Guide to Living With an Alcoholic

Guide to Living With an Alcoholic Header

In 2012, alcohol use disorders affected about 11.2 million adult men and 5.7 million adult women in the United States, but that’s merely the number of individuals suffering from them.[1]  Realistically, these disorders are impacting a much larger number when the loved ones of an alcoholic are taken into account. A reported 78 million Americans have witnessed alcoholism in a family member.[2]

Alcohol Use Stat
American culture promotes the use of alcohol with an “everybody’s doing it” mentality. Teens grow up accustomed to the idea that turning 21 someday will mark a celebratory era in their lives. College-aged individuals are among some of the nation’s worst cases of alcohol abuse, with 1,825 deaths resulting from the 599,000 unintentional alcohol-related injuries in the 18-24 age group every year.[3]  Additionally, over 150,000 college students end up with an alcohol-related health problem.[4]

Alcohol is often responsible for death too, with 3.3 million people losing their lives to consumption of the substance every year worldwide.[5] In America, alcohol is the third leading cause of preventable deaths, killing 88,000 people every year.[6] Many of these deaths are unintentional. Likewise, sometimes a few cocktails can lead to other life-ending circumstances, such as motor vehicle accidents. On average, there were enough deaths due to drunk driving in 2011 — 9,878 to be exact — to account for a fatality every 53 minutes throughout the year.[7] Another 16,749 people died in 2011 from alcohol-related liver diseases.[8]

Alcohol is also tightly linked with criminal activity and thus, legal repercussions. At the time which they committed their offense, 5.3 million adults were under the influence of alcohol.[9] Every year, there are 1.4 million arrests for drinking and driving.[10]

Is Your Partner an Alcoholic?

There is a difference between alcohol abuse and alcohol dependency. Alcohol abuse is common, but it isn’t an addiction. Abusers may have problems with the law, trouble satisfying work and/or personal obligations, and continue to drink regardless of the poor consequences that ensue.[11] Alcohol dependence is alcoholism, and it is a physical reliance on alcohol. Alcoholics will have persistent cravings for booze when they aren’t drinking as well as a tough time stopping after they’ve started drinking.[12] Over time, they’ll develop a tolerance to alcohol which requires that they drink more than they used to in order to achieve the same effects.[13] Likewise, physical withdrawal symptoms plague alcoholics as well and remain one of the primary reasons alcohol addicts turn to booze on a regular basis.[14]

In addition to the symptoms described above, alcoholics might:[15]

  • Drink by themselves in effort to conceal their addiction
  • Experience blackouts
  • Drink at set times and become irritated if said habits are interrupted
  • Become agitated if they cannot access alcohol when they’re ready for it
  • Store alcohol in unusual places, like their vehicle or office desk
  • Drink to get drunk
  • Experience relationship, employment or legal troubles
  • Experience a loss of interest in things they once enjoyed


Around three out of every 10 people drink enough that they are putting themselves at risk for developing alcoholism.[16] Some alcoholism risk factors are:[17]

  • Excessive drinking or binging on a regular basis
  • Drinking alcohol from an early age
  • A family history of alcohol-related disorders or alcohol abuse
  • Mental illness
  • Social influences such as having close friends or a spouse who drinks heavily
  • Media influence
  • Drinking alcohol while on medications that may intensify their effects


Warning Signs

Underage drinking is a big factor in the development of alcoholism with 2007 data showing that 40 percent of teenagers who began drinking prior to turning 15 meet the criteria for a diagnosis of alcoholism at some point in their life, regardless of family history.[18] One survey reported that more than half of the participants who started drinking before they were 14 years old were classified as being alcoholics, whereas only nine percent of those who didn’t start drinking until they were 21 ended up with alcoholism.[19]  This behavior may sound unlikely with 14 being such a young age (seven years under the legal drinking age in America), but over 50 percent of teens are reported to have had their first drink by the time they reach 15 years old.[20] The dangers this presents are enormous with over 190,000 alcohol-related emergency room visits in 2008 being for underage individuals.[21]

Relationship Repercussions

Of all alcohol-related incidents of violence, an astounding 70 percent occur within the family home.[22] This means partners and children are at a significantly increased risk of witnessing or being the victim of a violent crime, such as assault or battery. Being in a relationship with an alcoholic can make for a very unstable and unsettling home life. The rollercoaster of emotions and ups and downs that you have to endure to be with an alcoholic often prove to be unworthy of the commitment for many. There are ways of ending the mayhem without ending your relationship or marriage, but the alcohol-dependent party has to be willing to participate, or you may have to forge your own path.

