Living with an Addict – Alcoholic

Alcohol_desgracia RayNata 2008 wikiLiving with an addict can be a living hell. Unpredictable and dangerous, yet sometimes exciting and romantic. Never knowing when we’ll be blamed or accused. Not being able to dependably plan social events. As the addict becomes more irresponsible, we pick up the slack and do more, often becoming the sole functioning parent or even the sole provider; yet we’re unable to lean on our partner for comfort or support. Meanwhile, we rescue him or her from disasters, medical emergencies, accidents, or jail, make excuses for no-shows at work and family gatherings, and patch up damaged property, relationships, and self-inflicted mishaps. We may also endure financial hardship, criminality, domestic violence, or infidelity due to the addict’s behavior.

We worry, feel angry, afraid, and alone. We hide our private lives from friends, co-workers, and even family to cover up the problems created by addiction or alcoholism. Our shame isn’t warranted; nonetheless, we feel responsible for the actions of the addict. Our self-esteem deteriorates from the addict’s lies, verbal abuse, and blame. Our sense of safety and trust erodes as our isolation and despair grow. My focus is on alcoholism, but many of the feelings partner’s experience are the same, regardless of the type of addiction.

Alcoholism is considered a disease. Like other addiction, it’s a compulsion that worsens over time. Alcoholics drink to ease their emotional pain and emptiness. Some try to control their drinking and may be able to stop for a while, but once alcohol dependency takes hold, most find it impossible to drink like non-alcoholics. When they try to curb their drinking, they eventually end up drinking more than they intend despite their best efforts not to. No matter what they say, they aren’t drinking because of you, nor because they’re immoral or lack willpower. They drink because they have a disease and an addiction. They deny this reality and rationalize or blame their drinking on anything or anyone else. Denial is the hallmark of addiction.

Drinking is considered an “Alcohol Use Disorder,” when there’s a pattern of use causing impairment or distress manifested by at least two of the following signs within a year, when the person:

        1. Drinks alcohol in greater amounts or for a longer period than was intended
        2. Has a persistent desire or has made failed attempts to reduce or control drinking
        3. Spends great time in activities to obtain or use alcohol or to recover from its effects
        4. Has a strong desire to drink alcohol
        5. Fails to meet obligations at work, school, or home due to recurrent drinking
        6. Drinks despite the recurrent social or interpersonal problems caused or worsened as a result
        7. Stops or reduces important activities due to drinking
        8. Drinks when it’s physically hazardous to do so
        9. Drinks despite a recurrent physical or psychological problem caused or worsened as a result
        10. Develops tolerance (needs increased amounts to achieve desired effect)
        11. Has withdrawal symptoms from disuse, such as tremor, insomnia, nausea, anxiety, agitation

Alcoholism is “a family disease.” It’s said that at least five other people experience the effects of each drinker’s alcoholism, coined “secondhand drinking,” by Lisa Frederiksen. We try to control the situation, the drinking, and the alcoholic. If you live with an alcoholic, you’re affected most, and children severely suffer because of their vulnerability and lack of maturity, especially if their mother or both parents are addicts.

It’s painful to helplessly watch someone we love slowly destroy him or herself, our hopes and dreams, and our family. We feel frustrated and resentful from repeatedly believing the addict’s broken promises and from trying to control an uncontrollable situation. This is our denial. In time, we become as obsessed with the alcoholic as he or she is with alcohol. We may look for him or her in bars, count his or her drinks, pour out booze, or search for bottles. As it says in Al-Anon’s “Understanding Ourselves,” “All our thinking becomes directed at what the alcoholic is doing or not doing and how to get the drinker to stop drinking.” Without help, our codependency follows the same downward trajectory of alcoholism.

There is hope, and there is help for the addict and for codependent family members. The first step is to learn as much as you can about alcoholism and codependency. Many of the things we do to help an addict or alcoholic are counterproductive and actually can make things worse. Listen to the experience, strength, and hope of others in recovery. Al-Anon Family Groups can help. You will learn:

• Not to suffer because of the actions or reactions of other people
• Not to allow ourselves to be used or abused by others in the interest of another’s recovery
• Not to do for others what they can do for themselves
• Not to manipulate situations so others will eat, go to bed, get up, pay bills, not drink, or behave as we see fit
• Not to cover up for another’s mistakes or misdeeds
• Not to create a crisis
• Not to prevent a crisis if it is in the natural course of events*

Attend an Al-Anon meeting in your area or online. Read and do the exercises in my book, Codependency for Dummies.

