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Introduction to Alcoholism

Introduction to Alcoholism

We are sharing our thoughts and findings on the ways alcoholism can impact marriage and divorce in this series of blog posts. In these blog posts we are exploring:

  • Marriage & Alcoholism
  • How Alcoholism Impacts Children
  • Acknowledging Alcoholism
  • Divorcing an Alcoholic Spouse

In this specific blog we are covering how alcoholism impacts marriages and children. At the end we include resources for helping someone with an alcohol addiction.

Most people know someone who suffers from alcoholism. Others may know someone who is an alcoholic, but are unaware because they hide it well. The chances are high that you know someone who struggles with this addiction. It’s estimated that 14.1 million people suffer from alcohol abuse or dependence along with several million more who engage in risky, binge drinking patterns that could lead to alcohol problems (link). 

Although alcoholism is the most common substance addiction there is still a misunderstanding of what it is. A person who really enjoys to drink is not necessarily an alcoholic. Someone who drank too much at your cousin’s wedding is not necessarily an alcoholic either. A person suffering from alcoholism has a real bodily dependency on the substance. They will experience withdrawal symptoms that can pose a serious threat to their health. Some of the physical symptoms of the dependence on alcohol include:    

  • Craving: a strong need, or compulsion, to drink.
  • Loss of control: the inability to limit one’s drinking on any given occasion.
  • Tolerance: the need to drink greater amounts of alcohol in order to get high.
  • Withdrawal symptoms: such as nausea, sweating, shakiness and anxiety, occur when alcohol use is stopped after a period of heavy drinking. (link)

Before we begin it’s important to dispel the notion that alcoholism is something a person chooses to participate in. Someone suffering from alcoholism does not get to choose whether or not they are addicted to alcohol. Alcoholism is a disease one can suffer from that creates serious symptoms to their health and a very real dependency on alcohol. Alcoholism is a disease that requires proper care and treatment just like any other illness or disorder. 

The quote, “Guilt is a killer” comes to mind when thinking about recovery from alcoholism. When someone feels guilty about their addiction their shame prevents them from getting help. That guilt and shame is exacerbated by the way most people frame alcoholism as a selfish life choice rather than a disease one can suffer from. 

Alcoholism is damaging to relationships

Those suffering from alcoholism can become physically and verbally aggressive, non-respondent, and obnoxious among other things. The alcoholic’s spouse and children suffer emotional distress and frustration at what they perceive as an uncontrollable situation. Children are especially vulnerable to the trauma that can occur from growing up with a parent that is often under the influence. In fact, more than 10 percent of U.S. children live with a parent with alcohol problems, according to a 2012 study (link). 

Divorce & Alcoholism

Because of the damage that alcoholism can create in relationships the divorce rate of heavy drinkers are high. For example, according to a study published in May 2014 in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, researchers from the University of Michigan found that nearly half of the more than 17,000 study participants with a history of alcoholism got a divorce at some point in their lives, while only 30% of the participants who were not affected by serious alcohol problems got a divorce (link). In our following blogs we will discuss the issues around divorce and alcoholism including the dilemma of deciding to go forward with a divorce with a spouse who is alcoholic, child custody, and property division.


Sometimes couples want to try repairing the relationship while getting treatment to combat alcoholism. We’ve compiled a list of resources that people have had success with. Remember, alcoholism is a disease and will most likely need some kind of intervention whether medical or spiritual.

1. Couples Therapy

The stigma associated with therapy is over. More and more people are turning to professionals to help them understand their thought processes and facilitate healing conversation between two people. Couples therapy is recommended for people being treated for substance abuse addiction. Couples therapy is an option for couples who need extra help to understand where their communication breakdowns and misunderstandings are coming from. 

2. Alcoholics Anonymous

“Alcoholics Anonymous is an international fellowship of men and women who have had a drinking problem. It is nonprofessional, self-supporting, multiracial, apolitical, and available almost everywhere. There are no age or education requirements. Membership is open to anyone who wants to do something about his or her drinking problem (link)”

AA can be a great resource for those who want to feel part of a group. Knowing you are understood and supported by a group of people going through the same addiction can relieve some of the feelings of being isolated and shameful that alcoholism sufferers can feel. You can find nearby AA groups here.

3. Medical Treatment for Alcoholism

Medical intervention for alcohol addiction can include medications, inpatient rehabilitation, and behavioral treatments and therapies. Meeting with your primary doctor is the first step to initiate treatment. To learn more about finding and getting help from alcoholism visit the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism resource page here.

4. Intervention

An intervention is a planned, focused discussion with the goal of convincing an alcoholic to seek treatment. Mayo Clinic describes interventions in great detail at this link. From personal research regarding interventions, a majority of resources stress that interventions should be done with the guidance of a medical or addiction professional. Interventions are impactful yet can easily go wrong due to the complex facilitation of discussion that it requires, so they should be done with help from a professional and a solid plan.

Overall, it’s a possibility someone who suffers from alcoholism will refuse any treatment offered. We explore what to do when your spouse doesn’t acknowledge they have an addiction in our blog post that covers what to do when your loved one is not able to acknowledge their alcoholism. 

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