My husband keeps relapsing into alcoholism. The pattern is always the same—he quits for a while, then starts drinking a little, then pretty soon is back to drinking daily. Nothing I say seems to help. When I confront him, he gets defensive and angry. What can I do about this problem? It’s destroying him and our marriage!


Whether we’re talking about losing weight, maintaining an exercise program, dealing effectively with anger issues, or staying sober, accountability for change is key. Even more so when it comes to something as serious as sobriety!

I define accountability as taking responsibility for your actions not only by admitting to your behavior, but also by living out its consequences. Clearly your husband takes no responsibility for his relapses, nor does he “live out” their consequences.

Relapsing is a critical issue when it comes to recovery from alcoholism, drug addiction, or any other kind of addiction. In fact, studies show the incidence of relapse is very high. Some reasons for relapse include:

* Not taking recovery seriously enough. Recovery is hard work and must be a central part of the person’s life;
* Not being motivated enough. Recovery involves taking the work personally—it must be done primarily for them, not others;
* Not having enough support. Recovery is more successful when individuals are surrounded by support and accountability, which often includes 12-Step programs, Celebrate Recovery, or other support groups;
* Not changing persons, places, and things. Those in recovery must alter their lives substantially so that triggers and temptations are effectively managed.
* Not effectively managing stress. A person in recovery must have a plan to effectively manage stress.

As you can see, maintaining a sober lifestyle is quite an undertaking. As with anything we set out to do well, sobriety means having a clear focus, strategies for reaching those goals, and accountability for staying on course. Change is difficult, but can be done.

Scripture speaks of the importance of staying focused and persevering in doing good. The apostle Paul penned these words to Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:7: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

You may be wondering what your role is. Of course you can’t work your husband’s program or tell him what he must do to remain abstinent from alcohol. However, you can make it clear you won’t live with his alcohol abuse and ensure you don’t do anything that enables his behavior. Share your feelings with him, when he’s in a place to hear them, and set boundaries for what you will—and will not—tolerate. Let’s talk specifically about what more you can do to help your husband become “clean and sober”:

Don’t bicker with your husband about his drinking. This useless pursuit gets you nowhere. His denial—don’t even notice I’m lying to myself—is rampant. You’ll never be able to talk him into getting sober.

Support him in his recovery efforts. Should your husband decide to enter treatment (which he clearly needs), support him. Your support and encouragement will be critical to his success. Support also means making financial and emotional sacrifices to support his treatment.

Do not enable his drinking in any way. Someone has said that enabling is anything we do that is not intervention. In other words, if you “stand by and watch,” you’re enabling. If you scream and shout but don’t intervene, you’re enabling. If you buy alcohol in an act of desperation, of course you’re enabling.

Set your boundaries. Make it clear you will take personal action if your mate continues to drink or fails to actively pursue recovery. You may know what that decisive action is—such as a temporary separation—or you may not. You must be willing, however, to take steps that involve separating yourself from his alcohol use and abuse.

Insist that your husband participate in treatment and an ongoing recovery process. Your husband cannot stop drinking on his own. Even if he were to convince you that he can stop drinking for a season, he ultimately relapses. During the times when he isn’t drinking, if he’s not in a recovery process, he’ll be a “dry drunk.” Treatment and recovery are the means by which he’ll be able to recover emotionally, physically, spiritually, and relationally.

Find support for yourself. It takes great courage to take the action steps listed above, so support is necessary. Emotional and spiritual support will give you the strength to move forward.

In summary, addictions sap the very life out of both addicts and their loved ones. Thank God there are effective treatment and recovery programs available so that freedom from alcohol abuse is possible.

I’d like to hear your thoughts and welcome reactions. Contact me at drdavid@marriagerecoverycenter.com and read about our programs at www.marriagerecoverycenter.com.

ask your question
  • By submitting your question, you understand and agree to the following: You give Growthtrac permission to edit and publish your submission in MarriageMedic and in other areas on the Growthtrac site; There is no guarantee we will publish your submission; If accepted, your submission will be published anonymously.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.