Tips For Living With a Functioning Alcoholic

Written by Chloe Nicosia

These tips for living with a functioning alcoholic can improve your mental health and wellbeing and help your loved one make the choice to enter treatment.

Living with a functioning alcoholic can take a major toll on your health and wellbeing. Addiction is a family disease that affects every member of the household in big and small ways. 

The chaos and uncertainty that addiction brings to the household impacts everyone in the home. Coping with an alcoholic spouse can be frustrating and frightening, and you may develop unhealthy coping mechanisms to deal with a high functioning alcoholic husband or wife. You may feel like your world is coming apart at the seams, and you may find yourself feeling increasingly isolated, hopeless, and fearful for the future.

Children who have a parent with an addiction are around four times more likely to develop a substance use disorder later on than children who don’t have an addicted parent. Children may cope by withdrawing or acting out, both of which can impact their social and academic success and their happiness later on.

Living with a functioning alcoholic is tough, no matter how you look at it. Here are some tips for living with and coping with your high functioning alcoholic husband or wife.

1. Understand addiction.

Understanding addiction and how it develops and is treated is essential for helping your spouse get help down the road. It’s also crucial for helping you understand how addiction changes thought and behavior patterns and keeps the individual addicted. Your spouse may be high functioning now, but it’s important to understand that addiction is a progressive disease, and it will only get worse without professional help.

2. Join a support group.

Coping with an alcoholic spouse can leave you feeling frustrated, angry, fearful, and isolated. Talking with other people who understand firsthand what you’re going through can go a long way toward reducing some of the intense negative emotions that go along with living with a functioning alcoholic. A support group like Al-Anon, the largest of its kind, gives you the opportunity to get encouragement, tips and advice, resources, and other important information from people who’ve been there. It offers you a safe place to vent and ask questions, and it reduces feelings of isolation and fear.

3. Get counseling.

When coping with an alcoholic spouse, many people develop unhealthy coping behaviors, such as over-eating, compulsively shopping, or spending a great deal of time on the Internet. You may also have developed enabling or co-dependent behaviors that not only allow your spouse to abuse alcohol with little consequence, but which also put your mental health and wellbeing at great risk.

Counseling can help you sort through these issues and identify any unhelpful thought and behavior patterns you’ve developed as a result of coping with your spouse’s addiction. Ending enabling behaviors, such as making excuses for your spouse or removing the consequences of the addiction, can go a long way toward helping your spouse decide to seek treatment.

4. Try to get your spouse into treatment.

Once you understand addiction and have sorted through your own issues related to it, you can be far more effective at convincing your spouse to seek treatment for the addiction.

When your spouse is sober, talk about how the addiction is affecting you and the children. Explain to your spouse that you believe he or she is addicted and needs treatment. Your spouse may deny that there’s a problem, but keep talking about it when the time is right. If the addiction is affecting you or your children deeply and reducing your quality of life, consider holding an intervention, which can be very successful for getting your spouse into treatment.

5. Don’t give up hope.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration stresses that hope is the foundation of recovery. It’s crucial to hold onto hope that your spouse will recover and that your future will be brighter. In the meantime, seek help, learn about your spouse’s addiction, and get the support you need to cope with the addiction in healthy ways. BAC can help you find a treatment program that offers intervention services as well as help you find the right kind of rehab program for your alcoholic spouse once he or she decides to end the addiction for good.