Alcoholism, Codependency and Intimacy

In my previous post, Alcoholism: Addiction with a Twist,  I commented on how addiction can lead to addictive or co-dependent relationships. I ended with,

“The benefits to all of overcoming an addiction to the wellbeing of another are far reaching, but as always, the healing process begins with awareness.”

Awareness alone doesn’t remove the problem, but it may produce a road map to wholeness. And with wholeness can come real intimacy.

Codependency is full of opposites

Imagine a husband and wife where the man is addicted to alcohol and the woman is addicted to him and his well-being. She has an intense pull towards her husband. She loses herself in the intensity of the need to care for him.  On the other hand she has a strong need to pull away from him and get a life for herself.

We have all seen it: one of them leaves and comes back, and then leaves again and comes back again. There seems to be no middle ground. It’s either total enmeshment or complete cut-off.

What isn’t well understood is that the cut-off is just as much a part of codependency as the enmeshment. With the under-functioning alcoholic, compulsive drinking and compulsive abstinence are two sides of the same coin, and compulsive abstinence does not “cure” the alcoholism. Similarly, distancing from the alcoholic spouse will not cure the codependency. She is still over-functioning to compensate for his under-functioning. Although sex may be great or mediocre, there is little real intimacy between the two beings.

A recipe for staying stuck

What is the effect of the codependency on the under-functioning, alcoholic husband? To put it bluntly, he stays stuck in his alcoholism. When she’s there and enmeshed with him, he has no incentive to change. When she distances herself, he declares his undying love and gives a hint of cleaning up. Nothing really changes, nor can it change as long as the non-alcoholic partner continues to overcompensate for the partner’s shortcomings.

Helping yourself

If you are wondering whether you have codependent tendencies, just ask yourself,

 “Am I more of an expert on what he needs than on what I need?”

If your answer is “yes,” then you are probably to some degree in the midst of a codependent relationship.

If you have become an expert on what your partner needs and are not really clear about your own needs as a person, you are a part of the dysfunction and are helping to hold it in place. The good news is that this understanding gives you a roadmap to find your way out.

Your central task if you want to overcome your addictive/co-dependent tendencies is your own self-development. I’m not talking joining the gym or taking up a hobby. I refer to your doing whatever it takes to become an expert on yourself and your soul’s purpose.

When you have gained an understanding of and caring for who you are, independent of other people, and have developed your practice of self-care so it has become second nature, and you no longer turn to jelly or rage when an under-functioning person tries to suck you in, then you are capable of real intimacy with another.

And who knows, when you are no longer are a part of his dysfunction, he may change too.

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49 thoughts on “Alcoholism, Codependency and Intimacy

  1. Why do you name your book "Living with a Functional Alcoholic: A woman’s guide" and assume that MEN don’t need help in living with a functional alcoholic??? My soninlaw is in a living hell with a functional alcoholic/he being a lifelong "codependent" personality and my grandchildren and I are in the middle of this sick mess. What do you have for HIM and me as a grandmother???

  2. Dear Charlotte, I realize that many men are in the same predicament your son-in-law is in and I intend to address this in my next book. I had to start somewhere, but I can understand your frustration. In the meantime, realize that many of the principles are the same and so are some of the details.

  3. I have been living with a funtioning alcoholic for two years and I am codependent on him. Recently I have told him I am moving out. Of course this did not get a reaction from him and he thinks I am crying wolf, again. I am closing on my house this week and I am ready to make a fresh start. I feel tremondously guilty, because of course he claims he loves me and things will change and he doesn’t have a problem.
    Will your book help me to make a fresh start after leaving the alcoholic or can you make a suggestion for one that will. thank you

  4. Hi Renee.

    Absolutely. If you are codependent, as you say you are, the guidance in the book may help you keep your resolve and not go back, only to do it all again.

    Love and blessings,

  5. Dr. Neill
    I recently married an alcoholic (1 year). To my surprise, the whiskey bottles are hidden randomly thru out the home. The drinking has increase since moving in, along with the verbal abuse. I have demanded that I not be a part of this life style, wether it be the drinking/passing out/neglect/mistrust/verbal abuse/making and breaking up cycle. Alcohol is destructive and all consumping, the reasons for drinking are masked to protect the guilty and insecure. The drinking lead to physical abuse, in front of my four children. So, considering the responsibility I have to myself and my four children, I have left. Demanding that he get help, holding to the principal. He has sought help – two meetings/counselling. He insist that he needs me home to help him get thru this and that he is not drinking. I want to go home, be a good wife/partner/supporter, however I will not until I know that he is not drinking anymore. How can I tell if he is not drinking? We talk at night (on the phone) and he seems fine, however I could not tell he was drinking all the time when I lived with him.
    Does he know what he has done to us and our family, the kids, our marriage. Only when sober, right?
    I am not sure I want to fight the battle of sobbering up and the cycles assoicated with the process. I am not sure if I want to put my young kids thru this mess, based upon an ‘IF’ he get sober. I am a mother and “IF’ does not work. I love him and I am trying this ‘tuff love’ thing with him, and it is hard. What book should I read? Thanks

  6. I am just too overwhelmed right now because I know I have been married to an alcoholic for over 30 years.. I see after reading your inforomation how I am codependent and have made the drinking sooo much easier for him. Oh my goodness.
    He has decided to leave me since I started to change and he feels that I am mean to him. I suppose some days I was I had little self respect left and no self respect for him…
    During our marriage he always said it was not a problem because he could go to work, no big deal. He could stay away from the bottle for 3 nights and drink like crazy the other 4..
    Funny no one really knew he was drunk but me. And I began to feel I was loosing it. Now I see that it wasn’t me it happens all the time.. He could always go to work he never drove the children anywhere until because he was always drunk after dinner. He promised me oh so many things and never remembered in the morning.. Oh you know the drill. So I became verbaly abusive and I regret that now, I should never have gone that route. I have aplolgized many times.

