What Are Signs of Alcohol Addiction in a Spouse?

Last Updated: December 28, 2023

Editorial Policy | Research Policy

When your partner struggles with alcohol use, they may show signs of an alcoholic spouse that can harm your marriage if not addressed.

Alcohol consumption is pretty common, so it can be challenging to recognize when it crosses the line into addiction. Knowing the signs of an alcoholic spouse can help you understand what to expect if your wife or husband has a drinking problem. 

Signs of Alcohol Addiction in Your Husband, Wife or Partner 

When you become concerned about your spouse or partner’s drinking habits, they may be developing an alcohol addiction. Not everyone who drinks heavily is addicted to alcohol, but ongoing heavy drinking can lead to addiction. If you’re unsure whether it’s time to intervene, some signs can help you answer the question, “Is my partner an alcoholic?” 

Prioritizing Alcohol 

One sign of an alcohol use disorder, the diagnostic term for alcohol addiction, is giving up other activities in favor of alcohol consumption. This means a person may stop participating in their usual hobbies or activities they once enjoyed and won’t want to engage in activities or outings where alcohol is not served. 

Lying or Making Excuses About Alcohol Consumption

Research shows that denial is common among people who experience problems with alcohol, even when they show clinical signs of addiction. This means a spouse who is addicted may lie about their alcohol use to hide it, or they may make excuses to try to minimize the severity of their drinking. For example, they may say they drank until blacking out because others were doing it, or just drank too much on one occasion because they had a really bad week at work. 

Risky or Irresponsible Behavior

Heavy alcohol use is associated with risky behavior, such as driving under the influence, which can lead to automobile accidents and injuries. A person may also engage in fights and incur legal charges while drinking. 

Failing To Show Up to Work on Time (Or at All)

Drinking, despite being unable to fulfill duties at work because of alcohol consumption, is a sign of an alcohol use disorder. If your spouse is addicted, they may be so hungover from a night of drinking that they are late to work the following morning or may call off frequently because they are recovering from the effects of heavy drinking. 

Regularly Blacking Out

Alcohol-related blackout is a term that refers to cases in which a person’s body does not function the same without alcohol and is associated with alcohol dependence. Regular blackouts indicate that your spouse or partner is developing problems with alcohol use. 

Financial Troubles

A person addicted to alcohol may develop financial troubles. Not only does the cost of heavy drinking add up, but a person with an addiction may also experience lost wages from being suspended from work. If a person is fired because of alcohol addiction, financial strain can become severe. 

Experiencing Withdrawal

A person dependent on alcohol will not function the same without alcohol in their body. This means they will show physical signs of withdrawal when they stop drinking. Mild alcohol withdrawal symptoms include tremors, anxiety, sleep problems, sweating, upset stomach and headache. More severe symptoms include seizures and delirium tremens, which can be fatal. 

Unsuccessful Attempts To Quit Drinking

Wanting to cut down on drinking but being unsuccessful is one of the signs of an alcohol use disorder. If your spouse is addicted to alcohol, they may say they want to stop drinking but fail to do so. Perhaps they’ve tried several times to give up alcohol but keep returning to it, even though they wish to remain abstinent. 

How Alcoholism Harms Marriages 

Additionally, if your spouse is addicted to alcohol, it will likely take a toll on your marriage. Alcohol misuse can harm marriages and relationships in many ways. 

Unemployment and Money Problems

The financial burden of an alcohol addiction doesn’t just affect the person addicted; it has consequences for the entire family. If your spouse cannot work or is spending a lot of money on alcohol, you may begin to experience financial struggles. Bills may go unpaid, or you may have to deplete the family savings account to make ends meet. 

Arguments Over Drinking

If your spouse’s drinking concerns you, but they continue to consume alcohol, you’ll probably fight about their alcohol consumption. Over time, this can cause significant strain within the relationship. 

Taking on More Responsibilities 

When alcohol becomes a priority, someone addicted will spend most of their time drinking or recovering from the effects of intoxication. This means that most responsibilities, like caring for children, paying bills and managing household chores, will fall on the spouse.

Lack of Quality Time

A person addicted to alcohol will probably give up most other activities and hobbies to devote all their time to drinking. This means that quality time spent together will likely go out the window. Date nights, time spent at the park as a family and attending family gatherings together will become a thing of the past. 

Damaging Effects on Children

Studies show that parental substance misuse harms children, and these effects are long-lasting, meaning they can affect a child for years. The stress associated with marital conflict and financial problems arising from alcohol misuse can negatively affect children and reduce their psychological well-being. Children may have developmental delays or develop mental health problems, like depression or anxiety. 

Higher Risk of Domestic Violence and Abuse

Alcohol also harms marriages by increasing the risk of domestic violence. One study found that 30%–40% of men and 27%–34% of women who perpetrated violence against their partners were under the influence of alcohol at the time of the violent act. Alcohol can cause people to lose inhibitions, making impulsive, violent behavior more likely. 

Help for Your Spouse Struggling With Alcoholism

If you or your partner shows signs of alcohol addiction, The Recovery Village Cherry Hill at Cooper is here to help. We have a full continuum of services for alcohol addiction, including a state-of-the-art medical detox center. Contact a Recovery Advocate today to begin the admissions process.

Sources

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Understanding Alcohol Use Disorder.” April 2021. Accessed April 7, 2023.

Schuckit, Marc; Clarke, Dennis; Smith, Tom; Mendoza, Lee Anne. “Characteristics associated with denial of problem drinking among two generations of individuals with alcohol use disorders.” Drug and Alcohol Dependence, December 2020. Accessed April 7, 2023.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Excessive Alcohol Use.” July 11, 2022. Accessed April 7, 2023.

Studer, Joseph; Gmel, Gerhard; Bertholet, Nicolas; Marmet, Simon; Daeppen, Jean-Bernard. “Alcohol-induced blackouts at age 20 predict the incidence, maintenance and severity of alcohol dependence at age 25: a prospective study in a sample of young Swiss men.” Addiction, September 2019. Accessed April 7, 2023.

Bayard, Max; McIntyre, Jonah; Hill, Keith; Woodside, Jack. “Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome.” American Family Physician, March 15, 2004. Accessed April 7, 2023.

Kuppens, Sofie; Moore, Simon; Gross, Vanessa; Lowthian, Emily; Siddaway, Andy. “The Enduring Effects of Parental Alcohol, Tobacco, and Drug Use on Child Well-being: A Multilevel Meta-Analysis.” Development and Psychopathology, July 5, 2019. Accessed April 7, 2023.

Caetano, Raul; Schafer, John; Cunradi, Carol. “Alcohol-Related Intimate Partner Violence Among White, Black, and Hispanic Couples in the United States.” Domestic Violence, 2007. Accessed April 7, 2023.

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