©Darlene Lancer 2014
*Reprinted with permission of Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc., Virginia Beach, VA.

©Darlene Lancer 2014

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27 thoughts on “Living with an Addict – Alcoholic

  1. I am now back to living with my boyfriend and just got a place with him. The drinking is starting to get bad again and my son is turning one in just a week and a half. I am worried because it breaks my heart to have my son hear or see us fighting and I want a good life for him.

    I feel trapped because I cannot afford to live on my own financially and we just signed a lease. If I kick him out I cannot live here on my own. My son deserves the best life possible. I am terrified.

    • It’s essential that you attend Al-Anon meetings to learn how to relate to his drinking. Also do the exercises in Cedependency for Dummies. Many alcoholics get sober, but it takes support for you to stay strong and find the courage to set boundaries or leave if you decide to.

  2. I am in a similar situation as a lot of these comments. My boyfriend and I have been together for almost 5 years and we have an (almost) one year old son together.

    Drinking was never his strong suit and his father is a severe alcoholic. It wasn’t until I was pregnant that his drinking became excessive (on weekdays, earlier in the afternoon, binge drinking) and he became rude and verbally abusive.

    Many times I planned to leave but never did hoping when I had the baby it would get better. It didn’t. I have kicked him out a few times. One time for almost 2 months and he went to a few AA meetings, he did not quit drinking but seemed better.

    • Erica, you need to leave him. It’s as black and white as that. You can put in all the work, expense and time-consuming effort to stay and attend Al-Anon meetings and you’ll still have an emotionally unavailable, depressed, angry drunk in your home most days and evenings. No matter what you do. You will have no time to yourself, no support, no peace of mind, and you’ll be walking on eggshells trying to ignore the blatant selfishness and dysfunction going on right under your nose. I left my alcoholic in April, without anyone’s help, without a job, without a car. I used every credit card I had, maxed them out, rented an economy car and moved out

        • Much respect to you, Darlene, but coming from the trenches and observing many friends/family in the trenches, every case is not different. A rare few are, but most are unnecessary opportunities to suffer the repetition of our childhood trauma and unrequited needs. I encourage everyone in these situations to exit. You can love your alcoholic even better when you get out, get your head straight and allow the alcoholic to fall or fly on their own. There is no reason to stay and threaten them. Leave in love and light. Remain in contact if harm, nor your premature return, are a concern. But by all means necessary, get out.

          • A spouse can allow an alcoholic to stand or fall while in the relationship, once they’ve learned to detach. In fact, by letting go and becoming more autonomous, we can enjoy our lives despite our partner’s problems. Moreover, not all addicts are the abusive or deadbeats.

  3. I live with an alcohol, 6 years in. We have had a very toxic relationship. He has broken down my walls of trust and faith. I can’t rely on him financially, not that I need to, but his credit and finances are below unacceptable level. My problem is my reaction to his bad decisions. Monday might, yesterday, we had a horrible fight. I attacked him and broke things, he laughs and laughs at me when we argue about his drinking and his not coming home because he is to drunk to drive. This is not a responsible adult I am dealing with. He tries to turn it all around on me. He didn’t drive home because he made a good decision, yet he drinks

  4. Darlene and Mel,

    Thanks for your input! I appreciate the reality check and need to hear it more often because more sources have been telling me to stay and love him back to health.

    The problem may be insurmountable though because, like Mel described, my alcoholic was adopted and sexually abused my baby sitters and an adoptive uncle when he was 7-10. When he talks about it, he acts as though it was acceptably tolerable when the abuses happened because at least they happened gently, or without force or injury. I think he needs counseling because he’s shut down emotionally unless he imbibes. He appears discouraged and has a sense of meaninglessness. He’s a terrific writer but he won’t write except to post commentary and opinion on social media, news sites, etc.