    My question to you is: he has started to date my best freind and she hates drinking so he is not going to drink any more (so he says), he still drinks at home but not with her.. Can he really just stop like that??? She knows of his problem but she says she can change him, she won’t have booze in the house.. ps I do not see my friend any longer.. and soon I wil have little to do with my soon to be exhusband after I move out.. If I sound bitter I am not really> I am just upset that things should have been different and I did not know how to do that. I would always say if he drinks 2 glasses of rum before the 10 beer then I will leave and I did not, oaky if he drinks 3 glassses of rum etc but I did not until he was drinking 4 to 5 tumblers of rum each night and then the beer………
    Oh I seem to be on a role. I used to pour out the rum and out in water to dilute the effects. I tried to get him to eat al big meal but he soon caught on and said he had a big lunch.. Oh so many trics i tried but to no avail.. Maybe this time he will stop for her.. He appears to really love her..

  7. My boyfriend of three years finally went to rehab, he’s been out two weeks, and he’s not stuck to his plan. He hasn’t had a drink, he’s been doing online aa, and he is going to a therapist tomorrow. He says he will go to an aa meeting soon, but hasn’t been to one since he left rehab.

    I am wondering what hope do we have for a future together. Where can I get information if I am a girlfriend. Everything I read is geared toward people who are married, but nothing regarding a long term relationship. His original intent to get help was to have a normal life, period, but also to have the ultimate goal of us having a life together.

    Now he’s getting help, and he says he’s not sure what will happen to us, but that he needs to work on himself first. I don’t disagree that he needs to work on himself first, at all.

    However, I am confused as to why his goal of spending a life with me and my children would/should change.

    Do you have any suggested reading for me?


  8. Dear Carolyn,

    If he is still drinking at home, it’s probably an indication of his continued addiction. His girlfriend is deluding herself to think she can change him.

    He will change if he wants to change.  The jury is still out on that, and for your own sanity, you need to be not on that jury. You saw changes in him when you changed and started looking after yourself. A marriage ending is a whopper of a change. Maybe he will change, getting whatever help he needs. Many have done it. Some people can stop,"just like that." I did.

    But I needed and got a lot of help in adjusting lifestyle, dealing with old trauma and changing attitude after I stopped. However, he has to find that out for himself.

    I hope this has been of some help.


  9. Hello,

    my question is the following:

    When do I know I can not help my wife getting out of alcohol, when should I look for my own well being?
    she has black outs every month once, she drinks almost every day 2 glasses of wine. she has become angry and she got physical with me every time she has blackouts, what are the legal issues when she gets physical? what can I do when this happens?

  10. Dear Dr.Neill Neill,

    I am involved with a woman who is an alcoholic. We have have been together for over a year and have had many ps and downs.

    I feel like I have ‘lost’ myself in this so-called relationship. She is the one who always calls the shots and is sometimes nice to me while other times not. She is 50 and has bee drinking for 35 years.

    I have constantly pulled away from her and said good bye over and over again…but continue to come back. I do love her and she loves me…she says as a friend…while I love her more than as a friend. The last few months we have stopped being ‘intimate’ and see each other occasionally.We e-mail often and talk on the phone often.

    The last few months I have been verbally abusive to her and keep on threatening to leave but never do so. She is always trying to blame me for having anger management problems. I feel crazy. I have never been involved with an alcoholic before nor have any close family that has been an alcoholic.

    She has stopped drinking daily and is now drinking on the weekends. It seems things have gotten worse between her and I. I don’t want us to end but I feel so crazy at times like I can’t take this anymore.

    I myself do not drink at all and I never buy her alcohol.

    Please help.


  11. The drinking is not your fault and it’s not your responsibility, and by dating your best friend he is acting extremely selfishly and vindictively. This relationship seems very very sick.

    The question I would be asking is not whether he will stop drinking, but whether you can let go of this relationship of 30 years and really live for yourself with no contact with this addict. Because your attachment to him is also an addiction — an addiction to pain.

    It’s very painful to read your post, from the outside, I can tell you it really seems like you need to distance yourself.

  12. I have been living with my fiance for over a year. He moved here from another state, so the times we saw each other were short four days here and four days there etc. No reality time. I would term him a functioning alcholoic. Major mood swings. I have tried approaching him to stop this behavior. He goes on binges will drink for a few days. Then stop. Will consume eight or nine beers.

    I have alot of guilt since he moved here for me and gave up alot in the process. Any advice would help.

  13. Hard as it is, it is easier to separate now than it will five years from now. Look after yourself while you still have the clarity to do so. Call me if you have questions about my program for women in your position.

  14. Dr. Neill,

    I was in a five year relationship with a highly functioning alcoholic. In the five year period, my exboyfriend would breakup in anger and we’d get back together, get along for awhile and he’d breakup again over an argument. Most of the arguments were petty and in reality of nothing serious. I have issues myself of abandonment from childhood. My father left us when I was 5.

    I have been in two, five year relationships with two highly functioning alcoholics. In this last relationship, I did not see his drinking as a source of our problems. It was his anger issues and disrespect of me and sometimes the level of cruelty to which he’d display the anger. It wasn’t physical abuse though there were two times when it was dangerous. It was the constant breaking up and forgetting our discussions on the phone while he was drinking that seemed to cause in my opinion the most damage.

    I’m still in love with him. What makes it so difficult are the many good times we had. I have punished myself and become depressed to a point to which I can’t seem to function, ie hold a job. All of the ambition I once had seems to evaporate and my mind is always, always on trying to figure out how to “fix” or get us back together.

    Is there a place, a counseling weekend retreat for a codependent?

    Thank you.

  15. Dear Sonja,

    I don’t know of any weekend retreat that would do the job. Treating codependency is such an individual problem, and there is a lot more to getting one’s life back after a marriage to an alcoholic, that just treating the codependency.

