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Coping with a partner’s drinking

Coping with a partnerGuidelines for a person whose spouse, partner, girlfriend, or boyfriend is using alcohol in a way that is causing problems – or in a risky way, likely to cause future problems.

Powerlessness and Power

The word Powerlessness comes from Al Anon (the support group for families of a person dependent on alcohol). You do not have the power to do something or to say something that is guaranteed to make the other person stop using alcohol. This is important, because you can spend many sleepless nights wondering “What can I do to make the person change?”

However, you do have power over your own life. Research has found that the stress (or distress) of the family can be reduced by the other family members not focusing on trying to change the person with the addiction, and focusing instead on getting on with their own lives (Al Anon uses the phrase “Detach with love” for this, and the research which came to similar conclusions was carried out by Richard Velleman in U.K., independently of Al Anon).

Getting support for yourself is a good idea. Resources include Family Support, self-help groups such as Al Anon, counselling services, community-based services, parish groups, IBDI (Irish Bishops’ Drugs Initiative), Community Addiction Teams, your local or regional Drugs Task Force, etc.

Inform yourself from books or websites, so that you have a better understanding of alcohol-related problems and dependence.

Children and Resilience

If there are children in the family, they can be helped too. We use the word “resilience” to describe the strengths that help children to do well despite the disruption caused by a person misusing alcohol. Research has found that there ARE  things that the family can do to help children to develop resilience.   

Children are found to be more resilient in families where the misuse of drink takes place away from the home, not in the home.

Similarly, if rows and fights occur, the children are more resilient if the rows take place not in front of the children (and not where they can overhear the rows either).

Children are more resilient in families where certain routines are kept, like regular family meals (daily or weekly) and where occasions like birthdays are celebrated.

Children are helped to be more resilient by having an older person outside the family whom they can talk to, like a grandparent or a school teacher or an aunt/uncle or a friend. So keeping the whole problem as a secret is not helpful.

Finally, if the parent who does not have the dependence (addiction) is able to converse with the young people, explaining the dependence in language the children can understand, this will help. The aim will be to help the children too to “detach with love”, getting on with their own lives as best they can.


There are times when it is possible to carry out an “Intervention” meeting in an effort to bring the person with the alcohol problem into greater awareness of this reality. In terms of the Wheel of Change, the aim of Intervention is to prompt the drinker to move through the stages on the Wheel of Change, from Pre-contemplation to Contemplation, Preparation, Action and Maintenance (as appropriate).

Some Treatment Centres for addiction will have Preparation Programmes to help a family to prepare for an intervention.

Very briefly, the process of an Intervention involves the following:

Find a local service that can help

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The HSE and Union of Students in Ireland (USI) ask students to think about drug safety measures when using club drugs
Harm reduction messages from the #SaferStudentNights campaign.
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