    The point is, he has promise, potential, and gentleness when he stays sober, but it’s only external controls that keep him sober: lacking cash. I’ve recently told him that I no longer feel safe and think it’s best that I leave but he repeatedly said that he wants us to stay together. Knowing his past, and that I still love him, I’ve given him another chance. I told him if he is ever disrespectful or abusive again, I’m leaving. I know that without sobriety and behavioral retraining, he’ll likely repeat abusive behaviors, but I don’t know what would be best for me to do since he’s discouraged. I’ve heard many reports that alcoholics and drug addicts need supportive systems in order to recover. I’ve also heard they need to hit bottom. I’m not sure which would propel my guy to seek therapy / recovery. I don’t know what would ever motivate him to care about his future, his health, work, milestones of success and achievement, my needs if I stay. I know he’s not equipped to navigate a relationship successfully, but I still can’t abandon him just yet. My patience has not yet run out and I think that’s the only thing that will change if he doesn’t seek recovery.

    • Juli – it hurts my heart and gives me anxiety to read your comment. I am almost 2 years sober myself and just recently divorced an alcoholic and drug addict. It was a brief second marriage and like you mentioned…he had “potential”. Layer on a full blown Narcissist and you have a lethal combination. He said all the right things when he was sober but was a very unpleasant, hurtful and self absorbed when he wasn’t. I tried EVERYTHING, including leading the way with my own sobriety. How could I expect him to quit if I couldn’t. We went to counseling, I tried to get him in rehab…nothing worked. My rock bottom was saving myself and my family!

  5. This questions deals with guilt related to leaving an angry alcoholic spouse. My husband of 11 years is an alcoholic and has major anger issues. This is his 3rd marriage, each previous spouse left due to the anger and alcoholism. He is what they call a high functioning alcoholic, has a good job, pays his bills and is able to function fairly normally but is under the influence all the time at some level. He is extremely negative, going to days without saying anything positive and can be verbally abusive. He is disrespectful and often seems uncaring. He seems to take pleasure in others misfortune. He gets extremely angry over normal life issues and often talks about killing people saying that it wouldn’t bother him. I have prepared to leave as I see his behavior getting worse and I have everything in place… but my guilt about doing this behind his back is causing me a great deal of pain. I am also worried about hurting him…even though he has been very cruel without any visible remorse many times. I know I have to go through some pain and that I will be ok but the guilt is paralyzing me to the point that I am thinking of staying which know is not in my best interest. I think that part of the problem is that he is being very nice right now…he has a cycle where he will drink less for a couple of weeks and give the impression that our life will be normal, but it never stays that way for long. Help!!!

    • All of your feelings are very typical of living with an alcoholic. Go to an Al-Anon meeting asap and keep going. Work on developing your self-esteem and assertiveness. Notice how you feel guilty asserting your own needs. My books and ebooks will be invaluable to you. Do the exercises and practice, practice, practice.

      • Hi Kelli 🙂

        Both of my grandfathers were apparently alcoholics- and abusive to their wives.. alcoholics and people with other addictions use these things as ways to numb their inner pain because they were often never taught healthy ways of coping with problems, and I believe that for men it’s generally even more difficult dealing with things that hurt them- I believe that a big contributor of not healing or recovering from their inner pain is how society directly and indirectly discourages boys and men from expressing their natural emotions.. without providing knowledge of how important it is to express them.. This essentially sets them up to either internalize their pain and stress (depression, anxiety), or causes external effects (addiction, aggressive/violent behavior, etc.) from bottling up their pain and stress..
        Not knowing about how to identify the root cause (childhood trauma & abuse) and their beliefs taught to them directly and indirectly from a young age about how society (wronly) defines men who express emotions as ‘weak’ or ‘unmanly); these are two barriers that prevent healing.. how can someone begin to get better and reduce their pain that started when they were abused or neglected un childhood if they are not aware of or able to recognize the actual cause..? All the bad habits and self abuse are just automatic defensive reactions to try to protect what little self esteem they have left.

        And I’ve heard a really good saying that helps to explain a lot of the nasty mean behavior shown by many alcoholics codependants and addicts:
        ‘You Teach People how to Treat You’. Defensive protection of yourself because of not being able to trust others (after being abused by people who you trusted the most- family members etc.) puts a wall up and pushes people away- eventually often causing them to end up alone or in painful relationships.. deep down they don’t feel that they deserve good things, they don’t feel they are worth being happy after others treated them so badly when they were little- so therefore developed the belief that they don’t matter. This is the message children are told when others treat them that way, and so it becomes their reality.. ♡

        • People do get better every day from growing up in an alcoholic or other abusive or dysfunctional family. Aside from therapy, there are programs such as ACA and Al-Anon for Adult Children, which breaks down denial and gives members new tools and attitudes to live by.