    Just from what you say, my program might be a good fit for you. I tailor the program to each person’s individual situation, of course. If you meet the criteria for the program and we agree to work together, you would fly here and get a hotel room or B & B. Then I would work with you and you alone to get you through the impasse and turn your life around. That part of the program takes two days. We follow the intensive, face-to-face work with 15 telephone-coaching sessions spread over the next six months. (Plus email backup as needed.)

    Qualicum Beach, BC is a very restful place. Call me so we can discuss your situation privately.


  16. Hello,

    I am an alcoholic desperately trying to start and maintain a recovery program. I also think I am codependent. My boyfriend has an addiction to oxycontin which he claims he’s over now (It’s a long story, but he had no choice other than to quit). What I do know is that he has been addicted to many other things in the past and has had many legal issues (some very serious). One forensic professional even went so far as to suggest that he may be exhibting signs of anti-social personality, but its very hard, in my opinion, to extricate the signs of severe addiction and the signs of anti-social behavior from one another. He refuses to go into a treatment program.

    All of that said, I know that I need to manage my own sobriety first and foremost. However, I’m not doing so well with that because every time he wipes out and/or does something I perceive as a sign that he doesn’t care, then I bottom out too in an effort to mitigate the emotional distress that I’m feeling. So, yes, I guess that makes me pretty damned codependent. I feel stuck and stupid.

  17. Hello Yuki,

    You are not stupid, but you are scared. I think you know deep down that if you take a different course, that is, if you change, everything will change. And that scares you.

    Full permanent recovery from your addiction means recreating your life. You might or might not have to leave him. But full recovery means putting everything on the table. Take a look at, take the quiz and get your free report.

    Be safe.

  18. Hi,

    I was married to a functioning alcoholic for 15 yrs. I never knew there was such a thing. He would go to work and only drink at home in the evening. Of course now I know better…but his excuse was he needed to wind down from working and he didn’t see a harm in having a few beers to do that. Also he said that as a kid he suffered with anxiety and this helped him cope with it. I know now that drinking increases anxiety and deserving a few beers is an excuse for drinking. Especially when he does it seven days a week and its 13 beers every night.

    Our life..was revolved around his drinking hrs which began around 7:30pm and by 10:30 he would be done with his twelve pack and go to bed. I knew that him doing any activities with us out of the house in the evenings were out of the question and even on the weekends visiting friends or family during the day would end up with him rushing us home because of course it was getting close to his drinking time.

    He lost interest for intimacy and most of the time he end up rejecting me. When I got tired of the rejection and wanted to see how long it would take for him to notice that we have had no sex, it took 3 years.

    At that point I left. I hoped he would care then to change since he truly does love our daughter but its been two years now and he is actually ok with coming to my house to see her daily for a few min and then he is off to go home back to his drinking. Our daughter loves him dearly but she is 15yrs old now and she knows that dad picked his drinking over the family and therefore she does not go to his house to stay. She never told him just that but she told me that and of course he doesnt believe me.

    He hated me thru the marriage for trying nicely or not so nicely to get him to quit. I was the broken record that nagged and sang the same song over and over. Now he hates me and so does his family and they blame me for him drinking even more because I left him and took our daughter. I told his family for years but they didnt want to help me and they made excuses for him. They still do. Even though it runs in his family and people in his family died because of alcohol. I dont get it. I need help knowing I did the right thing because in a sick way I am still in love with this man. Why I dont know. He killed our sex life and througout the entire marriage wouldnt even take me out on our yearly anniversaries. I was always a third wheel to any other couple just so I could go see a movie or go out, and any family function I was always the one there without a spouse. His thing is that he is just not into any of the things i wanted to do.

    I was so lonely I couldnt take it anymore and I am suffering mentally now big time still. I am raising our daughter alone as he is not here to stay up with me while she is becoming a teen and wanting to go out and experience life. I have no help and it is hard. I am starting to hate him yet I cannot imagine in a sick way growing old with him. I still feel as if I am on a vacation just taking a break from him.

    Does this make sense? Please help me understand.

  19. Hello Dana,

    The love you still experience is perfectly normal.

    1. For one thing, you are still grieving his loss. The sadness, the loneliness, the tears are healing emotions in the aftermath of loss. The grieving period is likeof like a "vacation" from full-out living. But that does not mean you would be happy if he "rose from the dead" and moved back in.
    2. For another thing codependency takes a while to disappear. People (ex, family) are still able to hook you into feeling responsible for his condition. Let it go. You are not responsible.

    Just look forward to the day when you are fully embracing life again. That day may be sooner than you think, but only if you hold your course.

  20. Hi,

    Going to make a very long story short:

    I was 20, my boyfriend 19. He was in a horrible motorcycle accident and ended up losing his leg. We stuck with each other through all of it, we’re now married going on 16 years. Over the years he’d become addicted to painkillers and alcohol, a lethal combination. Many nights I would lay awake so I could check to see if he was still breathing after he passed out on the couch. We have 2 children who are 8 and 12. I pretty much filled the role of both parents for all 12 years. He entered rehab a little over a year ago, there were a few bumps in the road immediately after but is doing very well now and takes his sobriety very seriously. His family is severely dysfunctional: 2 years ago my father-in-law left my mother-in-law for another woman, my mother-in-law was a recovering alcoholic and returned to prescription drugs and alcohol, his sister is also a prescription drug addict. They’ve also been through rehab just recently. I was always the strong one in the family and was the one that helped all of them seek treatment. My question is, they are all now recovering, shouldn’t I be just elated? I’m not. This is what I’ve wanted all along so why do I feel like crying?

  21. Hi Michelle,

    The reality of change and growth is that when something changes, everything changes. I was in a good marriage, but I had a serious alcohol problem. When I realized it was killing me, I quit. My wife was elated, but a few months later she wanted marriage counsel ling. We went and I got a lot out of it. Then two years after I quit, she left. I was completely blindsided.

