If you live with someone with alcohol use disorder, you know addiction doesn’t just impact one person. Here’s how it can affect the whole household.
Supporting a loved one with alcohol use disorder (AUD) through their addiction and even recovery can be challenging, yet social support is necessary for recovery. Sharing a home with them adds a whole new layer of complexity.
Whether they’re a partner, parent, or friend, living with someone with active alcohol use can create turmoil in your life. The impact on your health and how you view the world can be long lasting.
AUD is a chronic (long-term) but treatable condition with available treatment options. Regardless of where the person with AUD is in their recovery or addiction, it’s important for loved ones to consider getting support for themselves.
You aren‘t alone in this experience. Building up a support network around you — along with reading advice on how to cope — can help you get through the most challenging times.
There are a variety of emotions and behaviors that can come up if you live with someone misusing alcohol. The effects and feelings may depend on the type of relationship you have with the person with AUD. Every day might be different, depending on how controlled their drinking is or how alcohol or withdrawal is making them feel.
If you’re the partner of someone with AUD, you might feel isolated — or tempted to isolate out of embarrassment or shame. Experiencing domestic violence, emotional abuse, or other hurtful actions like infidelity can further push partners to withdraw from family and friends.
Spouses of people with AUD also experience higher rates of depression and anxiety, increased risk of domestic violence, and less relationship satisfaction than spouses of people without an alcohol disorder, a
All of these common experiences might leave you feeling a greater sense of instability for yourself and your children.
Partners of those with AUD may find themselves blaming themselves or making excuses for their partner. It’s common to try to control their drinking.
Friends, roommates, or other family members who live with someone with AUD may also find themselves blaming the person or trying to control their drinking behaviors. This can put blame on the person instead of the disease.
Remember, it is not your fault or theirs. AUD is a progressive disease of the brain.
Often when someone has AUD, they can start to let a lot of chores and other responsibilities around the house slip. It can seem natural for a spouse or child to take on more than their share to keep everything afloat.
Sometimes, this high level of support, like dropping everything to help, results in an unhealthy relationship pattern called codependency.
Impact on children
A specific type of codependency can occur in children of those with AUD. Called “role reversal,” this is when a child feels responsible for their parent. This reversal of responsibilities can lead the child to develop a pattern of codependency in future relationships.
About 10.5% of young people under 18 live with at least one parent with AUD, according to research.
According to several studies from
- behavioral and school problems
- poor coping skills
- relationship issues, including codependency and less secure attachment
- difficulty parenting
- increased risk of AUD and drinking at an earlier age
- higher risk of anxiety, mood, and personality disorders
- increased chance of experiencing neglect, sexual abuse, and suicidality
Know this: If you live with someone with AUD, there is support available, no matter your relation to the individual.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5), there are several characteristics of AUD.
To be clinically diagnosed with AUD, you must meet at least two of the following symptoms for 12 months:
- drinking longer or more alcohol than intended
- unsuccessful efforts to cut down or stop alcohol use
- spending significant time drinking or recovering from alcohol
- a persistent desire to use alcohol
- neglecting to fulfill duties at work, school, or home as a result of alcohol use
- interpersonal relationship problems as a result of alcohol use
- giving up hobbies because of alcohol use
- use of alcohol in risky situations
- use of alcohol despite health problems caused or exaggerated by it
- developing a higher alcohol tolerance
- experiencing alcohol withdrawal symptoms
The level of severity is based on the number of the above symptoms experienced:
- Mild: presence of 2 to 3 symptoms
- Moderate: presence of 4 to 5 symptoms
- Severe: presence of 6 or more symptoms
Living with someone with an alcohol use disorder may feel like an emotional roller coaster. There are steps you can take to help yourself cope:
- Avoid blaming yourself for their alcohol use or behaviors.
- Recognize that alcohol use disorder is a disease and that you can’t control the other person’s AUD.
- Keep up your regular activities and hobbies to care for yourself.
- Maintain personal relationships with friends and family, as they can be an important part of your support system.
- Understand the impact on others in the home, like children, and get them the support they need.
- Seek out safety if you or your children are unsafe, or make a safety planfor the future.
- Set healthy boundaries and enforce them.
- Be clear about acceptable and unacceptable behaviors, and don’t ignore the latter.
- Disengage when they’re using.
You don’t have to cope alone. A therapist or support group, such as an Al-Anon family support group, can help you through this challenging time.
Supporting your loved one with AUD can be extremely beneficial to their recovery. This may involve keeping them safe while they’re drinking or offering to help find a treatment that suits them. However, taking care of yourself should be of utmost importance, and it’s OK to take a step back at times and redirect attention to your own self-care.
Here are ways you can lovingly support them without compromising your health:
- Give your loved one some grace. Addiction is a disease, and it can be complicated and difficult.
- Accept that recovering from AUD may take a long time.
- Speak to them about treatments and seeking help when they’re sober.
- Don’t give them ultimatums, such as threatening to stop loving them if they keep drinking.
- No lectures or stigmatizing language. Aim to use “I“ statements to express how their drinking makes you feel.
- Understand that self-care is essential, so give yourself care as well as caring for your partner.
- Don’t ignore behavior or make excuses for it. Recognize it and communicate openly about it.
- Help them find professional support, like a therapist specializing in substance misuse.
There are many treatment options available for people misusing alcohol. Medication and psychological treatments are shown to be effective, according to
Three medications are approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of alcohol use disorder:
A healthcare professional might also prescribetwo non-FDA-approved medication options:
Each of these medications can have side effects, so it is essential to talk with your healthcare professional about the best medication and overall treatment plan for you.
There are numerous psychological treatments available for AUD:
- cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
- motivational interviewing
- 12-step groups (such as Alcoholics Anonymous)
- acceptance- or mindfulness-based interventions
You can receive treatment in an individual, family, group, or couples setting.
12-step groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) help individuals by providing recovery support and encouraging peer connection. However, some 12-step groups are spiritually based while others are not, so they may not appeal to or work for everyone.
An online sobriety support group might be a helpful addition to care.
The best way to decide what treatment may be best for a person with an alcohol use disorder is to speak with a mental health professional.
If you live with someone with AUD, you don’t have to cope alone. There are a variety of support groups available:
- Al-Anon hosts meetings and provides peer support and education for families and friends of people misusing alcohol.
- Alateen supports young people who are impacted by someone’s drinking, such as a parent or friend.
- The SAMHSA National Helpline at 800-662-HELP (4357) is a free helpline for people and their loved ones dealing with substance use disorders.
- Put the Shovel Down is a YouTube channel created by an addiction counselor who often shares tips for families affected by someone’s alcohol use.
There’s also help for your loved one when they’re ready. You could steer them to the
It’s important to remember to prioritize taking care of yourself. Making sure you‘re healthy and safe can make you a better support system for your loved one with AUD, however you chose to be there for them.