Alcoholic Teens
Alcohol Violence

Consequences for Kids

Data from 2012 shows that of the 7.5 million children under the age of 18 who had at least one parent who experienced an alcohol use disorder in the preceding year, 6.1 million were living in two-parent households.[23] Of those remaining, 1.1 million lived only with their mothers and 0.3 million only with their fathers.[24] Children of alcoholics are predisposed to developing the disease themselves, with a fourfold risk in comparison to children with non-alcoholic parents.[25] In addition, many grow up to face serious emotional and psychological consequences of their upbringing, inclusive of mental health disorders.

Arguing Parents

One study found that 41 percent of participating children of alcoholics developed severe coping problems by the time they reached adulthood.[26]

The best solution for households where alcoholism is present is to encourage the children to talk about their feelings, even if it isn’t to a parent. Therapy is a great way to introduce your child to coping strategies and healthy ways to process their feelings. Fortunately, children are far more resilient than they’re given credit for. Over 28 million Americans have at least one alcoholic parent, with around 11 million of those being minors.[27] That leaves a hefty percentage of adult Americans who grew up with an alcoholic parent and survived the situation. Couples without children or those whose children are grown spend around 30 percent more on alcohol every year than the national average.[28]


Alcoholics are notorious for blaming their poor choices and bad behaviors on others; don’t allow the alcoholic in your life to place blame on you for the things they have done. Many alcoholics will resist any attempts you make to talk to them about their alcohol problem and likewise try to explain their drinking away with excuses like, “I’m not that bad,” and “It wasn’t my fault,” or by trying to shift the focus of the conversation to your flaws. The typical alcoholic is often hopeful that you will engage with them and fight back to defend yourself, thereby taking the heat off them for their drinking. It is advisable that you carefully choose your wording when dealing with an angry alcoholic and stick to non-reactive statements like, “I’m sorry you feel that way.”[29]

high-functioning alcoholics

Data from a 2007 study accounted for 19.5 percent of American alcoholics belonging to the high-functioning subtype.[30] Confronting these kinds of alcohol-dependent partners can be most difficult, and they often remain in denial far longer. They frequently have the ability to convince many peers, friends, and other family members that they have no problem, because most people have a stereotypical image of what it means to be an alcoholic stuck in their mind that doesn’t fit the high-functioning persona.

When it’s time to confront your partner about their drinking, timing is everything. Pick a time when they are sober; doing so when they are drinking will never work out in your favor. They may feel lower emotionally when hungover, posing the perfect opportunity to talk to them about your feelings.[31]


Denial is generally the first step in the process toward getting an alcoholic into treatment, so don’t become discouraged in your pursuit when the alcohol-dependent party lashes out at you, gets defensive, or even tight-lipped altogether. There are ways to break through this silence, the most popular of which is intervention.

Treatment Choices



When approaching an intervention, it’s best to have the individual’s bag packed and a travel path routed to a treatment center in addition to a contact number. It is possible for the alcoholic to change their mind after agreeing to treatment if you give them too much time to think it over and let their anxieties brew, so be ready to help them go to the treatment center right away. You should usually have a professional counselor or therapist present, as well as all the friends and family you can gather to show support for the alcoholic in making the choice to get better.

Be concise in your statements; don’t budge on your demands, but don’t lecture either. Last but not least, be prepared to answer questions to ease the alcoholic’s worries, like what detox will be like at the chosen facility.[32]


Intervention can get you to treatment, but what happens next? Generally, most patients are admitted, evaluated, and then go straight to detox. In some cases, patients will leave post-detoxification and continue with outpatient therapy while others stick around for residential care. Around 95 percent of alcoholics experience withdrawal symptoms in the mild to moderate range.[33] For this reason, medicated detox may be the way to go to alleviate the unpleasant side effects that make withdrawal painful to endure, and thus make alcoholics more likely to want to drink.


There are medications available to assist alcoholics in remaining sober, but they aren’t a cure-all, and they don’t do the psychological work for you. Antabuse is a popular conditioning remedy that makes the alcoholic very ill if they ingest alcohol, and Naltrexone inhibits the brain from feeling the effects of alcohol, thereby reducing cravings for the substance.[34]

Residential rehabilitation is usually at least four weeks long and provides a consistent alcohol-free and drug-free atmosphere that many patients need in order to get their life back on track. This is the best option for anyone who has previously failed at remaining sober utilizing outpatient therapy, because it eliminates triggers and distractions that may normally cause the individual to crave a drink.[35] Residential treatment is more likely to include individualized therapy in addition to group therapy options.[36]

You can achieve very similar methods of treatment and therapy via outpatient programs, but it will be less regimented and more infrequent while allowing the participant more freedom to continue fulfilling life’s obligations, such as going to work and helping with childcare and household responsibilities. Additionally, outpatient therapy most often includes some sort of support group or group therapy requirement, like attendance to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.[37] In deciding which option is best for you, it is advisable to seek the guidance of a professional therapist or medical doctor who can help you weigh the pros and cons of each method as it applies to your lifestyle limitations and the severity of your addiction.