    I have subsequently learned that quite a few women married to alcoholics do leave their marriages after he gets sober. With the right kind of help, it’s not inevitable. That’s why when someone wants help with their recovery, I like to have the spouse involved from the beginning. Likewise, when I am helping a woman with her codependency, in the best of all worlds I like to have the alcoholic husband involved too.

    Since one of you is going through a transformation, the two of you may need help to get back in sync, while you can still recognize him.

    I hope my brief comment will give you some perspective on your lack of elation.

  22. Hello,

    I’m 21 and my boyfriend is 23. I have recently learned I am codependent and my boyfriend is an alcoholic and possibly doing cocaine (from a rumor I heard). I’ve been with him since I was 18 and I’ve never seen him go more than 4 days without drinking heavily. He blackouts, has shaky hands, pees his bed, and throws up from drinking so much. He told me he’s been drinking since he was 15, but refuses to admit he has a problem. After hearing about him possibly having a drug problem I couldn’t hold it in anymore. I called his parents and told them about his problem. They are taking him to dinner tonight to talk to him about it.

    I absolutely love this person and I’ve never felt so strongly towards someone. Our intimate life is great and we still are in love when we see each other. I want to have a future with this person, the person that he is when he’s sober. Although I can’t see myself marrying an alcoholic. I’m really lost and confused. I’ve been reading the book, Codependent no more & it’s been helping. I just want to be happy again and not be worrying so much about him. My whole life for the past two 1/2 years has been about him and his needs.

    Thank you for taking the time to read this.

  23. Hi,

  24. I have been with my boyfriend for nearly a year. He is a highly functioning alcoholic and was not in denial about his alcoholism. Ten days ago he went into a detox program and has been actively working the recovery process with daily meetings. I have been attending al anon meetings and attending open meetings with him when he is comfortable.

    He has always been a very loving and affectionate man. I am extremely supportive in his recovery and am willing to do what it takes to help us to have a healthy, loving relationship without the alcohol. Although he indicates that he is lucky to have me and that he truly loves me and is committed to me and our relationship and to getting to the place where we will have a normal relationship….the physical intimacy is missing at this point. I miss that part of our relationship very much and am not applying any pressure or pushing it in that way.

    I know that he is dealing with more than I can truly understand and that he is just beginning to learn to understand himself and navigate the world without alcohol (after 30 years). I am concentrating on providing loving support and giving him time to come back to the intimacy of our relationship. We have always communicated well in every aspect of our relationship and I cherish this. I am, however, having a difficult time saying anything about missing him sexually because I do not want to apply any additional pressure on him when he is doing everything he can.

    Am I responding appropriately? Should I continue to respond in this manner and allow him to come to me when it feels right for him? He has always been a very sexual individual but has not really been that way without alcohol (at least not that I am aware of). I want to do this right so that we don’t ruin an otherwise loving relationship. Initially, he was very hands off. In the past several days we have spent more time together communicating, sharing, etc. and he is becoming more and more affectionate (kisses, holding me at night) and many of the things I love about us together. I would appreciate any insight you can provide.

    This man and this relationship is very important to me and to the both of us. It is vital, however, to both of us that we do the right things so that it can be a long lasting relationship that is healthy and loving.

  25. Hi –
    I have been married over 7 years and my husband is an alcoholic. (He has also used drugs in the past, too.) He recently started drinking again. When I address this with him he says that I am being “his jailer” and that I am “trying to control and manipulate him” and that my love is conditional and only if he “behaves”. This bothers me because I do love him and I am a Christian. I honestly believe men should love their wives and lead their families and that wives are supposed to love and support their husbands.

    He does not go to AA meetings (he has been an AA sponsor in the past..) and he will not see a counselor. He wants to buy a home (we currently rent). I do not want to buy a home with him because I am afraid of the future with him: will he start drinking very heavily, will he lose his job again, will he go back to using drugs again…but I do not want to leave him and “give up on him.” I am seeing a counselor and we discuss me taking my time to process things and have healthy thinking and behaviors.

    I feel that standing my ground on not buying a home together is prudent. But he is really laying into me and it is very hard not to give into him. He says he works so hard he deserves to have a nice home to come home to. And he says he drinks because he is working so hard. And he says I do not respect him – I guess this is hitting me so hard because I want to respect him, but the alcohol scares me and I cannot fully listen to him or “respect” his decisions.

    I really am having a problem seeing a path ahead, knowing what I should think and should feel, I just keep seeing leaving or asking him to leave as a failure, I keep hoping something will change…

    I liked what you said above, “Your central task if you want to overcome your addictive/co-dependent tendencies is your own self-development. I’m not talking joining the gym or taking up a hobby. I refer to your doing whatever it takes to become an expert on yourself and your soul’s purpose.

    When you have gained an understanding of and caring for who you are, independent of other people, and have developed your practice of self-care so it has become second nature, and you no longer turn to jelly or rage when an under-functioning person tries to suck you in, then you are capable of real intimacy with another.”

    Is there anything I can tell myself during my weak moments where I don’t feel good about the changes I am making/trying to make?

  26. Moxie, It sounds like he may have found someone else to have sexual relationship with. Sometime alcoholics will withhold the truth to get what they want.

  27. Married to a man who has been an alcoholic for almost 4 years–drinking from day break til drop. Accidents, hospitals, police intervention etc.. having scared the hell out of the children and I, the first time he got physically aggressive. He finally left.

    Following the honeymoon period and elation of being free from this illness, the painful side of separation is rearing its ugly head. And it hurts more than the drinking days! I know it’s grieving for the loss but it’s so painful that I’m confusing it with wanting him back. I don’t miss him physically, and am happy with things more calm and in control with just me and the kids and couldn’t imagine him living with us again. It’s the memories that hurt and the thought of him one day with someone else. Since our separation he has stopped drinking and is now even a sponsor for someone at AA.

