We can quickly become accustomed to our loved ones’ bad habits, but it is important to be able to recognise when a habit turns into an addiction, as the signs can easily be overlooked.
If you suspect that your husband has developed an alcohol addiction, it is important that you provide him with the support necessary to overcome it. Although it can be difficult to know where to start, open and honest communication is key.
From 2018 to 2019, 76 thousand people 1 in the UK were treated for alcohol addiction, but there are likely to be many more thousands who had an addiction and did not seek treatment.
The last 12 months have been especially difficult for most families in the UK, and it is not unrealistic to expect that levels of alcohol consumption have crept up as a result.
It is common to want a glass of wine or beer after a stressful day, but if you notice that your husband is drinking excessively, regardless of the reason why, it is important to discuss it with him.
Updated low-risk drinking guidelines, as laid out by Chief Medical Officers 2, recommend consuming no more than 14 units of alcohol per week.
This is equivalent to 6 pints of beer, or 6 medium-sized glasses of wine. These 14 units should be spread out over a number of days, ideally with a couple of alcohol-free days each week.
If your husband is regularly exceeding these limits, particularly if he is having multiple heavy drinking sessions each week, he increases his chances for developing serious health conditions, such as cancer and liver disease.
Drinking more than 5 units of alcohol in a 3-6 hour period also more than doubles his risk of accidental injury 3.
It’s likely that, during the 2020/2021 COVID pandemic, you have been spending more time at home, and with your husband, and you may have started to notice changes in his behaviour.
With many pubs and clubs being closed, he might be drinking at home more often, and in greater quantities. If he’s working from home, he might be starting to drink earlier in the day, and might even be drinking while he works.
Common signs that your husband may have developed an alcohol addiction include:
Alcoholics often feel that they need to have a drink as soon as they wake up before they can face the day. They might wake up feeling particularly irritable, and seem more like their usual self once they have had a drink.
They may dismiss this as the typical “hair of the dog”, but it tends to be a clear sign of alcohol dependence. If this sounds like your husband, it is important that you encourage him to cut back and correct this habit.
Having alcohol first thing in the morning can easily lead to a day of drinking, and this is when health, job performance, and social lives can really suffer.
Once your husband has come to terms with his addiction and has decided to begin recovery, you must both be mindful of the difficulties he may face. If he has been abusing alcohol for a while, it is likely that he has become physically dependent upon it, and will therefore experience unpleasant side effects once he stops drinking.
After relying on alcohol for an extended period, the body begins to crave it, and your husband might find that he no longer feels “normal” without it. This is what causes both the psychological and physical symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, including:
While he might feel worse shortly after he stops drinking, it is only temporary, and cutting back on his alcohol consumption is necessary to avoid long-term health problems.
Your husband might experience more serious withdrawal symptoms if his addiction has been severe and ongoing for many years.
These are referred to as delirium tremens, or DT, and if your husband begins to display any of the following symptoms, you should seek medical help:
A lot of people struggle to cope with alcohol withdrawal, and it can be difficult to watch a loved one go through it.
For many people, the best way to ensure that the withdrawal stage goes as safely and smoothly as possible is to undergo a monitored detox in a rehab centre.
There is still some unfair stigma surrounding rehab, with a misconception that it is only for “extreme” cases.
In reality, rehabilitation centres are open to anyone who has concerns about their substance use, and just needs some help to get it under control.
Rehab is especially helpful in the early stages of recovery, when the withdrawal symptoms begin and make it tempting to give up.
It can be difficult for someone with an addiction to recognise the symptoms in themselves, which is why it is important for others to look out for the signs. If your husband is displaying the symptoms of alcohol addiction, broach the subject sensitively.
Those who are considered to be ‘high-functioning’ alcoholics may not see a problem with their drinking if it is not interfering with their lives.
In this case, your husband might be reluctant to talk about it or make any changes, and may even become uncharacteristically angry when the subject comes up.
It is important that you are not put off from trying to help him, and that you seek additional support if you are finding it difficult to speak openly with him about his addiction.
Alcohol dependence can take a massive toll on personal relationships, and often requires the family members of the alcoholic to take on additional responsibilities.
Help is available so that you don’t have to suffer in silence. Your GP will have information on local support centres, and there are several online resources 4 available that you can access 24/7.