Consequences of living with an alcoholic spouse

The unseen costs of alcoholism and the effects on the family.

It is estimated that around one in three people in this country have at least one member in his or her family who has an alcohol problem. In many cases, this is the person’s significant other. Unfortunately, alcoholism has the potential to significantly damage relationships, while causing chaos and stress at the same time. It is important to know how to deal not just with the alcoholic spouse, but also with the feelings the nonalcoholic partner is experiencing.

Tired of living with an alcoholic

At the beginning, a nonalcoholic partner is often very compassionate, understanding, loving, and supportive of his/her significant other with an alcohol problem. However, this cannot and does not last forever. Alcoholics regularly make empty promises of stopping, and the nonalcoholic will only continue to believe that for so long. Eventually, the stress leads to more fights, lost communication, broken trust, and lost intimacy. It simply isn’t possible for a long term relationship to be happy, healthy, and functioning if one’s spouse has an alcohol problem.

Effects of Alcoholism on the Relationship

The nonalcoholic partner will often grow resentful of the effects of alcoholism on their own life. Once this happens, more conflicts will emerge, and communication will break down. This is pressure that few marriages or relationships can cope with, and both partners will often start to pull away from the other. Sexual intimacy also gets lost at this point, further perpetuating the distance between the two. Men in particular often suffer from sexual dysfunction when they develop an alcohol problem, which can make the situation even worse. It is not uncommon for the nonalcoholic partner to have an affair in the attempt to look for intimacy and love elsewhere. At the same time, the alcoholic partner can make poor decisions while out of the house and exhibit promiscuous behavior as well. For many, it is at this point that the marriage ends.

Financial Problems Resulting from Alcoholism

There is also the added stress of financial problems. The alcoholic partner will often spend excessive amounts on alcoholic drinks, and he or she may also become incapable of making financial contributions to the household in the form of having a job. As a result of this, the nonalcoholic partner, and sometimes even the children, have to take on far more of the financial responsibilities of the household in order to ensure bills get paid.

Four Options for the Nonalcoholic Spouse or Partner

If you are in a relationship with an alcoholic partner, you have four broad options to choose from, and most people go through these four options one at a time:

  1. To do nothing at all, which is what most people do at first. Unfortunately, it is common to be virtually impossible to distinguish the person the alcoholic partner has become from the person he or she was before the drinking problem. The nonalcoholic partner tries to hold on to memories of the other partner, in the hopes that the problem will go away by itself. While this almost never actually happens, doing nothing tends to be the first thing people do in this situation.
  1. To confront the alcoholic partner, which can either be done one-on-one, or through a family intervention. Confrontation is necessary because the alcoholic cannot change his/her behavior unless he/she knows that the behavior is wrong. However, confrontation often ends badly, particularly with alcoholics who have violent tendencies, and with those who are in denial. This is why it is incredibly important to properly plan for an intervention, preferably together with a professional interventionist.
  1. To stop enabling the drinking partner. This is incredibly difficult, but necessary. It means no longer calling the person’s place of work to help him/her be excused due to sickness when in fact he/she has a hangover. It means no longer making excuses for the partner’s behavior to others. It means no longer accepting a refusal to seek help. And, sometimes, it means leaving the relationship or the home, no matter how difficult that may be. Sometimes, this can be the wake up call the alcoholic partner actually needs.
  1. To find support for you, which is very important. Knowing that you are not alone, and receiving advice on what you can do is often a lifesaver for nonalcoholic partners. Groups like Al-Anon, for instance, can show you that you don’t have to experience the problem without getting help, and that others have experienced the same and come out a better person afterwards.
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Alcoholism and Spousal domestic violence

There is a clear link between alcohol abuse and dependency, and domestic violence. Often, both the alcohol abuse and the domestic violence become worse over time. Generally speaking, drinking alcohol does not actually cause domestic violence. However, it makes a volatile situation even worse, and the frequency and severity of domestic abuse episodes also increases. The reason for this is the stress that alcoholism places on the family unit as a whole, and also because those under the influence of alcohol no longer have the same understanding of what is and isn’t socially acceptable behavior. Losing inhibitions while having higher levels of stress is a recipe for disaster.

 

Alcoholism Leads to More Violence

 

Being under the influence of alcohol inevitably worsens levels of violence. At the same time, the violence can lead to the abused person turning to alcohol. This then makes them more violent, and the cycle of abuse continues. The worst effect of this situation is how it affects the children in the relationship.

 

Statistics on Domestic Violence and Alcohol Abuse

 

The statistics on alcohol abuse and domestic violence are frightening. The Women’s Rural Advocacy Program has reported that incidents of domestic violence are more likely to result in serious injuries if alcohol is involved. Meanwhile, the Connecticut Clearinghouse has reported that frequent alcohol consumption is a main contributing factor to domestic abuse. It has also been determined that 87% of program directors across this country believe that, when both spouses drink, the risk of domestic violence increases significant. The Department of Justice, meanwhile, completed a study in 1994 that showed that more than 50% of defendants in cases of spousal homicide were under the influence when the murder happened. The Alle-Kiski HOPE center has also reported that men who batter their spouses often say that they do so because of alcohol, and the Women’s Rural Advocacy Program has stated that some battering men report doing so in order to control their drinking partner. According to the Tennessee Association of Alcohol, Drug and Other Addiction, between 25% and 55% of all incidents of domestic violence start with alcohol consumption.