    It feels like a kick in the teeth of course knowing that he can stop now he’s no longer with us. Of course I’ve been told that I was fueling the fire, making him drink…and I know his family can’t help feeling the same but I feel like I was his savior by calling it quits! Towards the end, it’s true I found it easier when he drank as it justified my decision to leave. Even though I ditched many co-dependent habits a long time ago. But I knew that by staying with him, he would always deem it ok to continue.

    So I know that I don’t want to risk him falling off the wagon by letting him back in my life (it’s only been 2mths of sobriety so far) and I need to protect my children from messages that what he did was acceptable, drunk or not. It’s extremely tough but am encouraging myself (never experienced grief before) to remain separated and to move on, painful as it is and if he manages to prove himself in an acceptable amount of time (he managed 8mths once) who knows. But sobriety doesn’t solve other underlying issues in our marriage, his anger issues and I’ve seen no change since there since we parted and no remorse for what he put us through. Just hoping that I can move on, stand back and stand up for myself one day saying that as sad as it is, that we deserve to be happy and that now he is sober, this is his oppourtunity to enjoy a better relationship with his children than he did when he was with us. But what a tough disease and tough love. Any words of encouragement always welcome to help me on my path. And your book was a great help btw… thanks.

  28. Dear Dr. Neill,

    My husband and I are both Alcoholics in recovery. We have each been committed to our individual sobriety programs for over 10 years. Recently, we have embarked on the task of addressing our co-dependency issues in an effort to promote healing on all levels of being. Because Alcoholics tend to show the same patterns of mental and emotional processing, at times, even without alcohol being a factor – I am wondering if you would consider your book beneficial. Your thoughts?

    Love and Light,

  29. Dear HRC,

    Congratulations on how far you have come. May the 10 years grow to 30+ years as it has for me!

    My book’s would be very informative regarding where you have come from and give you some additional insights into how you might want to grow further. The section on codependency would be particularly helpful.

    Best wishes to both of you.


  30. My husband is an alcoholic. When he drinks he doesn’t usually get mean, but he turns into a blithering idiot and can’t complete the simplest tasks correctly. He thinks that I can’t tell when he’s drunk and denies being drunk, although I am aware of how much he has consumed. I have told him that he wouldn’t even like himself when he’s drunk and I no longer have patience for him when he gets into “idiot mode”.

    He lacks judgement when he is drunk and I feel like his keeper. I resent it. I didn’t marry him with any intention of divorce, but every time that he turns into an idiot when drinking, I want to run fast and far. I do not feel like I can rely on him; I am self-sufficient, so I certainly don’t need him financially or to care for me.

    We are about to purchase a home (with my credit), and I feel like I should pull the plug and run. I can’t envision spending the rest of my life waiting for him to wise up, grow up, deal with his demons, and act like a man. It’s becoming totally clear to me that this is unlikely to happen as there have always been people around him to coddle him and pick up the pieces and I don’t think that this will change. He comes from a family of enablers.

    I love him when he’s sober, but I can’t stand him when he’s drunk. His lack of self-respect has made it very easy for me to disrespect him when he’s in “idiot mode”. I don’t like who I become and how easy it is to be mean and disrespectful to him when he’s drunk. I have told him this, also what I can and cannot live with, and that his actions will dictate whether I stay or go. He’ll be a lovely, sober, productive, loving man for a while, then he will quickly backslide into “idiot mode”.

    I hate to say it, but I think I’m beating my head against a wall. I’m no angel. I drink, but not to the extent that he does (mostly wine with dinner in the evening and I don’t even enjoy it the way that I used to and many evenings I’m not even in the mood to drink and prefer water). I have offered to quit entirely with him and support him in any way possible, but he never accepts the offer.

    My heart tells me one thing, while my head tells me quite another thing. We have no kids together, don’t own any meaningful property together at this point, and don’t have a complicated financial situation, so aside from the emotional upheaval, this could be a relatively clean break.

    I guess I could use some advice from people in a similar position. Thank you.

  31. I have been married to a functioning alcoholic for 15 years. We have been a couple for over 20 years. I have come to the realization that I have been handling the situation wrong the entire time. I often become angry and say hurtful things, thinking he will change. I try to point out how it affects us, but he doesn’t think it does. Nothing has worked yet. He has stopped drinking many times, but he always starts back up. He calls himself a weekend alcoholic, but his weekends are often extended.

    His problem is once he starts, he can’t stop. After a long day of drinking, I never know how drunk he will be. He always denies it and will lie about the amount he has had or what he is drinking. He has been drinking hard alcohol much more in the past few years. He is much worse on hard stuff. He doesn’t become physical, but can become angry. I often wait up for him and check on him when he is sleeping. He is so drunk sometimes that I worry something bad will happen to him. I have lost many nights of sleep. I can’t rest until he is home in bed. My children are getting older now and are pretty sick of it themselves. They hate when he is drunk too. My son has asked, “Why does Dad have to drink so much?” I find myself angry the next day and have a hard time holding my tongue. I am going to get your book and try to break the codependent cycle. Any suggestions on where I should start? I am done letting it affect me. I don’t want to be angry anymore.

  32. I’ve met a man 15 years ago with whom I’ve fell in love and I’ve never ever knew I could be loved the way he loves me. He is very caring and always watching out for me, except with his on going alcoholism as he gets older he is not so intimate and spending much time in the garage drinking with buddies. I’ve talked to him how it makes me feel like he’s pushing me away by spending more time in his garage than in the house with me.

