Addiction is a family disease. Sadly, alcoholism does not only affect the alcoholic, but it also affects the family members, friends, and coworkers involved with the alcoholic. Spouses and children of alcoholics suffer a great deal from the trauma of living with an alcoholic. This is why help for spouses of alcoholics is available.
At times, the disease can affect them to the point that they begin to develop coping behaviors that can actually enable the alcoholic to continue drinking. Families learn to be silent or keep secrets. They develop a code of conduct that forces them to suffer through the incurable disease of their loved one.
While addiction is difficult for everyone, nobody has to go through it alone. While the addict has the ability to go to treatment to address their issues, there is no designed “treatment” for the family members and other loved ones of the person suffering from addiction. That doesn’t mean that there is nothing or no one out there to help the family members get through those difficult times. Let’s take a look at some of the options that are available when it comes to help for spouses of alcoholics.
What Do I Do If My Spouse Is an Addict?
When it comes to dealing with a spouse that is an addict, the most important thing to remember is that their addiction is not your fault. No matter how they may act around you or treat you, or even how you might feel about yourself, nothing that you did caused them to become an addict.
There are, however, a few things that you as a spouse can do if you are living with someone who you suspect is suffering from addiction.
Don’t Enable Your Spouse
The biggest thing that you can do is to do your best to not enable your spouse. Enabling occurs when someone does or doesn’t do things that make it easier for the person suffering from addiction to continue their behavior. While enabling doesn’t directly result in the addiction continuing or getting worse, it does help perpetuate it.
Some examples of enabling behavior include:
- Covering and making excuses for your spouse when drinking gets in the way of
- their responsibilities
- Ignoring the problem
- Taking care of their responsibilities or daily tasks because they are either too
- drunk or too hungover to do them themselves
- Not following up on stated consequences of drinking and always giving them
- another chance
- Joining in with the drinking
- Softening or ensuring they won’t experience the negative consequences of
- Allowing them to avoid scheduled plans for counseling or attending a support
Get Them Into Treatment
In addition to not enabling your spouse, you will likely need to get them to go into treatment for their addiction. While some people realize they have a problem and seek help on their own, that is the exception and not the rule. This will likely mean that you will need to have an uncomfortable conversation or even conversations with your spouse.
When it comes to picking a time to have a conversation, make sure it is during a time when there are no distractions and you have plenty of time to talk. It’s also important to make sure your partner is sober and has a clear head during the conversation.
You must also remember to remain calm and not make your partner feel like you are backing them into a corner or being accusatory. Bringing up specific examples of behaviors that are problematic and the effects that those behaviors are having on everyone can be helpful. It can also be good to let your spouse know that as a result of their actions, they are doing damage to their health.
How Can I Get Help For Spouses of Alcoholics?
Spouses have it especially difficult when there are children involved. Some spouses experience emotional and physical abuse. The alcoholic, often unaware of the significance of their actions, screams and becomes violent. When this occurs, the spouse, after personally suffering, has to try to explain what happened to the children and sometimes any other family members, friends, loved ones, or strangers who may have witnessed the behavior of their addicted spouse.
Unable to manage their addiction, the alcoholic also makes irresponsible decisions regarding money and other family choices, which creates more difficulty for the non-addicted spouse. Thankfully, there is help for spouses of alcoholics as well as their children. They can learn new coping skills and how to support the alcoholic without enabling them to continue in their behavior.
One of the biggest aspects of addiction treatment is counseling and therapy. Through the use of both individual and group therapy sessions, the person suffering from the addiction learns not only what led them down the path to addiction, but they also learn how to prevent it from happening again. Therapy is also looked at as a great way to build up a support system while the addict is in treatment and away from their family and loved ones. Counseling and therapy can also be very useful tools for the family members and spouses of the addict.
In fact, many alcohol addiction treatment centers offer family counseling as part of their program to provide support to the loved ones of the addict while they learn how to embrace a sober lifestyle.
Family therapy is typically conducted just with the family members on their own and then with the family members and the addict. Family therapy sessions allow the family members to work through their problems that have been created due to the addict in a safe space.
The therapist will not only be able to help them with their current problems, but they will also go over what to expect when their loved one finishes treatment and returns home. The therapist will discuss how their loved one will be different upon completing treatment as well as go over things that they can do to welcome the addict back home after treatment and go about their lives in a new way.
Family therapy is also a great way for the family members of the addict to share with the addict themselves exactly what they went through as a result of the addiction. They can let the addict know all the pain and suffering that was caused as a result of their actions and their addiction and do so in a safe environment while working with a trained addiction counselor.
Support Groups for Spouses of Alcoholics
Another major part of the recovery process for addicts is the building of support groups, both in and out of treatment.
While in treatment, addicts can find support in their group therapy sessions. During those sessions, they get to share as well as listen to others talk about their experiences with addiction and their recovery. When it comes to addiction, the only other people that can truly know and understand what the addict is going through is other addicts. That’s why things like group therapy sessions and 12-step meetings such as AA or NA are so vital to the recovery process.
Everyone who is in a therapy session or 12-step meeting is there for the same reason, and that’s to get clean and sober. When everyone is looking to achieve the same goal, it makes it easier for everyone not only to support one another but also to achieve the goal.
Just like there are support groups for the addict, there are also different types of support groups for the alcoholic’s spouses as well as family members of the addict. Al-Anon and Co-Dependents Anonymous are two of the better-known support groups for spouses and loved ones to find help.
Al-Anon/Co-Dependents meetings follow a modified form of the 12 Step process that was founded by Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and these groups can help spouses and others affected by their family member’s addiction to alcohol or other substances to recover and learn how to live life without contributing to their family member’s addictions.
Are You Looking For Help For Spouses of Alcoholics?
New Directions for Women hosts an on-campus Al-Anon meeting on Wednesdays. This is an option that is available to the families of all patients, both past and present. At New Directions for Women, we believe that the entire family must be treated as part of the process of attaining life-long sustained recovery. Treating one member of the family typically only solves one part of the problem. We take pride in making sure the whole family gets well.
Our Al-Anon meetings are a safe place for the loved ones of our patients to seek their own program while the patient seeks recovery at our rehab. With help and support, spouses and others affected by alcoholism can find the help that they need to begin to repair the damage that alcoholism has caused in their lives.