    • Kelli, I’m in this same boat as you. I’m ready to leave my alcoholic, but the compassion is holding me back. Plus, he’s unemployed, emotionally unavailable and has very little clue what is necessary for a successful adult relationship. He doesn’t want us to split and when he’s sober he’s adamant about that. But nurturing, apologies, encouragement, emotional support, non-existent or minimal. I’m giving us another chance, because it pains me to “throw someone away” who’s a gentle guy when he’s sober. Like you, it’s not my codependency that’s keeping me from leaving, but my strong sense of concern, compassion and care for others, deserving or not. It’s why I haven’t gravely harmed those who have harmed me one way or another.

      • Kelli and Juli, I’m not against second chances (how many really?), but to address your perspective: You’re not “throwing someone away.” They are doing that to themselves. You may be exiting a sinking boat. Sobriety is a beginning. It isn’t a guarantee, nor easy for either partner. It takes time and effort, and often therapy, to heal the past and learn to relate on a totally different level. Be sure to attend Al-Anon whatever you decide.

    • This is a follow up to my November post. I did it, I left and although i seem to have different feelings every day I am better than I thought I would be. I was surprised to find his family supportive of me and in agreement that he has some work to do. Today I made the mistake of taking his call. After 43 voice mails that I did not listen to and a dozen red roses sent to my work I decided that i should at least talk to him. He sobbed and read a letter he wrote about how he realizes that he needs to stop drinking and how alcohol is to blame for his stupidity and that all he wants is for me to come home so we can be a family. He promises to stop drinking and take better care of me and our marriage. He does not plan to go through a program , he thinks he can do it on his own. I told him I am not coming home, that i need to work on myself because I enabled him for so many years. I told him I had shut down emotionally because I was hurt by him and I had become resentful and that it doesn’t just go away so I needed time although I wasn’t closing the door completely. He wanted a time line and I would not give him one, he asked if I was going to spend Christmas with him and I said no. He wants guarantees and time periods that I cannot give and I could hear him starting to get angry… I think maybe he is just saying what he thinks will make me come back. He has never said he would change before, in fact, he has never admitted that he has a problem with alcohol before so I see that as positive but my gut says they are just words. I have made things ok for him for 14 years, i have done things that I didn’t want to do just because it was easier than facing his anger and now that he is getting frustrated I feel nauseous… not that I want to go back , I don’t but I am noticing that I want to fix it. Should I not talk to him at all for awhile? I do not have a local Al Anon chapter to attend and the on line meetings are kind of frustrating for me. I am seeing a therapist but she is on vacation until January. He wants to talk daily and at first I thought that might be ok but now I don’t think so. This is going to be a lesson in boundaries for me as i have had a hard time setting them with him in the past. Any advice is appreciated. he does not know where I am staying and only has my cell number so I can turn it off if i need to.


      • Congratulations Kelli! Your move took a lot of courage. I’m surprised there’s no Al-Anon there. Attending a few AA meetings will also be helpful to see what’s possible when an alcoholic commits to sobriety and to understand your husband better. Maintaining boundaries is really difficult without some outside support. He will have to do his own work and win back your trust – if you ever decide to return. The timetable is really up to him, and you can’t say now how you’ll feel then. If you’re interested I do coaching by phone.

      • Congrats Kelli!

        That’s great to hear how you found courage to take a stand.

        I understand the Catch 22 situation where it’s like choosing between 2 options- and from my perspective both involve stress & loneliness to some extent, and there’s pro’s and con’s for either option;

        A) seeing the good in him, feeling that the only option is to ‘fix’ things, soothe some of the pain away or try to ‘make it better’.. and be doing this partly from guilt, partly feeling obligated (and partly because of love) OR
        B) Choosing to leave, then going thru the ‘adult tantrums’/resistance to you leaving (as he has become used to us being available to be used as an ineffective ‘pain reliever’ to temporarily take the edge off of his inner pain.