    He never misses work, he’s a very hard worker, never drinks and drives, not abusive by any means, just neglectful and inconsiderate at times. I am very lonely because I don’t like seeing where this is going. I want to approach him in a manner not to hurt him but at the same token give him a message that I can not go on living like this. Is is right for me to give him an ultimatum? I do not enable him or am I codependent except for I feel I am losing myself. Please help! How do I get through to him without hurting him?

  33. Dear lonely but loved,

    Right now, you are lonely and unsatisfied with the way your life is going. Would it not be better to confront things now than to wait five years until you don’t know which end is up and you are in crisis? So demand a change and then wait. If he doesn’t change, or if he makes promises and doesn’t follow through, you know what you have to do if you want to have a life.

    He may choose to hurt himself when you confront him. But remember, you aren’t hurting him; he is. He may even blame you for his drinking… anything to get out of confronting his drinking problem.

  34. Dr. Neill,

    Thank you for the article. Although the stories others are posting are painful to read, it also makes me feel a little less stupid. Because that’s how people treat us co-dependents. You know, “Why do you put up with that? Don’t you know you deserve better?” They can’t understand the hopelessness that you feel, like you’ll never get out, like you can’t survive without them.

    Well I did. Praise God, I’ve been out of the relationship for about a year and a half now. I’m terrified though. I don’t know if I can trust myself to make wise relationship choices. I married an alcoholic narcissist last time and my kids have suffered just as much as I have. How will I know when it is safe to move on? Should I avoid relationships altogether?

  35. Dr. Neill,

    We have three young kids (8, 7 and 6). He is well-respected at work, and very intelligent. People have said that they admire/envy our lives. I am telling this to you because I want you to be aware that all around, he is not malicious, abusive, and has managed to control his drinking – to some extent.

    We are in couples counseling – not for drinking, but to work through some of our communication skills. The counselor has suggested (twice) that he might want to get assessed for alcoholism and do some addiction counseling on his own. He agreed that it might be a good idea, but has never followed through. This is background for you.

    Now about the drinking – he tends to over-indulge when he drinks, however these situations arise about once every six weeks. When he does over-indulge, he’s often with his friends (or a few months ago was home alone with the kids) and will drive. He tells me that he’s only had 3-5 drinks when he’s out – and that I am way overreacting and that this is completely normal. Because I can tell he’s drunk, like last night, I begged him not to drive home because he was slurring, but he claims to have had 3 pints… I find it hard to believe given his state when he did get home at 12:30 am. However, on occasions he’s admitted to having 10-12, so maybe he isn’t lying? If he’s truly only having 3-4 drinks on his binge night (which happens roughly every 4-6 weeks), is he an alcoholic, or am I over sensitive because I have grown up with a highly alcoholic/abusive mother?

    Also – I have threatened to leave because alcoholism is a deal-breaker for me and I do not want to go through this again (being raised by one was enough) – and I desperately don’t want my kids to have to work through the issues I’ve had to. However, as my husband points out, he’s not hurting anyone, and the kids don’t know what’s going on because they are often in bed when it goes down – so what’s the problem? The only damage to them is the fighting/cold shoulder (because I am tired after 10 years of this, to fight about this anymore so I keep away from him for days after until I’ve cooled off).

    After last night, I have once again told him it’s time to move apart… But he’s adamant that this time will be different – last night was all about stress at work and he says he knows it was dumb and that he hurt me, so this is really the moment it will all change.

    So, do I separate myself/kids and pull them away from an otherwise fabulous father (because they don’t yet understand that he’s drinking so is it really all that damaging to them?) Or do I stay because this could really be the time it all changes? Or if I stay am I just in the codependent relationship (or you suggested in your article that if I leave I could also be in the codependent relationship). I want to do what’s best, first for the kids – so if they aren’t being affected, then I think I can hang on a little longer, but how do I know if it’s hurting them? And how do I know whether I am enabling/being stuck in codependency? I fear my kids will end up modelling our actions as parents (his and mine)!

    I need your thoughts on all of this – I also tried to purchase your book but got an error so hopefully it’s still available (could you let me know).

  36. Dr. Neill,

    I recently broke up with my alcoholic boyfriend. Actually, he broke up with me after four years. He has been 66 days sober and it seems like it is his time and he is right on track. However, he brutally told me that he is not in love with me, that I can’t understand his process, that he feels he was never in love and that he doesn’t understand the feeling of being in love. Of course, I am devastated. He seems to be moving on, doing great and restarting his life. To be honest, I am glad, but I can not be genuinely happy because my heart is broken, I feel betrayed, I am angry and not angry.

    I am scared now. Yes, as a codependent woman, I am scared to lose him forever. I know what I have to do and focus on me and my grieving process, but my heart gets in the way because I am in pain. I have never experienced this and of course, don’t get it.

    Is this normal for him to just removed me from his life? Especially, after everything we have been through in the past? I am not an alcoholic, in fact I don’t even drink, but for some reason I feel like he doesn’t care about my well being. He is focusing on his, and yes, I am aware of his 24-7 focus on it for a whole year and then for the rest of his life, but why throw me out of his life like this?

    Help or any advice will be appreciated.

  37. This is all BS. It is called love when it works and co-dependence when it doesn’t. The drunks need to stop drinking and you are left with what is left. If it doesn’t work out as qualifying for “love” and functionality, then part ways and wish each other the best. Then wait until life brings you the right character.

  38. Dear Dr. Neill,

    I’ve been married to my husband for almost 26 years. He does have a lot of physical issues: COPD, PAD diabetes and now maybe liver problems. He also had a lung cancer about two years a go which he is in remission. I feel like the most of physical issues are brought on by his choices; smoking, doing drugs and drinking. He is sick most of the mornings along with brewing, nose bleeds which leads me to think that he maybe experiencing sclerosis of the liver.

    On the last visit a few days a go, his oncologist suggest that he should seek immediate attention for his alcohol problem, but he doesn’t seem to do anything to help himself. His doctor is suggesting that he should get a CT scan but there again, he is not complying with his request.

