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Being in a relationship with an alcoholic is stressful and difficult. It’s important to know what you need to do to take care of yourself.

During her TED talk in April of 2017, bestselling author Anne Lamott observed that, “Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including yourself.” Times of crisis often catapult people into fifth gear. Instead, it is useful to shift down, take a breath, and make sure that you have adequately cared for yourself. This will help you offer care to others. This principle is true in many crisis situations, including when a spouse struggles with addiction to alcohol or other substances.

Alcoholism and the Family

Alcoholism, like many addictions, does not just impact the user. Partners and children are also affected. A user may feel conflict and shame over their use, and a partner often shares in those emotions. Even more, a partner can feel like they have failed the other. Attempts to solve the problem in isolation, or to hide the addiction, typically fail.

Children of alcoholic parents cope in different ways. A child may feel like they are the cause of the addiction and inherit guilt and shame. They may bury the pain, only for it to return later in life. Other children step into the authority and responsibility that the using parent neglects – much like a partner would – and leave little time or energy to care for themselves.

[External Resource: How Drink Can Affect Families]

Taking Care of You

You’ve decided to care for yourself. Now what? There are several options. One of the most well-known organizations is called Al-Anon. The organization is not run by Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), but there is close cooperation between the two. Al-Anon offers a variety of programs for friends and family of an alcoholic, from conferences to local face-to-face meetings, and even virtual support meetings.

[External Resource: Al-Anon Family Groups]

If your partner is also seeking treatment, there may be additional resources available to you.  Organizations which offer addiction treatment often include programs focused on familial support. This can be a great opportunity to attend therapy or groups with the addicted individual and process treatment as a couple or as a family.

The Next Step

If you are the partner of someone dealing with addiction to alcohol, it’s okay to seek help for yourself. You cannot do it on your own. Step away from any anger or shame that you may be feeling and give yourself permission to take care of yourself. Visit the Al-Anon website or talk to a qualified professional near you.

Talk About It
  1. What is your initial reaction to this topic? What jumped out at you?
  2. Read the following forum post from the Al-Anon Forum: I Learned I Am Not Alone.  Do you feel alone in dealing with your alcoholic partner?  Explain.
  3. What emotions do you feel when you allow yourself to think about your partner’s alcoholism? How do you interact with those feelings?
  4. Why is alcoholism referred to as a “family disease?” In what ways have you seen alcoholism affect marriages? Kids?
  5. What are the dangers of not addressing these issues?
  6. Plan your next step. Write down a firm goal that includes a deadline for either finding a counselor, or establishing a connection with Al-Anon or a similar group.
  7. Write a personal action step based on this conversation.
This topic is adapted from the Howcast YouTube channel. Written content for this topic by John Meade.