• Being the partner or family member of an alcoholic is difficult

  • It's important not to take the blame for their actions, says therapist Lyn Reed

  • If you are struggling with alcohol dependance, you can find a therapist here

Have you heard the one about the drinker who says to their partner ‘I don’t have a problem so don’t tell anyone’? This person is in denial, a common response from someone who is unable to face up to the detrimental impact the use of alcohol is having both on themselves and on others.

When we live with someone whose drinking behaviour interferes with day-to-day life it can be easy to acquire some of their behavioural characteristics. 

For example, it is common for the drinker to blame others for their drinking. And It can be easy for a partner to internalise and accept that blame. But you are not to blame.

Drinkers often promise, time and again, they will stop drinking. As a partner it is natural to think ‘if they loved me they would stop’. So when the abstinence does not happen, we tend to take it personally.

Apart from anything else, it is important to remember that the drinker’s brain chemistry may have changed. They may not be totally in control of their own decision-making. This is not to let the drinker off the hook. Studies show heavy and continual drinking affects the brain functions, often impairing memory and concentration.

Then we may want to control our partner’s drinking by whatever means we can. But the more we try and take control the more likely the drinker will find ways to access the drink.

If the drinker cannot control the drink – what makes you think YOU can control it?

Or we may try and find a cure for the drinking. But an addiction to drinking is a progressive and chronic illness. And you cannot cure an illness.

Anyone who has a problem with alcohol needs professional help. Seeking professional help means going outside the family unit. Doing so risks other people knowing about what is going on. This can bring shame and despair if, as is usually the case you have tried your best to keep the drinking a secret – which effectively supports the drinker in their behaviour.

As a result, partners can lose their own identity. You may not drink like the person with the drink problem, but you may start to BEHAVE like them.

So in their attempts to protect and care for the drinker as well as keeping their own emotions repressed, partners too become isolated. They build a prison where the world cannot get to them. They tell themselves and others that things are okay, things will change. They too are now in denial. Just like the drinker.

If you are living with someone whose drinking is getting in the way of your own day-to-day living you need to remember:

Nothing and no one is going to get between the drinker and their drug of choice until they make a conscious decision they are going to change their behaviour and seek professional help.

What to do?

  • Recognise your own needs, and get outside help
  • Counselling could help to reconnect with yourself
  • Attending Al-Anon (for partners and families) could help you feel less isolated
  • Ask you GP for help if you feel you are getting depressed or anxious
  • Go on-line and find a support group if you are not ready to talk/meet other people. Just reading about how others cope is a positive step.

Related content

How addiction destroys relationships:

The five stages of giving up alcohol

How to tell loved ones about your issues with alcohol

The causes of addiction: from a counsellor and recovering addict

Coping with an alcoholic relapse