 

How Alcoholism Tends to Increase Domestic Violence

 

It is clear that abusing alcohol massively increases the incidents of domestic violence. It does so in a variety of different ways. The Tennessee Association of Alcohol, Drug and Other Addiction has reported that men with a violent personality are also three times more likely to abuse drugs or alcohol. For instance, chronic alcohol abuse leads to various stresses on relationships, behavior changes, financial pressures, and lowered social standing. Meanwhile, those who abuse alcohol have a reduced ability to cope with stresses, and have less control over their own behavior, further perpetuating the problem. Often, when people have an alcohol abuse problem, the only thing they can think about is where their next drink will come from. If the nonalcoholic partner tries to stop this, a violent episode can follow.

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Alcoholism emotional abuse

Strangely, alcoholism and emotional abuse are rarely discussed as being related to each other, when it is clear that the two often go hand in hand. For instance, around 29% of adults who are abused came from homes where at least one member of the family abused substances. This means that, if someone in a relationship is classed as an alcoholic, then it is likely that emotional abuse is also present in the relationship.

 

How emotional abuse is manifested and what caused it is almost irrelevant. What matters is that it is abuse, and that the scars it leaves often run deeper and last longer than those from physical abuse. This is why, if you are in a relationship where at least one partner drinks, it is hugely important to determine that it is happening and to find a way to stop it. Emotional abuse must be addressed as part of the continuum of the addiction and of your dysfunctional relationship.

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How Alcoholic parents affect their children

Of particular concern is the effect alcoholism has on children. It is known that children from alcoholic households, be that with one or two drinking parents, are more likely to have behavioral problems, anxiety, and other emotional issues.

 

These Children Are Likely to Become Alcoholics Later On

 

Various pieces of research have also demonstrated that children who grow up around alcoholics have a fourfold increased chance of becoming alcoholics themselves. In many cases, these children have low self-esteem, and they struggle to build connections with their peers. As a result, they feel lonely and sad and are more likely to develop chronic depression. Sometimes, children in alcoholic households feel not just helpless, but also develop a serious fear of abandonment.

 

Effects on Academic Performance and Social Skills

 

Their academic performance often drops, because the children will struggle to concentrate on their homework due to the circumstances at home. Furthermore, because they do not have the ability to properly develop social skills, they often exhibit inappropriate behavior, simply because they do not know how to behave in any other way. Children of alcoholic households have to grow up very quickly, dealing with stresses that they are not yet equipped to deal with.

 

Potential Problems When These Children Grow Up to Be Adults

 

In most cases, if the alcoholism is not addressed, children grow up to be adults who struggle to have and maintain intimate relationships. Often, they end up in relationships with addicted individuals, be that to alcohol or illegal drugs. They also often become anxious, depressed adults with low self-worth and self-esteem. They are also more likely to become addicted themselves, to be angry inside, to feel a sense of grief, to deprive themselves of the nice things in life, and more. Often, they cannot explain why they feel that way, making the feelings worse. There is also suggestion that this may make them more likely to have violent outbursts, particularly when under the influence of alcohol themselves.

 

Effects of Living in a Household with Domestic Violence

 

It is also important to remember that if children grow up in a household with domestic violence, it isn’t only the battered spouse that suffers, but also the children. A major U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families study in 2002 showed that children who grew up in households with substance abuse are more likely to be the victims of sexual, emotional, and physical abuse themselves.

 

Abuse from the Abused Parent

 

In many cases, it is impossible for the abused parent to protect the children from any form of abuse. Other times, the abused parent will actually cause the abuse. For instance, a battered mother is more likely to take out her anger on them, particularly if she drinks herself as well. This is because the children are an easier target than the battering husband. In fact, a study in 1994 by McCurdy and Daro demonstrated that 80% of all cases of childhood physical abuse are related to frustration.

 

These Children Are Likely to Create Abusive Households When They Become Adults

 

One of the most troubling things is that children who grow up in these types of households are more likely to create a similar kind of households when they become adults. This struggle to cope with their memories, even if they managed to leave such a household, will usually cause them to become alcoholics themselves. When considering that studies by County of Yolo and Roy in 1988 have demonstrated that in 40% of cases where children were affected by domestic violence in the home, the perpetuating male was intoxicated, it quickly becomes clear how seriousness the problem is.

 

Essentially, alcoholism is not a problem that only affects the alcoholic, but rather one that affects the entire family. When members of the family reach out for help, they are sincere in that, and they must receive the support they so desperately need. This support includes having patience, and trying to find ways to save a marriage if that is what the spouse wants. It is possible to mend the hurt and start the healing process. However, if the alcoholic spouse refuses to engage, then the nonalcoholic spouse should be supported in finding ways to leave the relationship.