Married to an Excessive Drinker

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Alcohol Abuse Ruins Many a Marriage

by Michael Heath

Alcohol abuse can have a dramatic effect on any marriage and too often is the catalyst for divorce. This is especially true when one spouse has a drinking problem and the other does not; statistically marriages where both spouses are heavy drinkers have a better chance of holding together. A spouse who is either an alcoholic or excessive drinker should seek treatment to increase the quality of the matrimonial union and possibly save it.

Effects of Excessive Drinking

Most people can enjoy an occasional drink or two with no lasting harmful effects. Heavy drinkers on the other hand make alcohol such a part of their life that their jobs, marriages and everyday responsibilities tend to suffer. One area affected by abusive drinking can be ruinous to another (e.g., being passed over for a promotion or losing a job due to alcohol abuse causes losses in family income). Following is a list of ways drinking can lead to marital distress:

  • Employment (difficulty holding down a job)
  • Lack of intimacy
  • Spending household income in drinking establishments
  • Arguing
  • Abusive behavior
  • Lying
  • Hiding drinking activities
  • Public drunkenness
  • Inhibiting ability to participate in normal pastimes and tasks
  • Derailing of regular communication needed for everyday problem-solving


Because drinking problems are so prevalent, there is no shortage of ways in which people can seek help. However, a person needs to want to get better. No one can do it for them. Many people do not realize they have a drinking problem or are in denial. A discussion should happen but only when the drinker is sober. Avoid labels like “alcoholic.”  Be careful not to sound accusatory. Instead use a caring tone: “I love you and am concerned about your drinking.” Suggest that he/she talk with a physician or counselor. Let your life partner know you are there to help.

Everyone knows that Alcoholics Anonymous has assisted countless people. Almost all medical insurance allows for substance abuse treatment. There are even prescribed medications that can reduce alcohol cravings. The internet is full of information on the topic of alcohol addiction. One excellent resource is 

Divorcing an Excessive Drinker

Mediation and collaborative divorce offer great advantages when ending a marriage. But when one spouse has a severe drinking problem and is not in recovery, he/she will not be able to effectively participate in the negotiation process. This negates any mediation approach. If a husband/wife wants to divorce a spouse with a severe alcohol problem, a family attorney should be retained. If the divorcing spouse experiences physical abuse, then the authorities should be contacted as well.

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