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8 Signs It’s Time To Give Up On An Alcoholic Spouse

You have the best intentions when you decide to get married, and while your heart wants to believe in ‘forever,’ what happens when things get so bad that you feel like giving up?

Alcoholism is one of the top three reasons for divorce, and it leaves a trail of problems in its wake.

Yes, marriages can survive trauma, but at what point do you throw in the towel?

How Do You Know When To Give Up On An Alcoholic Spouse?

Giving up on an alcoholic spouse is justified when you’ve tried everything to help them, and they aren’t willing to commit, or when you can’t take care of yourself or your family anymore. If you and your children are at risk or exposed to uncontrollable, unpredictable behavior, it’s time to leave. 

I get it.

It’s hard. Possibly one of the hardest decisions you’ve ever had to make.

You’ve likely been through extensive back-and-forth with your spouse over this issue. Promises can be made – and even kept – for periods, but if you still find yourself asking if it’s okay to leave an alcoholic spouse, there has clearly been no long-term change. 

Heavy drinking and divorce go hand in hand. Research has shown that “a consumption increase of 1 liter of alcohol per capita brings about an increase in the divorce rate of about 20%.”

So how do you know if your marriage is at an impasse?

A distressed woman is handcuffed to a bottle of alcohol. The title reads "When To Leave An Alcoholic Spouse"
When to give up on an alcoholic spouse

8 Signs That It’s Time To Leave An Alcoholic Spouse

So how do you know if it’s officially time? I can’t answer that question for you definitively, but I can give you some signs to look out for.

1. You Feel You Are In Danger

One issue that often comes along with alcoholism is violence and aggressive outbursts.

Behavioral changes from alcohol can see the loving, kind spouse you know turn into an angry, violent person you don’t recognize. Studies show that alcohol use can trigger intimate partner abuse and compound, aggressive tendencies.  

Whether the violent outbursts involve physical confrontations between you and your spouse or them being destructive to furniture or other items around the house, it is no longer safe for you.

Too many people stay in these situations hoping it will get better.

If you fear for your safety or worry that your children are in danger when your spouse is intoxicated, you have every reason to leave.

Your physical safety and that of your kids are paramount; even if you’re going for the short term, getting out is most important. 

2. Your Health And Wellbeing Are Negatively Impacted

As the closest person to your spouse, you often have to pick up the pieces when things go wrong.

When a partner is in active addiction, you are exposed to the stressors of their behavior. This includes the financial impact of their drinking; many alcoholics cannot sustain their careers and lose their jobs. And, if they manage to keep working, finances are channeled into feeding the addiction.

The implication is that you must solve financial problems and carry the burden of making ends meet.

Additionally, watching the person you love deteriorate and become a person unlike themselves is draining. You may find your mental health suffering. If you’re experiencing anxiety, depression, insomnia, or even suicidal thoughts, it’s time to leave.

(And get help.)

3. Your Children Are Being Affected

It’s hard enough being married to someone who abuses alcohol. When children are involved, it takes everything to another level.

As a parent, we have to have our children’s best interests at heart. Children who grow up in a household where alcohol is abused are 50% more likely to develop an addiction later in their lives.

Research has also shown that children who experience alcoholism in their daily lives are more likely to suffer from emotional and behavioral issues. Problems at school are also common, and it stands to reason that they would act out if their home, which is supposed to be a safe haven, isn’t a safe space. 

Behavioral challenges you may see include fighting with peers, petty crimes like shoplifting or vandalism, or even isolating themselves from the world.

Many children of alcoholics report feelings of depression and anxiety, and research shows they are more likely to have self-esteem issues. 

If your children are exhibiting any of these signs, it may be time to leave.

4. Nothing Has Helped So Far

Most alcoholics want to get better and can see the negative impact their drinking has on those around them, and many will try to improve.

But sometimes, their issues and trauma are so severe that it seems like nothing works. If there have been several interventions and still no improvement, what else can you do?

Sometimes when we try to rescue or fix those we see struggling, they cannot take responsibility for themselves. This frequently happens in codependent relationships with alcoholics.

Only when they realize everything is at stake can they make decisions to help themselves. Leaving may be the only way they realize how bad things have gotten. 

5. They Don’t Want To Get Better

Sometimes we find our spouses aren’t willing to admit or even recognize their drinking problem.

Maybe you previously suggested rehab or counseling, only to be met with ridicule or denial. Alcoholics need to be ready to accept help for it to make an impact, but at the very least, your concerns should be taken seriously. 

If your partner is not hearing your pleas and concerns and won’t even consider how their behavior impacts you, the problem is more significant than just their drinking.

A successful relationship requires compromise and meeting the other’s needs – and if they can’t take your needs and concerns seriously, where does that leave you?

As the saying goes, you can’t help those who won’t help themselves. If they won’t help themselves, there’s nothing you can do.

Except leave.

6. You’re Not Able To Take Care Of Yourself Or Your Kids Anymore

Having an alcoholic spouse in your home has such a negative ripple effect. It impacts everything from finances, time, relationships, and personal health.

You may find that you’re spending all your time doing damage control at your job, with friends and family, or dealing with the fallout from the drinking.

If you cannot take care of yourself anymore, and your children are being neglected due to how much time and effort you’re putting into simply keeping things afloat and putting out fires, you’ve reached rock bottom.

