What Should I Do if My Wife Can’t Stop Drinking?
Helping a loved one recognize they have a problem with drinking, and then helping them moderate or stop drinking, is challenging. Start by learning more about alcohol use disorder so you know what kinds of behaviors are considered problematic. Then have a frank but compassionate talk with your wife about drinking. Take steps together to limit how much you drink or stop altogether, and know when you can no longer help and treatment is necessary.
Alcohol abuse is serious and damaging. If your wife drinks too much or abuses alcohol, she may or may not have an alcohol use disorder, but her behaviors put her at serious risk. Any kind of excessive or problem drinking can lead to addiction and have other far-reaching consequences.
If your wife drinks too much, has tried to stop, or does not believe she needs to stop or moderate, you may feel at a loss. There are some important things you can do, though, including encouraging her to get professional help.
Know the Signs of Alcohol Use Disorder
Mild, moderate, and severe alcohol use disorder are the official terms used to describe what used to be called alcohol abuse and alcoholism. Several signs indicate a person may have an alcohol use disorder, with just two or three necessary for a diagnosis of a mild condition:
- She often has a hard time limiting the amount she drinks.
- Your wife tries to cut back on alcohol but fails most of the time.
- She spends a lot of time drinking or hungover.
- She experiences cravings when not drinking.
- Your wife is struggling to keep up at work or with other responsibilities because of drinking.
- She continues to drink in spite of these and other problems, such as in your relationship.
- She has given up some activities in order to drink more.
- Her behaviors when drinking have become risky or unsafe.
- She has a tolerance and needs to drink more to get the same effect.
- Your wife goes through withdrawal symptoms when not drinking.
If your wife exhibits two or three of these symptoms regularly, and they cause distress or impairment, she may have a mild use disorder. Four to five signs indicate a moderate disorder, and six or more of the above symptoms may be classified as severe alcohol use disorder.
Start With an Honest Talk About Drinking
Once you better understand the diagnosis, you are ready to open up to your wife about her drinking, why it worries you, how it impacts you, and about making positive changes. Having this talk isn’t easy, but nothing will change until you do it. Here’s how to do it right:
- Only talk to your wife about drinking when she is sober and when you both have time and privacy.
- Practice first. Outline what you want to say because at the moment it can be easy to get overcome by emotions and forget something.
- Avoid being accusatory or judgmental. Instead, focus on your concerns for her. Let her know you love her, don’t blame her, and want her to be healthy.
- Talk about you too. Describe how her drinking impacts you and your relationship with each other, but do it with compassion.
- Finally, come prepared with some solutions. Offer to help her moderate her drinking, or if you feel it’s necessary, give her some options for a treatment plan and assure her you will support her on this journey.
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Tips to Help Your Wife Moderate or Stop Drinking
Helping your wife starts with opening up and being honest with her about the behaviors that trouble you. Now you have to take action. If she recognizes that she could drink less or should not drink at all, you can help her make those changes. If these efforts fail, convince her to get professional treatment for alcohol use disorder.
- Record your drinking. If your wife has a hard time seeing the problem in her behaviors, keep a record together. List what and how much you drink day by day and describe the results of that drinking in a journal. Seeing the actual amounts in writing can be eye-opening. It’s also powerful and motivating to connect drinking with its negative consequences, such as having a headache or failing to get tasks done the next day.
- Set a goal and achieve it together. The two of you are partners, which means you have to get through difficult times together and sometimes make sacrifices. Your wife may find it easier to change drinking habits if you do it with her. Set goals together, like avoiding drinking for two weeks or limiting drinks to one night per week, and then support each other in achieving them.
- Remove alcohol from the house. To limit alcohol intake, make it more difficult to access. Yes, you can always go out, but that takes more work. If it’s easier to stay in and have a nice dinner or a cup of tea, she is more likely to do that. If the bottle of wine is open and in the refrigerator, it’s too easy to pour a glass.
- Avoid situations with heavy drinking. A social gathering among friends who drink moderately may not be a problem. In fact, it could help her follow an example of how to drink responsibly. However, going to bars or parties, or being around people you know will drink too much, is a bad idea. These situations act like triggers and normalize excessive drinking, making it easier for your wife to find an excuse to drink, too.
- Avoid or better manage triggers. Being around other drinkers can be a major trigger for drinking, but it’s likely not the only factor. Talk about what situations or feelings make her want to reach for a drink. Stress, for example, can be a big trigger. Together, you can minimize stress in your life and learn coping mechanisms for it that are much healthier than drinking.
- Replace drinking with other activities. Speaking of triggers, sometimes it’s little more than boredom or habit that leads to drinking. Change the habits in your household and eliminate boredom by keeping busy with other activities. Go out and do something fun without alcohol, try a new sport or type of exercise, go for regular evening walks, or just play games or watch a movie.
When and How to Get Treatment
If these attempts to stop or moderate drinking fail, it’s time to get professional help for your wife. Knowing when it’s time can be difficult, but the bottom line is that getting treatment for any degree of alcohol abuse is never bad. If you are unsure, err on the side of caution. In fact, getting treatment while alcohol use disorder is still mild helps prevent more harm and an escalation of symptoms later.
Talk to your wife about her options. Remind her that you have both been trying to drink less and that, despite these efforts, drinking is still causing problems for her. Her health is at risk, your relationship is being damaged, and you are worried about her.
A residential alcohol rehab center can be a great way to help her learn how to make lasting, positive changes. It isn’t a quick fix, whether she goes for residential care or outpatient therapy. But the more dedicated time spent in residential treatment will give her the tools she can turn to again and again. Alcohol use disorder can recur, but getting help earlier mitigates the risk of more serious issues down the road.
It may be scary for her to go to treatment. Help her accept the treatment by assuring her that you will support her efforts, take care of the kids if you have them, and manage any other concerns she has about leaving home. Take a tour of a facility together to find one she feels comfortable in.
Alcohol use disorder is treatable. The earlier you address it, the easier it will be for your wife to make positive changes that last for decades. Avoiding the problem is easy and facing it is hard. But taking the hard steps now will make the future better for both of you.
Alta Mira offers comprehensive treatment for people struggling with drug and alcohol addiction as well as co-occurring mental health disorders.
Contact us today to start the journey toward lasting recovery.