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Living with an Alcoholic: What a Sober Partner Can Do

January 22, 2019

On good days, life seems to be exactly as you hoped – full of laughter, good conversation and shared goals. On bad days, you wonder if you’re in the same relationship at all.

Living with an alcoholic, someone with alcohol use disorder, can feel like a frenetic ride on an unpredictable and uncharted road, according to Pamela Mirante, a licensed clinical social worker at Rushford who works with clients with alcohol use disorder and their family members.

“I try to bring everyone together” she said of the recovery process. “You can’t do this separately.”

Anyone wondering if a loved one has a drinking problem, she said, can ask these questions:

  • Are they missing work or school regularly?
  • Are they disappearing for lengths of time, spending too much time in the basement or the garage?
  • Are they hiding alcohol?
  • Are they experiencing mood swings, maybe acting more argumentative than usual?
  • Has their hygiene lapsed?
  • Has there been a change in appetite and/or weight change?
  • Have they been charged with driving while under the influence (DUI)?
  • Are they lethargic?
  • Do they drink at regular times and get irritable if they can’t?
  • Are they avoiding activities they once enjoyed?

The first response to the alcoholic should always be one of love, not what’s known as “tough love,” Mirante said, adding that loved ones should broach the subject of drinking openly and honestly.

“Ask the person about it. Say, ‘Do you think you’re drinking too much?’ Whatever you’re thinking about, just ask it. You don’t want to be part of the problem in the long run,” she explained, although she quickly said the answers given may not be as truthful as the questions. “They will probably lie at first, but you need to get it out in the open.”

Because the alcoholic may lie, the sober partner is left feeling as if the problem were imagined.

“Usually, the sober partner feels crazy, wondering ‘Am I imagining this?’” Mirante said. “It’s hard to know what to do but if everything comes from a place of love and the desire to communicate, it generally works out.”

It can help the sober partner stay motivated to help, she said, by not thinking of alcoholism as a shameful disease.

“I tell people to urge their loved one to get help and then just love them to death as if they have stage four cancer,” she said. “Help them do the tough work of getting and staying sober. Support what they need to do to be sober, whether it’s getting a sponsor, going to meetings or maintaining a sober home.

“Treat alcoholism like a peanut allergy. If your loved one is allergic to peanuts, you wouldn’t have anything with peanuts in your house. Alcohol in the home of an alcoholic is just dangerous.”

While putting these steps in motion, Mirante suggested that the sober partner also seek help dealing with the disease. There are support groups for family members and parents of alcoholics seeking care through Rushford and free Al-Anon meetings elsewhere in the community.

“I see a lot of partner resentment when the alcoholic seeks help,” Mirante said. “They have new friends, get out for meetings, chat with their sponsor and the sober partner feels left out and alone. It’s especially difficult if they feel they’ve done all the work while the alcoholic was drinking – paying the bills, making excuses to family members and friends. They need an equal amount of support because it can become an unequal balance in the relationship again.”

Her goal is to “help rebuild the love and compassion in the home” and help the sober partner settle back into the role of partner or parent again. A registered certified yoga instructor, she also suggested yoga and meditation for both the sober partner and alcoholic and offers sessions at Rushford, part of Hartford HealthCare’s Behavioral Health Network.

For information about alcohol abuse treatment at Rushford, click here.