It’s not sustainable and you deserve better.

7. You’re Staying For The Wrong Reasons 

Any relationship requires mutual trust, respect, forgiveness, and love to have a chance at succeeding, and when you’re in a relationship with an addict, these core elements are tested.

It’s tough to justify that there is trust, respect, and forgiveness when the aftermath of alcoholism is causing havoc in your life.

Loving someone is not enough to sustain a marriage when the other elements are missing. And, being afraid of your spouse hitting rock bottom if you leave is not a good enough reason to stay.

If you’re staying just because you don’t want them to get hurt, you’re sacrificing yourself – and your children – for them. 

I say this as someone who almost put my husband in this situation. If he had left me, he’d have been well within his right. My drinking put a terrible strain on our marriage and it was hurting us both.

8. Your Support System Is Begging You To Leave

One final sign that it’s time to leave is if your support system and those close to you are urging you to take the step.

The perspective of outsiders is often a lot clearer than the views of those within the emotionally-charged situation; when external observers tell you it’s time to leave, they are seeing something you’re not. 

If you have support and can safely leave, it’s a good time to step away from your spouse. And doing so doesn’t reflect poorly on you – your responsibility is also to your children and yourself. And, if you’ve done everything you could to help, the rest is up to your spouse. 

You don’t have to figure this out on your own.

Soberish is proudly sponsored by BetterHelp. If you have tried (and failed) to find a qualified therapist who gets you, try BetterHelp. Get 10% off your first month when you click the link below.

Consequences of Living With An Alcoholic in Active Addiction

Deciding to leave is hard, especially considering all the things you’ve likely been through with your spouse. It won’t be easy, and you may have second thoughts about whether it’s the right decision. 

But despite your guilt, you need to keep in mind that there are many risks if you choose to stay.

These include:

1. Sacrificing your own well-being.

The impact on your own health and mental well-being if you stay will continue to affect your ability to function in your job and parent your children. Naturally, if your partner is physically violent, the threat to your safety and that of the rest of your family remains high. 

But even if they’re not, the impact of chronic stress on your health can’t be understated. You will make yourself sick in the process. If you’re a parent, it’s important to give your children the best version of yourself.

You can’t do that in this kind of marriage.

A man with a bottle of alcohol stares at his wife who appears hurt on the ground. The title reads "What if you stay with your alcoholic spouse?"
consequences of staying with an alcoholic spouse

2. Ongoing financial problems.

Understand that if you choose to stay, it means financial struggles and facing the challenge of making ends meet while dealing with a spouse who refuses to get help. It’s so hard to dig yourself out of that kind of hole.

One study found that 20% of alcohol users had over $1,000 in credit card debt. Beyond the financial losses, there are financial costs measured by productivity loss at work from hangovers and absenteeism related to drinking.

So long as you stay with your alcoholic spouse, you’ll be sharing the responsibility for those bad decisions.

3. Putting your children at risk.

As I previously mentioned, the effects of children growing up with an alcoholic parent can’t be overstated – it is vital to break the cycle.

Children of alcoholic parents are twice as likely to end up with addiction issues in their lives – so even if you’re struggling to make this decision for yourself, remind yourself that you are protecting your children from a lifetime of struggles by choosing to leave.

More>> Signs Of Repressed Childhood Trauma in Adults

How To Leave An Alcoholic Partner

If you’re putting off deciding to leave because you’re overwhelmed and don’t know where to start, here are some clear guidelines. Taking the first step is most important:


Plan in advance with the help of your support system. Find a counselor who can walk the road with you if you don’t have support. If you’re worried about your safety, pack and leave when your spouse isn’t around, and keep someone informed as to your plan.

Move out:

Take the step to leave your shared home. Creating distance is necessary as the first step to getting clarity and breathing space.

Set a timeline for a final decision:

If you’re leaving in the hopes that it jolts your spouse into getting help, set a timeline they need to stick to.

Don’t move back in until there is consistent proof that they have done the work.

If they don’t adhere to the timeline and nothing changes, start divorce proceedings. Not taking action means reverting to the same old cycles.

Stay consistent:

You will naturally worry about them and will likely see or hear that they aren’t doing well after you leave. You must not cave and return to them – this only enables them to continue without making positive changes.

Stay strong – for them, as much as for you.

Get support:

No matter what happens and which way the journey takes you, surround yourself with support and guidance. Find a counselor in your area, look for support groups, and ensure you prioritize your healing.

How to get support for leaving an alcoholic spouse

Where To Find Support

You need to know that your experience with an alcoholic spouse is traumatic and damaging to you and your children.

There is no shame in admitting this, and while you’re likely feeling guilty for deciding to end a relationship with an alcoholic, it’s essential that you know your feelings are justified and valid.

You need to find support during this process – not just to help you heal but also to help you remain strong and committed to your decision. Finding a therapist or counselor to help you process things will be essential.

There are also excellent resources online that can help you deal with the aftermath, including forums and groups that share experiences and help to uplift each other:

For more resources and support groups that you can physically attend, Al-Anon and Alcoholics Anonymous offer local chapters where you can get the support and guidance you need. These are not just for the one struggling with addiction but for their family. 


When To Give Up On An Alcoholic Spouse? PIN

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