Leaving an Alcoholic Spouse: When is it Time to Go?

Living with an alcoholic spouse can feel hopeless. It can take over your life. You may find yourself playing the role of “fixer,” constantly picking up their messes. Alcoholics often leave a trail of broken promises and relationships as well as financial issues in their wake. You may be living with physical or emotional abuse. From people looking in from the outside, the decision to leave an alcoholic husband or wife may seem easy. But if you’re in the thick of it, you know it isn’t. Here are a few signs it might be time to leave an alcoholic spouse.

When Is it Time to Leave an Alcoholic Husband or Wife?

Leaving an alcoholic is easier said than done. There are often logistical, emotional and financial barriers to just picking up and walking out the door. You also once thought you’d spend the rest of your life with this person. It’s natural to hold out hope that things can change. While millions of people recover from alcoholism and addiction, some don’t. Here are some signs that leaving an alcoholic might be the best decision.

#1 Their Drinking Habits Negatively Impact You

Research shows living with an alcoholic husband or wife can affect your physical and emotional well-being. The stress of your partner’s alcohol addiction can put you at risk for:

  • Anxiety and depression symptoms
  • Your own substance abuse issues
  • Neglecting work, personal or family obligations
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Neglecting self-care
  • Trauma and PTSD
  • Financial problems due to their drinking habits
  • Misdirecting your anger at the alcoholic toward other loved ones

If you’re experiencing emotional, financial or health issues because of your spouse’s substance abuse, it’s time to re-evaluate your situation.

#2 They Show No Signs of Stopping

If you’re living with an addict who doesn’t see their behavior as a problem despite severe consequences, it’s a red light. An alcohol use disorder is a disease of the brain. Once you have an alcohol dependency, it’s very hard to “just quit drinking” without help. Your alcoholic husband or wife is likely experiencing this first hand. They may have tried to quit abusing alcohol without success. Maybe they’ve even stopped trying to quit or cut down. Perhaps your spouse has been in and out of alcohol rehab. They may be a chronic relapser. Relapse is sometimes a reality of addiction, just like any other chronic disease. The difference is that people who are devoted to recovery take relapse as a sign they need to recommit themselves to sobriety. They learn from their mistakes and try again. If your spouse half-heartedly attends alcohol rehab, doesn’t follow their continuing care plan, and isn’t interested in personal growth, they may not be ready to change for a long time, or ever.

#3 Their Behavior Is Unpredictable and Dangerous

Addict behavior is unpredictable by nature. Alcohol and drug abuse severely clouds people’s judgement. The unpredictability when your spouse starts drinking can be one of the most terrifying things about living with an alcoholic. Your partner may take dangerous risks or go from Jekyll to Hyde when they drink. When they drink, your alcoholic spouse may:

  • Drive drunk
  • Get into physical fights with people
  • Spend large amounts of money
  • Get angry and out of control
  • Physically or emotionally abuse you and/or your family

Living in an unpredictable situation can lead to hypervigilance and anxiety. These are signs of trauma. Left untreated, trauma can damage your physical and mental health. If your alcoholic spouse is acting in a way that puts you and your family’s well-being in jeopardy, you need to consider if staying in the relationship is worth it.

#4 They’re Physically or Emotionally Abusive

Alcohol abuse frequently plays a role in intimate partner violence. Intimate partner violence includes both physical and emotional abuse. Alcohol addiction doesn’t cause domestic abuse relationships. People who are abusive don’t become that way because of drugs and alcohol. However, the effects of alcohol can certainly make abuse worse. Alcohol abuse can escalate violent and abusive behaviors. Domestic violence is inexcusable and lots of times doesn’t change despite promises and mental health help. The problem is that leaving is often the most dangerous time for people being abused. Because abuse is often about control, when the abused partner leaves, the abuser is triggered. They fear no longer being in control of the victim. Many times violence and dangerous behaviors escalate. If you’re leaving an alcoholic partner who is also abusing you, you may want to speak with a professional about the safest way to do so.

#5 You’re Staying Out of Fear

You may have many fears holding you back from leaving an alcoholic spouse. It’s not an easy decision. You may have child custody concerns. Your alcoholic husband or wife could be supporting your family financially. You may worry about where you’ll live, their reaction to the news that you’re leaving or that they won’t be able to survive well without you. These are all legitimate concerns. Talking to a mental health professional or someone you trust can help you work through these issues. They’ll help you address your fears and start figuring out what you need to move forward – whether that means leaving or staying.

#6 You’re Not Taking Care of Yourself or Your Family

It’s easy to get consumed with an addict’s problems. After all, if you’re living with an addict, their problems affect you as well. People with addictions often get into legal, financial and personal trouble. Loved ones of addicts may find themselves continually picking up the pieces. Living with an addict often takes a toll on your health. You’re more at risk for mental health disorders, substance abuse, PTSD, anger issues and other behavioral health problems. You’re at risk for neglecting yourself and other loved ones. If you and your children’s quality of life is suffering due to an addicted partner, it may be time to leave.

#7 Staging an Intervention and Other Efforts Haven’t Helped

At some point, most people who get sober realize they need help getting better. If you continue to enforce boundaries, ask your loved one to get help, and explain how their behaviors are affecting you to no avail, take a close look at your relationship. Perhaps you’ve held an intervention, or several, and your partner won’t enter an addiction treatment facility, it should give you pause. If they won’t even humor you by attending a 12-step meeting or asking their doctor about their addiction, they could be a long way off from accepting help and getting better. These are only a handful of signs that it could be time to leave an alcoholic. No situation is identical. There are special circumstances in every relationship. However, if you find yourself relating to these warning signs, it might be time to reconsider your living situation.

Will My Alcoholic Spouse Ever Get Better?

Just because your alcoholic partner won’t get help now, doesn’t mean they won’t ever enter rehab. Some people must hit bottom before they accept help. Many people don’t. Alcohol addiction treatment can be effective at any stage of readiness. Many people enter addiction treatment programs because of ultimatums, legal problems or issues at work. Your loved one may find the internal motivation to get better once they’re in alcohol or drug rehab. The reality is, this may not happen before you’ve reached your limit. In fact, leaving them might be what sparks a change. You can’t force your addicted spouse into alcohol treatment, and you can’t do the work for them. All you can do is hold your boundaries and try to help guide them in the right direction.

How to Hold a Family Intervention for an Alcoholic Spouse

If you haven’t tried an intervention before, you might consider it. Sometimes an intervention is the turning point for alcoholics. Hearing loved ones share how their drinking has impacted their lives and how concerned they are for them can move the addict to action. A professional interventionist can help make sure an alcohol intervention is effective and compassionate. They can help you communicate in a way that doesn’t put your addicted spouse on the defense. An interventionist can also answer any questions your loved one has about treatment options. For instance, they can tell them what detoxing from alcohol is really like and why going through it in a medical facility is necessary. They can also refer them to addiction treatment centers and talk about what they can expect during a typical day in alcohol rehab. Only you can decide when it’s time to leave an alcoholic husband or wife. You deserve a life that doesn’t revolve around chaos, fear and misery. You deserve happiness. That happiness may only be possible if you leave your alcoholic spouse, even if temporarily. Sometimes alcoholics are only able to see the severity of their situation after losing what’s important to them.

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