    I would like to leave him and the marriage, but I don’t have a job, I feel like he may not have long to live due to all of his physical issues. If I leave him, I feel very guilty. If I don’t leave him, I feel like I am going insane. What do I do? Please give me guidance. I know the choice is mine and only mine to make, but it’s a hard decision because if I leave and if something happens I would feel extremely guilty. I feel like I am isolated from others and just don’t feel like being with anyone.

  39. Dr Neill! Can you help me? I would like to make my dissertation about a person who is dependent of alcohol. Can you tell me which aspect is very important to deal? The person has a good wisdom and knowledge, but he put first the beer then work and family.

    Best regards,


  40. I know I am a codependent. My father was an alcoholic and my mother leaned on me for emotional support. I learned to ignore my needs, and lost myself.

    My husband and I have been together for almost 9 years, married for 5. The first couple years were very rough. He drank a lot because of what I thought was my fault. I had lied to him and it sent him into a tailspin. At the time it just compounded my guilt. I had no awareness that his actions weren’t my fault.

    We somehow recovered in our dysfunctional way and moved on, got married a couple years later after I started pressuring him. I felt like we weren’t going anywhere and I wanted to be with him forever. Eventually, he proposed.

    He is a martyr in our relationship, takes everything on himself and then begrudges me. He doesn’t thank me when I do something, I don’t think he even notices. He’s controlling his drinking much better these past few years to the point now where he usually has 1 or 2 a night, 4 at most, estimated.

    But here’s the deal. I’ve worked on myself these past two years. Discovered my dysfunction. Started healing my codependency. He went to marriage counseling with me and we made a lot of progress. We communicate much better now. And yet, he’s still distant. I still don’t feel close to him. He’s still a martyr, buries his anger, and pushes me away by making me the bad guy. I don’t do enough around the house. I’m irresponsible with money. (Not true…I’m not as strict as he is, and like to enjoy myself. However we have savings, we pay our bills, we are in great shape with reasonable debt that we are working to pay off early).

    He won’t go to counseling himself and I’m finally to the point where I’ve healed enough I’m ready for more out of our relationship that just isn’t there. And it won’t be there until/if ever he heals. I don’t think I’m willing to wait any longer for that. I take care of myself now. I do things for myself, even when it makes him angry and he tries to guilt me for being away from home. I told him that I won’t stop taking care of myself. That won’t change.

    Anyway, I’m not sure why I’m posting here except to say: After all this, I had hoped things would get better. I looked for intimacy outside my marriage in the way of close girlfriends whom I could share with spiritually and have deep conversations with because I wasn’t getting it in my marriage. I was waiting and watching his actions to see what he did. He said he was going to counseling, and now blames it on money that he can’t go. Which is an excuse. We can afford it. So I have my answer now. I’m ready for more from life than what I have now. I just have to stop listening to the voice that says, “What you have isn’t really all that bad! He could so easily change, we’re right on the verge of it!”

    I am sad for my 2 year old. But he will have a much better life to have at least one example of a healthy marriage, if I can find one.

  41. Hi there.
    I’m hoping for some advice. I’ve recently started living apart from my partner of 3 years, due to his drug and alcohol abuse. I’ve only just realized I was enabling his behavior by constantly cleaning up his mess and accepting empty promises that he will change. All this has started and got worse since his mother passed away quite recently and he even tried to take an overdose. I have had to ask him to leave as I cannot live on the money he provides or watch him trying hurt himself anymore. I’m also expecting a daughter with him. He has accepted he needs help and is involved with services now and wants to change. Is there any chance this is his rock bottom and we can be a family in the future? He wants nothing more than to be a family and has accepted he needs to leave. He is loving, hardworking and a great guy, when not under the influence and O have said I will support him through counselling, under the agreement he sticks with it. I will not allow him to move back into my home until he proves he’s taking the steps necessary to stay clean. Am I doing the right thing for myself and family?

  42. I am visual impaired, codependent, and married to a high functioning alcoholic. We have been married 18 years. I Can’t take it anymore. He has no empathy and I can not drive. He controls everything. Where we go, what we do and it all revolves around his drinking and hangovers. He is a selfish and self centered man. My son hates him and wishes he were dead. He has never been a dad. I Need to leave. I’m just trying to tell him its over. He has had a breakdown before as a teen. I’m afraid he will snap. I’m mentally exhausted and fearful of my son and his dad hurting each other. Plus his family will blame me. I have your book, I just need to get him out. He will never get help. He’s in deep denial. Do you have any advice on best way to tell him? supper stressed

  43. I am married to a highly functional alcoholic and realize that I am co-dependent. We have been married for 20 years with 2 girls (12 and 9) and alcohol has always been a part of our lives – for me just socially. His dependence has been continual but escalated to true alcohol dependency over the past few years after being laid off. IT’s a very typical story – incredibly intelligent, creative, intense person who flat out enjoys the release of alcohol. He has also been a pot smoker, which he took a haitus from during the 20 years of marriage (mostly) but has recently (with the past year I guess) been a regular thing.

    The past year has been horrible. Hidden vodka bottles, physical effects (Red face, can smell it in his skin, bloated, acid reflux, weird sleeping patterns, and recently weird stuff like sudden sweating and very itchy feet. I know these are all side or detox effects, but when I point anything out, his response is that I’m “over analytical, microanalyzing, controlling and just need to lighten up and have fun”. I’ve changed. I’m a very, very strong and confident (and accomplished) professional. I’m very organized, highly regarded, and work hard to keep everything together, especially for my girls. But my husband is right about one thing…his ‘isms’ have consumed me. I’m at the point where I have lost my joy and have more suspicion and hurt than fun and peace.

