Living With An Alcoholic

Living With An Alcoholic

Authored by Pin Ng PhD

Edited by Hugh Soames

Reviewed by Michael Por, MD

Living with an alcoholic

Alcoholism has been a global epidemic since the first human created the intoxicating substance. Alcohol has been the ruiner of many individuals and families. While there is often a focus on the individual, alcoholism affects more people than just the person consuming drink. Living with an alcoholic or someone that has an alcohol use disorder is difficult. Unfortunately, living with an alcoholic is a common problem in modern society.

Sharing a home with a person with an alcohol use disorder can result in a variety of problems. Your mental and physical health are at risk when living with an alcoholic. The number of people globally who seek out medical treatment for both mental and physical health issues related to alcohol is in the millions. Oftentimes, a person’s health issues can be linked back to the same person they share a home with who consumes far too much alcohol, or is steadily progressing through the stages of alcoholism.

The risk of alcohol misuse

Alcohol misuse is a major cause of domestic violence within families. Alcohol is a depressant and it is extremely powerful. Its effects on individuals can be extreme. A study conducted by the University of Oxford discovered that males with alcohol use disorders are six times more likely to commit violent acts against their family members1 Alcohol can affect an individual’s personality. A person may react differently to situations when under the influence of alcohol compared to when they are sober. Alcoholism can make a person act in ways that are not typical to their personality. Living with an alcoholic is usually violently unpredictable. Sometimes there can be a pattern to domestic violence, and other time it can happen randomly. All times however, leave emotional wounds and scares on those living with an alcoholic.

Most alcoholics are not inherently evil. Domestic violence meted out onto family members will usually seem abhorrent to the alcoholic when sober. However, once the alcoholic is in blackout they can (and often do) commit acts of serious and significant violence on their family members. The prisons and jails of the World are full of alcoholics who have injured and killed family members when in blackout. This is not hyperbole. It is real. And it happens every day, in every country, all around the World.

Alcohol use disorder may cause mental health problems. An alcoholic may become emotional or reactive in certain situations. Living with an alcoholic can create friction between a couple or a parent and children. It is all too common for a family unit to be broken up because one of the parents is suffering from alcohol use disorder2 Unfortunately, studies have discovered that the children of alcoholics are likely to become substance abusers themselves. When sober, an alcoholic may feel regretful about their actions. This is may lead to them receiving alcohol treatment from a rehab center or intensive outpatient program. When the alcoholic is in a deeply remorseful state they may admit they have a problem, and they may be open to getting treatment.

Are you encouraging drinking by living with an alcoholic?

Drinking is an everyday part of society. Due to it being a major part of everyday life for millions of people, it can become a major problem for some. Alcohol use disorder is an extreme circumstance for a part of life that is accepted by most corners of society. Many countries have a drinking culture in which most adults partake in alcohol consumption. Most of these people do not have an alcohol use disorder. However, there are segments of the drinking population that do.

It can be difficult to know if a loved one has an alcohol use disorder. Alcohol is widely available at restaurants, bars, cafes, and stores. Unlike illegal drugs which must be bought in secret, alcohol can be bought at nearly anytime of the day. Not only is it readily available, but it is cheap to obtain. Therefore, it is a part of the lives of many people. If you recognize specific alcohol use disorder signs in a loved one, however, you should encourage them to receive treatment for their problems3

Signs you are living with an alcoholic


  • The smell of alcohol lingers on the breath hours after heavy drinking
  • They smell like death. Liver rot seeps from their pores
  • They wet themselves at night, and blame it on sweat
  • Weight loss from drinking rather than eating
  • Dry skin, brittle hair and nails
  • Increased appearance of aging and wrinkles
  • Broken blood vessels on the face and nose
  • Swollen face and ankes
  • Inability to get out of bed, even when forced
  • Instead of a hangover their body goes into detox and shock
  • Yellow eyes and skin from liver damage
  • Apathy for life
  • Drinking in the morning to stave off the signs of detox
  • Driving under the influence
  • Violent behavior
  • Inappropriate behavior
  • Poor/lack of hygiene


