How Can I Help My Alcoholic Husband?
Living with an alcoholic partner can be very difficult. Anyone who is struggling with an addiction is undoubtedly struggling with a lot of internal issues, and this can be hard on a relationship. This, coupled with the fact that alcohol is a drug notorious for causing emotional outbursts, irrationality, and memory loss can be very destructive for a marriage. If you're wondering how you can help your alcoholic husband, don't worry - there are some steps that you can take to improve life for both of you. This article will outline some of the best things that you can do to help strengthen your marriage.
How Alcoholism Affects a Person
Alcoholism is a complex disease to deal with, not only for you but for your husband as well. If you're having problems in your relationship because of his alcoholism, imagine how he must be struggling internally. If you're going to approach your husband about his alcoholism, then it's a good idea for you to understand a bit more about what he's going through before doing anything. To start, alcohol is a very dangerous drug. This is evidenced by the fact that it can cause an alcoholic to black out and do things that they usually wouldn't do - a danger not just for them but for anyone around them. Alcoholics are often known for:
- Creating emotional instability. It can be impossible to know how an alcoholic will be feeling at any given time. If your husband goes to the bar, you may find yourself worrying about how they’re going to behave when they return home - will they be happy, angry, anxious, or depressed?
- Being argumentative. Alcoholics tend to be highly reactive and may take offense to things that were not intended to offend them - especially in relationships. Talking about your marriage or mentioning his alcohol problem might lead to spontaneous arguments. Your husband might get defensive very quickly.
- Memory problems. It's quite common for alcoholics to black out and forget what they did the night before. This means that they may not be able to apologize or assume responsibility for acting irrationally because they don't remember what they did.
- Health problems. Alcohol affects many of the different organs in the body. It can affect the liver, leading to jaundice and blood problems. It can cause ulcers and digestive issues. It can contribute to cancer of the intestines and throat. It can affect a person’s cognitive ability and make it hard for them to speak properly.
All of these problems can combine to create a highly unstable and reactive individual. It can be tough to live or maintain a relationship with a person like this.
In an ideal world, it’d be nice to simply bring up the issue of alcoholism to your partner and ask them to stop. Even if they were willing to stop, many alcoholics are unlikely going to be able to do this without experiencing serious and potentially life-threatening withdrawal symptoms. There are a number of biochemical reasons for this, one being the way that glutamate is synthesized after an alcoholic stops drinking. While an alcoholic is drinking, their GABA system is working harder, and the brain is utilizing less glutamate. GABA is an inhibitory system, whereas glutamate is an excitatory compound. These two things are essentially opposites. What the GABA system does, among other things, is inhibit the excitatory hormones in the brain. Over-excitation in the brain leads to things like agitation, anxiety, and over-stimulation, whereas inhibition of these things leads to relaxation, reduced anxiety, and lower stress: the things that alcoholics usually drink to relieve. Unfortunately, through constant drinking, the GABA system ends up producing less GABA on its own. An alcoholic’s brain begins to rely on alcohol to produce their inhibitory GABA. Conversely, since the brain produces less glutamate when they’re drinking, it reacts by producing more glutamate when they stop drinking. This creates a whole host of symptoms that can be potentially dangerous. Glutamate rebound leads to hyper-excitation in the brain, and with no GABA or alcohol to calm the nerves, symptoms can get quite serious:
- Shaking, tremors
- Anxiety, paranoia
- Nausea, vomiting and digestive problems
- Memory problems, cognitive difficulties
- Sensitivity to light and touch
- Increased chance of having seizures
The reduced seizure threshold means that an alcoholic who suddenly stops drinking might actually have a fatal seizure and die. For this reason, harsh alcoholics need to know how to wean themselves off or seek medical help before trying to stop drinking.
How Can You Help Your Husband?
Now you understand why it’s not so easy to just ask your husband to stop drinking. There’s a lot going on during an alcohol addiction. There are a few things to consider when you’re thinking about approaching your husband about his problem.
Before You Approach
It can be challenging to decide on a good time to approach your husband. If he is drunk, he is liable to be emotionally sensitive, aggressive, or confrontational. Many alcoholics refuse to talk about their problem while they are intoxicated. On the flip-side, if you speak to him when he is going through withdrawal symptoms, he may have a short temper and be unwilling to acknowledge his problem. Depending on your husband, one of these times may be better to approach him. When you are going to approach him, remember that it’s important to speak with compassion and love. Do not be aggressive and do not attack him or judge him for his problem - it’s likely that he will feel judged or attacked anyways, but if you are genuinely concerned about his well-being and for the goodness of your marriage, you may be able to get through.
It can be challenging to talk about these things without causing a confrontation. One thing to keep in mind is that you should speak from your perspective and refrain from using any aggressive terminology. For example, instead of telling your husband that he is an alcoholic and needs help, explain to him how you feel and why it's affecting you. “You've been drinking too much, and it's ruining our marriage," would be considered an aggressive statement and is likely just to trigger an argument. “I’m not able to connect with you as easily anymore. Since I’m not drinking, things don’t feel balanced.” This could be a much more appropriate method of bringing the topic into light. If your husband is receptive, then continue to explain your feelings from a first-person perspective. If you are genuinely hurt or upset by his behavior, tell him that - don’t tell him that his behavior is a problem. Remember, the more “I-statements” you use, the better.
After the Approach
So if your husband is receptive and willing to listen to your concerns, what do you do afterward? There are lots of different things you can move towards if he is willing to acknowledge and move through his problem.
Rehabilitation and Detox
If your husband has been drinking heavily for a long time, then the first thing that you’ll want to do is get him through a detox. Since alcohol withdrawal can be serious enough to kill him, it’s important to do two things here:
- Wean him off the alcohol. Weaning is a process in which someone gradually consumes less and less of a substance, so their body becomes less dependent on it so it's easier to 'jump off' into sobriety. If your husband drinks 12 beers a day, for example, encourage him to drink only ten the next week, then 8, then 6. As his tolerance to alcohol decreases, so will his dependence, and this will make withdrawal symptoms much less severe.
- Seek a medically supervised detox. Even with a good weaning schedule, alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be dangerous and unpleasant. Many rehab centers offer a medically supervised detox with 24/7 medical supervision that can help ease your husband's symptoms and care for him while he is going through withdrawal.
If you choose the rehab route, then therapy will likely be provided for your husband. If you don't decide to go through rehab and your husband is able to stop drinking on his own, then it’s incredibly important to seek some sort of therapy to help identify the root cause of his drinking. Even if your husband can stop drinking, if he doesn't figure out why he drank in the first place, then he's liable to relapse and start drinking again weeks, months, or years in the future. Therapy will help him understand himself better so he doesn't feel the need to drink. This is much better than simply forcing him to avoid alcohol while he still desires it.
Finding a support group is vital. A good group of non-drinking friends and family can be instrumental in making sure that your husband doesn't fall back into his habits. Support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous are also an excellent way for him to connect with other recovering alcoholics to share stories, tips, and advice on staying sober. Many people report that they wouldn't have been able to stay sober without their support groups.
Alcoholism is a complicated condition that can affect not only the alcoholic but those that they are close to - especially their spouse. If your husband is an alcoholic, it can be hard to get through to him - but with enough compassion and kindness, you can help him see the error of his ways. If you can do this, you can help him get the support that he needs to get healthy again. Call Lakeview Health at (866) 704-7692 for help today.