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What To Do If Your Husband Drinks Too Much: 5 Actionable Tips

Noticing that your husband drinks too much can weigh on your mind. You may start to wonder whether their drinking has crossed the threshold into addiction, or you could already see the ripple effect that alcoholism can cause in your husband’s life. But your husband’s drinking can affect you and your marriage as well – so let’s explore what to do when you’ve noticed a problem.

How Much is Too Much? When to Worry About Your Husband’s Drinking

Drinking a large quantity of alcohol, or drinking frequently, are both linked to an increased risk of developing an alcohol use disorder. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), there are two main categories of drinking that put people at higher risk:

  • Heavy alcohol use – defined as drinking five or more drinks per day, or 15 or more drinks per week for men.
  • Binge drinking – defined as any drinking that brings blood alcohol concentration to 0.08 percent or higher, typically five or more drinks in two hours for an adult man.

But importantly, neither heavy alcohol use nor binge drinking can lead to a diagnosis of an alcohol use disorder; they can only increase the risk of an alcohol use disorder.

Addiction to alcohol is based less on the quantity that people drink, and more on the problems that people experience because of their drinking, subjective challenges associated with alcohol use, and physical symptoms of alcohol dependence.

In the definition of an alcohol use disorder, contained in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V-TR), there is no reference whatsoever to drinking quantity or frequency.

A woman puts her head on her hand. In the background is her husband who drinks too much holding a bottle and glass of liquor.
What to do when your husband drinks too much

Symptoms that are referenced include:

  • A persistent desire or unsuccessful attempts to cut down or control alcohol use 
  • Drinking for longer than intended, or drinking more than intended
  • Spending a great deal of time seeking alcohol, drinking alcohol, or recovering from the effects of alcohol
  • Cravings for alcohol
  • Alcohol use interfering with responsibilities at work, home, or school
  • Continuing to drink alcohol despite relationship problems caused by alcohol
  • Giving up important activities in favor of drinking
  • Using alcohol when it is dangerous to do so
  • Drinking despite worsening physical or mental health consequences
  • Growing tolerance to alcohol
  • Withdrawal symptoms if alcohol use suddenly stops

Experiencing 2-3 symptoms may indicate a mild alcohol use disorder, while 4-5 is considered moderate and 6 or more is considered severe. Of course, a true diagnosis of an alcohol use disorder needs to come from a mental health professional.

So when you’re worried that your husband drinks too much, keep in mind that the quantity is less important than how it affects their lives. Is their alcohol use interfering with their mental health? Their family? Their work? Further, is it interfering with your marriage?

Not all of the symptoms of an alcohol use disorder depend on an individual alone, and if drinking is causing your marriage trouble, it has become a serious problem.

When and How to Talk to Your Spouse About Their Drinking

Healthy marriages are built on strong communication – but even if you and your spouse are strong communicators in other areas, broaching the topic of drinking too much can be an uncomfortable and difficult topic. People who live with alcohol use disorders are often overly protective or sensitive about their drinking. They’re unwilling to discuss the prospect of cutting down, or in outright denial that their drinking has become problematic.

So, when your husband drinks too much and it comes time to address it, there are a few things you can keep in mind to make sure the conversation goes smoothly.

1. Choose an appropriate time and place.

Talking to your husband about his drinking while he’s drunk, for instance, may not produce the results you hope for. Similarly, it’s best to have this conversation in private, rather than at a family gathering or in a public setting. Set aside a time where you and your husband can speak uninterrupted for at least half an hour, when sober.

2. Avoid blaming and accusations.

Pointing the finger at your husband will likely only put him on the defensive, leading to him rationalizing his behavior, minimizing the consequences, and generally trying to protect his self-image. Pointing out your husband’s faults as it relates to drinking is typically unproductive, and will lead to argument, rather than conversation.

3. Focus on using “I” statements.

The format for these statements is simple: “When you _____, I feel ______.” By shifting the focus from how your drinking affects your husband, to how your husband’s drinking affects you, you can avoid the reflexive defensiveness that can quickly shut down a conversation about alcohol use. Here’s some examples of “I” statements to get you started:

  • “When you drink every day, I feel worried that your alcohol use has become problematic.”
  • “When you get into the car after drinking, I feel scared that you’re going to get into an accident.”
  • “When you’re sober, I feel like our communication and intimacy is so much stronger.”

4. Ask about why they drink.

People drink for a reason, and sometimes discovering that reason can provide insight into why they’ve started drinking more. Your husband might be stressed or anxious and is using alcohol to cope. They could be dealing with a traumatic event, like the loss of a parent or loved one. 

