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What is it like living with an alcoholic?

Posted by Mike Delaney
on 30 Jan 2023

What’s included?

  1. Introduction
  2. The effects of living with an alcoholic on partners
  3. How children are affected by living with an alcoholic
  4. What can I do about living with an alcoholic?
  5. How can Delamere help a loved one with alcohol addiction?

We’ve seen it portrayed in the media. Angry outbursts, smashed bottles, dramatic exits. But what is it really like living with an alcoholic? The truth is that alcoholism affects people from all walks of life. The stereotypical image of someone lying in the gutter should be confined to an 80’s soap opera. Living with an alcoholic is not always a runaway train of tense exchanges and life-changing disruptions. Often, it’s a flowing river that is always quietly threatening to burst its banks. The biggest problem? You love them. 

Unfortunately, someone living with an alcoholic may be inadvertently enabling them. When you care deeply for another person – partner, parent, sibling or friend – you’ll do anything to support them. Whether that’s putting a drink in their hand, so they don’t wake up fitting in the night, or lying for them to keep up appearances. It’s easy to fall for the smoke and mirrors that dovetail a dependence on alcohol. And, if you depend on their income, parenting or company, it can be even harder to break free. 

There’s no question about the importance of family and friends in the recovery process. The people who work or live with an alcoholic are often the key to them getting help and sticking to their goals. If you’re worried about someone you love, a family conference, or planned intervention, can play an important role in starting treatment. 

Want advice on living with an alcoholic? Speak to Delamere

The effects of living with an alcoholic on partners

Alcohol addiction breaks the person as much as it does those around them. Living with an alcoholic causes mistrust, intimacy issues, mental and physical problems and relationship breakdown. People in long-term relationships often excuse addictive behaviour because they can remember what the person was like before alcohol. It’s a phase. It will pass. He or she is just trying to work through a death, job loss, accident, something. But the longer addiction worms its way into your relationship the stronger it clings on. 

Lies and deception

Addiction by its nature is a selfish disease. The effect alcohol has on the brain results in a one-track mission to drink, pushing everyone and anything else aside. Someone who is addicted to alcohol may lie about how much they’re drinking or where they’ve been after work. You might find bottles hidden in unusual places or notice slurred words without explanation. As a partner you’re programmed to question, but this is often met with defensiveness. Fear of retaliation silences the concerned party, and the cycle begins again. 

Anxiety and uncertainty

According to science, there are four distinct types of people when drunk: Mary Poppins (happy and cheerful), Ernest Hemmingway (seemingly unaffected), The Nutty Professor (Wild and free) and, perhaps the most dangerous, Mr Hyde (hostile and unpredictable). When you live with an alcoholic you might experience all four of them, sometimes in the space of an evening. This makes it incredibly difficult to anticipate someone’s behaviour and feel relaxed in their presence. 

Sex and intimacy

A close physical connection is a natural part of any healthy relationship. But the effects alcohol has on the mind and body can make having sex and being intimate challenging. The initial effect of alcohol helps you to relax and lose inhibitions. However, in high doses over a long period, it can decrease sex drive and sexual function. If you’re living with an alcoholic, you’re probably no stranger to going to bed alone while your partner sleeps off the damage. If this carries on for months or years, that side to your relationship will likely stop altogether. 

Co-dependency and mental health

In a co-dependent relationship your actions rely on someone else’s behaviour. If both parties rely on alcohol to function this can lead to mutual acceptance and avoidance of the issue. It may also encourage you to drink more to cope with each other’s behaviour. People who suffer with mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression, may find their symptoms get worse and alcohol becomes a means to cope. 

How children are affected by living with an alcoholic

The real innocents in alcoholism are children. They have no control over being exposed to destructive relationships and dysfunctional parents. Yet what they witness and encounter from birth will have a profound effect in later life. Children of alcoholics have a higher rate of anxiety, depression and low self esteem in comparison to children of non-alcoholics. This can result in complications during childhood and early adulthood. 

Feeling unloved and neglected

Living with an alcoholic as a child leaves you vulnerable to mental and physical harm. A parent struggling with alcohol addiction may find it difficult to take care of themselves let alone look after a child. This means basic care needs can fall by the wayside. A child living with an alcoholic might miss meals, have dirty clothes or be endangered by being left alone.

Difficulty communicating with others

Parents who are functioning alcoholics tend to foster a culture of secrecy. They don’t want children telling the teacher or neighbour about what’s going on at home. As a result of erratic behaviour, children may feel they can’t speak up or challenge their parents’ behaviour, making them feel anxious and afraid.

Developmental delays

Alcohol doesn’t only cause developmental problems in unborn children. Young people who grow up living with an alcoholic parent can be affected socially, emotionally and psychologically. Children often carry guilt, worrying that they are the cause. They may be embarrassed about their home life or angry at a caregiver for letting them down. Being unable to process these challenging emotions can lead to behavioural problems that last into adulthood. 

What can I do about living with an alcoholic?

Be kind to yourself. The fact you’re still here, and wondering how you can help, means you can play a positive role in someone’s recovery. There are some things you can do to lessen the impact on yourself and any children in the house. Others might require you to be brave and reach out for professional help. 

Put your needs first

When you’re living with an alcoholic your well-being is usually last on the list. Recognise that their problem drinking is affecting you and take steps to look after your health and care needs first. If you can remain strong mentally and physically, especially if children are involved, it will help you to cope on the darkest days. 

Talk to them and be supportive

This is a tough one. When you love someone, but are struggling to like them, showing empathy is difficult. Try to remember that alcoholism is a disease, not a personal vendetta. Encourage them to open up and talk about why they’re drinking. Offer to join them in sobriety or support them in other ways that show you care. 

Plan activities that don’t involve alcohol 

We have a long-established drink culture in the UK that is hard to shake off. Many social events and interactions revolve around booze. That makes it tricky to avoid. If you can get alcohol out of the house, that’s a first step. You can also try to avoid scenarios where drinking is actively encouraged. It’s always best to talk to your loved one first about your intentions. Trying to dupe them into sober situations is bound to make things worse.

Stage an intervention 

Interventions work best when a group of family members or friends are all working towards the same goal. Getting someone sober. Speak to your loved one individually and in a group, without making them feel intimidated. If they are in denial and resisting treatment, but you’ve reached the point of no return, it may be time to access professional addiction intervention services

How can Delamere help a loved one with alcohol addiction? 

If you’re living with an alcoholic and nothing you say or do is working, we can help. Delamere has a team of addiction experts who can stage an intervention that encourages your loved one to enter alcohol rehab. It may sound scary, but a residential rehab programme is the safest way for someone to quit alcohol and their best chance of recovery.

At our purpose-built wellness retreat in Cheshire we can provide a clinical alcohol detox under the close supervision of our expert medical team. Following this, our holistic therapists work with them one-to-one and in group settings to understand the source of their addiction. We will teach the tools to empower them to live life free from alcohol. 

Our three-stage approach looks at each aspect of a person’s life: emotionally, mentally and physically. By concentrating on the root cause, we can build a future-proof recovery plan. We also provide full support for friends and family members to help their loved one stop craving alcohol, start healing the pain and grow beyond addiction.

About the author: Mike Delaney

Mike crafted our innovative and person centred approach to addiction treatment. Mike’s experience in the addiction treatment sector encompasses his work as a nurse, psychotherapist and Chief Executive.

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