Many rehab patients, both residential and outpatient, worry about what will become of them after treatment and have concerns over remaining sober. Continued support is offered in a variety of settings from religious affiliations and support groups to regular follow-up care at the treatment institution itself.

Relapse is something that every alcoholic and their family should be prepared for. One survey of members of Alcoholics Anonymous accounted for 75 percent relapsing within a year of treatment, but those who remain in sobriety for five years have only a seven percent chance of relapse.[38]  It is crucial that alcoholics change whom they spend their time with and what they spend time doing if it consisted largely of drinking-related activities before treatment. Otherwise, they’re certain to relapse.


[1]Alcohol Facts and Statistics.” (n.d.). National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Accessed August 14, 2014.

[2] Gold, M.S. (2006). “Children of Alcoholics.Psych Central. Accessed August 14, 2014.

[3]College Drinking.” (n.d.). National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Accessed August 14, 2014.

[4]A Snapshot of Annual High-Risk College Drinking Consequences.” (2009). College Drinking Prevention. Accessed August 14, 2014.

[5]Alcohol.” (2014 May). World Health Organization. Accessed August 14, 2014.

[6]Alcohol Facts and Statistics.” (n.d.). National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Accessed August 14, 2014.

[7] “2011 Drunk Driving Statistics.” (n.d.). AlcoholAlert. Accessed August 14, 2014.

[8]Alcohol Use.” (2014 July 14). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed August 14, 2014.

[9]Alcohol and Crime.” (n.d.). National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. Accessed August 14, 2014.

[10]International Statistics.” (n.d.). Foundation for a Drug-Free World. Accessed August 14, 2014.

[11] Simon, H. and Zieve, D. (2013 March 3). “Alcoholism.University of Maryland Medical Center. Accessed August 14, 2014.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Mayo Clinic Staff. (2012 September 9). “Diseases and Conditions: Alcoholism: Symptoms.Mayo Clinic. Accessed August 14, 2014.

[16]Alcoholism and alcohol abuse.” (2013 February 9). MedlinePlus. Accessed August 14, 2014.

[17] Mayo Clinic. Staff. (2012 August 9). “Diseases and Conditions: Alcoholism: Risk factors.Mayo Clinic. Accessed August 14, 2014.

[18] Allen Benton, S. (2010 February 24). “Awareness of Risk Factors Can Help Decrease Risks of Developing Alcoholism.Psychology Today. Accessed August 14, 2014.

[19] Simon, H. and Zieve, D. (2013 March 8). “Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse.The New York Times, Health Guide. Accessed August 14, 2014.

[20]Underage Drinking.” (2013 July). National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Accessed August 14, 2014.

[21] Ibid.

[22]Alcohol and Crime.” (n.d.). National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. Accessed August 14, 2014.

[23] “Report shows 7.5 million children live with a parent with an alcohol use disorder.” (2012 February 16). Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Accessed August 14, 2014.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Reich, W. (1997). “Prospective Studies of Children of Alcoholic Parents.Alcohol Health & Research World. Accessed August 14, 2014.

[26]Children of Alcoholics: Are They Different?” (1990 July). National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Accessed August 14, 2014.

[27]Children of Addicted Parents: Important Facts.” (n.d.). National Association for Children of Alcoholics. Accessed August 14, 2014.

[28] Hanson, D. (n.d.). “Alcohol Problems and Solutions.State University of New York, Sociology Department. Accessed August 14, 2014.

[29]Blaming Others for Their Problems.” (2009 November 2). Alcoholic’s Friends. Accessed August 14, 2014.

[30]Researchers Identify Alcoholism Subtypes.” (2007 June 28). National Institutes of Health. Accessed August 14, 2014.

[31] Miller, C. (2014 March 13). “How to Confront Someone with a Drinking Problem.Livestrong. Accessed August 14, 2014.

[32] Alexander, R. (2013 October 30). “9 Suggestions For Confronting and Alcoholic.Lifescript. Accessed August 14, 2014.

[33] Buddy T. (2014 June 20). “Treatment of Accessed August 14, 2014.

[34] Ibid.

[35] Gifford, S. (1998). “Difference Between Outpatient and Inpatient Treatment Programs.Psych Central. Accessed August 14, 2014.

[36] Morrow, D. (n.d.). “Outpatient Alcoholism Treatment vs. Inpatient Alcohol Treatment Center.The Alcoholism Guide. Accessed August 14, 2014.

[37] Gifford, S. (1998). “Difference Between Outpatient and Inpatient Treatment Programs.Psych Central. Accessed August 14, 2014.

[38] Piper Voss, J. (2009). “Relapse After Long-Term Sobriety.American Bar Association. Accessed August 14, 2014.

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