Symptoms of alcohol use disorder include:


  • Frequently consuming a larger amount of alcohol or doing it for longer than planned
  • Wanting to cut down or control drinking but unable to stop
  • Spending a lot of time drinking and feeling sick from the aftereffects of alcohol
  • Experiencing strong urges and cravings to drink
  • Problems at home with family, work, or other commitments from drinking or being ill from alcohol
  • Continuing to consume alcohol despite it causing problems with loved ones
  • Giving up on interests, important, or pleasurable hobbies to drink
  • Engaging in risky behaviors during or after drinking alcohol
  • Drinking despite being depressed or anxious
  • Drinking more alcohol to get the same effect or finding the usual amount is less effective than previously
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms, having trouble sleeping, shakiness, irritable moods, anxiety, depression, restlessness, nausea, or sweating when the alcohol wears off


Ending alcohol use disorder when living with an alcoholic

You cannot make someone stop drinking alcohol. If a person wants to end their alcohol use disorder, they need to receive professional treatment from a rehab facility. The person needs to make the decision to get help themselves rather than a loved one doing it for them. However, you can encourage them to seek treatment4

You have the ability to be a positive influence on a loved one’s life5 You can encourage them to seek help and suggest treatment options that are available. The recovery process is long and winding, but it cannot be completed unless a person takes the first step to get help.

A full addiction treatment program and residential rehab center has the tools to help a person end their alcohol use disorder. Not everyone is ready to commit to long-term recovery. Some people may choose to attend support groups and meetings such as Alcoholics Anonymous instead. You can support a loved one to attend support meetings and help them throughout the process.

Attending meetings may help an individual realize they need more help and to attend a full residential rehab. Support groups for alcohol are available throughout the world and meetings can be located online.

If you are living with an alcoholic, it is important to practice self-care. Your mental and physical health is important, and so is the health of your children. When living with an alcoholic, life can become difficult for family and friends. To fully look after the health and well-being of yourself and your family, getting your loved one alcohol treatment is key.

Living with an alcoholic

References: Living with an alcoholic

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  2. Orford J, Gulhric S, Nlcholls P, Oppcnhcimcr E, Egert S, Hensmnn C. Self reported coping behaviours of wives of Alcoholics and its association with drinking outcome. J studies on Alcohol. 1976;36:1254–67.[]
  3. Okazaki N, Fujita S, Suzuki K, Nimmi Y, Mizutani Y, Kohno H. Comparative study of health problems between wives of alcoholics and control wives. Jpn J Alcohol Stud Drug Depend. 1994;29:23–30. []
  4. Nemeth JM, Bonomi AE, Lee MA, Ludwin JM. Living with an alcoholic and triggers for intimate partner violence. J Womens Health. 2012;21:942–9. []
  5. World Health Organization . Global status report on alcohol and health 2020: World Health Organization; 2020. 
  6. Van Boekel LC, Brouwers EP, Van Weeghel J, Garretsen HF. Stigma among health professionals towards patients with substance use disorders and its consequences for healthcare delivery: systematic review. Drug Alcohol Depend. 2013;131(1-2):23–35. doi: 10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2013.02.018. []
  7. Vargas D, Luis MAV. Development and validation of a scale of attitudes towards alcohol, alcoholism and alcoholics. Rev. Latino-Am. Enfermagem. 2008;16(5):895–902. []
  8. Witbrodt J, Ye Y, Bond J, Chi F, Weisner C, Mertens J. Living with an alcoholic, 12-step attendance and abstinence: 9-year cross-lagged analysis of adults in an integrated health plan. J Substance Abuse Treatment. 2014;46(4):412–419. doi: 10.1016/j.jsat.2013.10.015. []
  9. Lederman LC, Menegatos LM. Sustainable Recovery: The Self- Transformative Power of Storytelling in Alcoholics Anonymous. J Groups Addiction Recovery. 2011;6(3):206–227. doi: 10.1080/1556035X.2011.597195. []
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