5. Practice active listening.

If your husband opens up about the reasons why their drinking has increased, or shares about the difficulties they foresee in achieving recovery, try to empathize and understand their position. If they are living with a substance use disorder, it can be incredibly debilitating – but your support can be pivotal to them achieving recovery.

With these points in mind, you can make sure that your conversation is productive, guides them towards recognizing the problems that their alcohol use has caused, and prevents the conversation from being confrontational or unhelpful.

Shadowed view of a male hand pouring liquor into a glass
How to speak with your husband about his drinking

When Your Husband Doesn’t Want to Hear It

If your husband drinks too much but isn’t willing to accept that it is causing problems, there is little you can do to force the issue.

People living with an alcohol use disorder need to take action in order to achieve sobriety, which requires at least some small degree of willingness to change.

If you’ve only had the one conversation, it might be worthwhile to simply bide your time.

Keep having conversations about how their drinking affects you. The pathway to change happens in stages, it nearly never happens all at once. But if you’ve talked about your husband’s drinking for months or years, and they refuse to change their behavior, it might be time to take more serious measures.

A few things you can try include:

  • Seeking marital counseling. Framing this as a way to help your marriage, rather than a way to stop their drinking, might encourage them to take the first steps towards help.
  • Having an alcohol intervention. An alcohol intervention is a more serious measure and is confrontational by design. If you’re prepared to take this step, always seek out a professional interventionist who can help guide you through the process.
  • Separation. As heart-breaking as it can be, sometimes you need to prioritize your own mental health over that of your partner. If their alcohol use has caused an insurmountable rift in your marriage, and your husband refuses to seek help, removing yourself from the situation might be the best thing to do for yourself.

It can be incredibly difficult to make these decisions. Alcoholism can devastate marriages, and it only gets worse if your loved one refuses to get the help they need. 

Getting Support (For Both of You)

The most effective path to recovery is typically to seek support from a mental health professional.

This could be in the form of a dedicated substance use treatment center or seeking out individual or couples therapy with a private therapist.

But importantly, treatment needs to happen for the entire family. You can play a meaningful role in your husband’s recovery, by providing support, accountability, and positive affirmations.

And while it might be a hard pill to swallow – you may play a role in your partner’s drinking, as well.

By going to treatment together – either through family therapy at a treatment center, or couple’s counseling with a therapist – you can learn how your behavior affects your partner, and how you can both make changes to build a better future. 

When Your Husband’s Drinking Becomes a Deal Breaker

An addiction to alcohol isn’t a choice. It could be the result of an underlying mental health disorder, unresolved trauma, genetic predisposition, or any combination of countless factors.

But just because addiction isn’t a choice doesn’t mean that an alcoholic shouldn’t be held accountable for their actions.

If your husband drinks too much, is unwilling to change, and your marriage is continuing to suffer – it might be time to consider whether to stay. But determining when to give up on an alcoholic spouse can be incredibly difficult, and is a deeply personal decision. Everyone has different limits.

Don’t hesitate to seek out the help of a therapist or counselor in making this decision. But regardless of whether you decide to leave or stay, remember to take care of yourself as well. Your own mental health, well-being, and quality of life are critically important, and worth putting in the effort for.

Take the AUDIT

The following quiz is called the AUDIT, which is short for Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test. It’s used by medical professionals to assess your risk for alcohol dependence. Curious about how your drinking habits stack up? Take the assessment.

This is not an official medical diagnosis nor is it medical advice. Rather this is for informational purposes only. If you have any questions or concerns, share your results with your doctor.

Welcome to your Alcohol Use (AUDIT) quiz

1. How often do you have a drink containing alcohol?

How many units of alcohol do you drink on a typical day when you are drinking?

A unit of alcohol is one standard drink. Examples of one standard drink include:

  • 12 oz can of beer with about 5% alcohol
  • 5 fl oz of wine (roughly 12% alcohol)
  • 1.5 fl oz shot of spirits like vodka, rum, or whiskey (about 40% alcohol)

How often have you had 6 or more units if female, or 8 or more if male, on a single occasion in the last year?

How often during the last year have you found that you were not able to stop drinking once you had started?

How often during the last year have you failed to do what was normally expected from you because of drinking?

How often during the last year have you needed an alcoholic drink in the morning to get yourself going after a heavy drinking session?

How often during the last year have you had a feeling of guilt or remorse after drinking?

How often during the last year have you been unable to remember what happened the night before because you had been drinking?

Have you or someone else been injured as a result of your drinking?

Has a relative or friend or a doctor or another health worker been concerned about your drinking or suggested you cut down?

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