental health issues.
Set healthy boundaries
The rate of spousal abuse and neglect is 60 percent higher in people who drink heavily. This can be made worse by financial difficulties caused by excessive spending on alcohol and missed work. Try to avoid blaming yourself for your husband’s behavior, and try to think of his substance use as an illness. Remember that you do not have to support your partner alone. There is a range of alcohol addiction treatment options available. If your husband’s behavior becomes aggressive or dangerous and you feel that you or your children are not safe, remove yourselves from the situation. Seek social support from friends and family, professional medical advice, and help from domestic abuse networks.
Alcohol Addiction Treatment
Alcohol dependency is progressive, so even if your husband does not yet wish to seek treatment, it is helpful to be prepared. Research different treatments or speak to people who have received treatment for a substance use disorder. Misconceptions about alcohol treatment make people hesitant to seek addiction treatment. While it is important to be realistic about the likelihood of convincing your husband to begin the treatment process, compiling recovery resources and having information about different treatment programs can make this seem less daunting. Be ready to support your husband in making initial contact with a treatment provider and undergoing treatment and recovery.
If your spouse or significant other is ready to start treatment, or you want more information about inpatient and outpatient programs, contact NPAC today.