    The biggest problem I am currently facing is intimacy with my husband. I am emotionally detached. Hurt. Suspicious. Apathetic. Untrusting. Disgusted. I pity and disrespect his choices. He has even lost the ability to remember who he really is without alcohol. He says “this is who I am, I am the same guy, so like it or not that’s who I am”. But I remember, and it makes me sad that he can’t or won’t.

    I can’t stand the fact that he chooses to do what he wants to do, with full recognition that he wants to be in control of who he is, what he does, and he will “own” and work on his own stuff, but will NOT stop drinking. Period. With that mentality, I simply can not be intimate or loving with my husband. He simply won’t give up drinking and attributes the pathetic intimacy in our relationship to my “issues” with sex. How can I “let go” and give my body (and mind and soul) to someone who is convinced that his choice to drink wine (in lieu of Vodka which I’ve set a boundary against) is HIS choice and I should just relax and have fun? IT’s an impasse we can’t get past. I want/need him to acknowledge that until he eliminates alcohol completely (in order to have a glimpse of clarity) I am not able to mentally or physically be intimate with him. Without intimacy, he is “bored and done” and his alcoholic mindset remembers our entire marriage as “sexually boring”.

    He refuses treatment. I go to Al-Anon and repeatedly tell him I’m working on what I can control (which admittedly I fail because my nature and default is to try to analyze, assess, and find solutions). I am trying to switch that to being responsible only for what I can fix and understand about myself. He believes that the “process, steps, and over-thinking” of al-anon is contributing to my over analytic nature.

    Sorry this is long – if no one reads it, that is fine. It is helpful to just put it down. I feel very alone, and even though I have an incredible support network of friends and family, I feel like I continue to be sucked into the irrational thinking of my alcoholic husband. I need to love him more, and really do desire to connect in an intimate way, but I need “all” of him. Any advise?

  44. I just realized as well the my ex-boyfriend, who admitted that he was a heroin addict and somehow got out of it, now he drinks 1 liter minimum of alcohol- either vodka or Jack Daniels. He works on a yacht. He can not stop drinking. The only time he stops is while at work. After work is all the same–parties, ladies, etc. I was unfortunate to meet him a year ago. We worked together there and somehow this turned into a relationship(or so I thought). Then suddenly out of the blue he broke it off over viber call. It was because he found someone else. This is not of importance- the important thing is ladies stay away from ex-heroin addicts and alcoholics! The abuse that I experienced is awful and it was always my fault. He would hit me and slap me. Once he broke a glass on my forehead and I started bleeding. He just left and went to drink with his mates from work. I feel ashamed that I ever let anyone like this close to me, but I hope never ever to do the same mistake ever.

  45. I have a question. I have been married to an alcoholic/addict for 27 years. He has not drank in 10 years and has not done any type of drugs in 2 years. He has been diagnosed as Bipolar and takes medicine for this. So he has worked hard to change. The problem is that I have been through so much, and his behavior is still erratic and he depends on me for stability. I know my children (Ages 26, 15, & 11) have been damaged by watching our relationship. They have seen our behavior patterns. We bicker and fight and are rarely affectionate. He is unable to cope with stress and I have always been the strong one in the family. I have recently told my husband I would like to separate. He fluctuates between denial, anger and tears. The problem that I am having is I am afraid I may not be able to stick to it and make him leave. I am so afraid he will start drinking, become suicidal, sink into a terrible depression or not take his medicine. I feel very responsible for him as if he were my child. I do care about him, I just don’t want to be married to him anymore. I have had enough. Do you have any suggestions on how to push through this awful feeling that I am abandoning my husband?

  46. Hello Annie,
    I get your dilemma. The codependency is what holds you there. It is the same process that held you to your children when they were little. That’s why you “feel very responsible for him as if he were my child.” It’s why so many couples split up several times before they finally separate for good. There’s no question escaping codependency is hard. I’ve helped many women do it and eventually don’t feel the urge to return.

    Annie, you are not alone. When women choose to leave an alcoholic or drug-addicted husband, the majority do it after the husband has cleaned up. You want the best for him, but when you leave, what he does with his freedom is not your responsibility.
    And do talk to a lawyer before you do anything; know your rights.

    Best wishes on your journey. There is light on the other side. N.

  47. Dr. Neil,
    Thank you for you reply. I did not realize that many women leave after their husband has basically “been fixed”, or cleaned up. That was part of my guilt and something that he is using as a weapon. The fact that I would do this now, when he has changed, has been the subject of many recent arguments. He doesn’t understand how I would want to leave him when he has grown older and calmed down. He keeps throwing it in my face that I have fixed him so that he will be able to make someone else happy when we separate. Sadly, for some reason, this bothers me despite the fact that he has been unfaithful during our marriage. I’m not sure why it causes me such angst that he will eventually be with someone else. I feel like there is something wrong with me that I feel possessive of a man that I would like to leave.

    Although I feel that I need to leave the situation, it is very hard for me to relinquish control and not wonder where he goes, what he does and who he’s doing it with. It’s kind of like when my son went to college! This is obviously learned behavior that I can’t seem to stop. It has been a major emotional block as far as truly being able to move forward.

    Can you expand as to why many women leave after the man has stopped using alcohol and/or drugs?
    I am seeking counseling and also will seek the advice of a lawyer should it come to divorce.

  48. Dear Annie,
    There are probably lots of reasons, but there are two most likely one why women leave “after.” During the years of his drinking,the alienation deepened and you emotionally/spiritually left during those years. You couldn’t leave because you were too busy looking after him, but now it hits you that your care taking job is done and you don’t want to re-engage or even be with this man. The second reason stems from your natural compassion. You wouldn’t leave him when he couldn’t take care of himself. But now you can leave because he can.

    Why is it so hard? It’s hard because you’re stuck in codependency. I’ll soon be introducing a coaching program to help women with alcoholic husbands to escape the codependency, whether they decide to leave or stay. Stay in touch, I should be introducing it in October.

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