        But I would think that it’s probably best to keep some distance if he isn’t willing to attend any professional service with you to try to work things out.. I think you’re right about going with your gut instinct- it’s usually a more healthy indicator to help us decide which choices to make, isn’t it? (Thank goodness we can rely on our gut for this; at least it’s not codependent! ! 🙂 )

        I can’t say that I have all the right answers or anything. I’m not in your situation, but I can reflect on my own experiences over the past 16 years & 2 long term relationships over this time- my 1st was with an emotional manipulator that turned more physically intimidating towards the end, and my current is similar unfortunately- but no physical abuse.. I’ve spent much of the past 6 months reading (and re-reading) about the techniques in Codependency for Dummies, and have begun using them in communicating more assertively; Setting boundaries and communicating needs by verbalizing emotions instead of withdrawing or sulking, and it’s been quite refreshing actually- it seems to take some of the weight off my shoulders, and the more I do it, the more I enjoy it and become better at it.
        I started using these techniques not only when I felt that I had grasped the concept of them better, but also after I had been focusing for awhile on taking better care of myself, and developing my self-compassion- which then I noticed had a positive effect on my feeling of compassion towards other close people in my life.. it became a healthier, safer feeling of compassion- like it developed within myself, and then overflowed to others..
        Using more assertiveness in my communication with my partner has generally had good results- I feel a bit more in conrol of my life and have had somewhat better reactions from him (or it may be that his reactions aren’t quite bothering me as much generally- probably both).

        So anyway, as much as we love our partners, I think it’s important to remember that if we respect ourselves, it helps in allowing the opportunity to receive respect in return- and that if we are self-aware and practice self-compassion first, then it’s safer and easier to be compassionate and open towards our partners and others- but it’s important to define your ‘bottom line’-
        I’ve been watching some youtube videos on assertiveness etc.. I find that they help. And I’m seriously considering attending a local Coda meeting. I’ve looked up the locations in my state.
        I’m enjoying feeling more in control of my life and this old feeling of empowerment 🙂
        Just need to try and not put too much pressure on myself, and continue to take small, progressive steps in the right direction.
        Take care ladies; Merry Christmas for next week- we ought to remember that we are not alone in this- best wishes.. xo

        • Thanks Mel, and congratulations to you for really making the effort to put to work the tools and suggestions in Codependency for Dummies. It’s true that each time you read it, you’ll glean more understanding, and doing the exercises and putting the tools to work allow you to reap the rewards. FYI there are online CoDA meetings, too, though attending one is always better. For others, Al-Anon is helpful.

        • Thanks Mel.. I like reading your posts because they make me think. It has been a little over a week since I left and he says he has attended an AA “class’ at which he took notes about the things that he thinks will help him. He also said that obviously there are people who can’t find closure as they are still attending meeting after 25 years. He reminds me on a regular basis how miserable he is but has yet to inquire as to my well being, whether I need anything…and tells me how hard this is for him to go through this without me. According to him he has not had a drink since I left last Saturday and has no desire to drink. Although I am proud of him and hope that he is actually going to follow through, I do not have any desire to go back, I had a few days when I wanted to “fix it for him” by going back but that has passed and now I feel happy and relaxed and free. I don’t know if this will pass or if I am truly done. I do feel a bit guilty for not wanting to help him and for feeling very little about his pain. I guess I can find better things to do than feel guilty about not feeling guilty. My gut says he is saying all the things that he thinks I want to hear in order for me to come back and that soon he will start getting angry because I am not doing what he wants. I feel like I just want to say “I am proud of you but I am not coming back.” but feel like perhaps I should give it some time and see what happens, like I owe him or something. I guess time will tell. I am looking forward to my first drama free Christmas in 14 years…Christmas how I want it to be, what a concept. Merry Christmas everyone!

    • OMG I could have written this-this is me. At the current moment, my husband I are getting along (he stills drinks all the time and is angry and rude beyond belief), but I want to leave and feel guilty about doing so. He has had a seizure and I feel like I will be abandoning him if he needs medical help. I am so over this marriage – I am 60 and want my own life. I am secretly making plans to leave and don’t know if that is the right way to do this.

    • Your feelings are all part of the abusive pattern. Good, bad, ugly, false repair…it will never stop until he gets sober and that isn’t all the work he needs to do. The alcohol is just masking the underlying issues…his anger, disrespect, not loving himself. He has to get sober to work on those issues and if he doesn’t it will never happen. You didn’t get him to this state….you didn’t bring him here you can’t be held responsible for leaving him here. Read on detaching, letting go and you may identify with patterns of codependency….I let go and it saved my life!

  6. I am concerned about my nephew’s drinking. He has been binge drinking for the last 4 years (he is 19 now). Nothing I say seems to get through to him…he doesn’t see the danger. Any suggestions?

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