Functional Alcoholics and Codependent Wives

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functioning alcoholics and codependent wives

What Does Codependency Mean in Alcoholism?

Like peanut butter and jelly, functional alcoholics and codependent wives tend to go together. Learn how to spot this dysfunction and get help.

Can it be that the wife of an alcoholic can become as ill as her husband? Here we discuss codependency and how a “caring” spouse can end up keeping the alcoholic in his disease. At the same time, she neglects her own needs in a trade off that seems to be based on love. In the end, though, codependency causes great harm to both partners.

What is a Functional Alcoholic?

A functional alcoholic is someone who engages in alcohol abuse but who doesn’t show the usual signs of distress from the disorder. Functional alcoholics tend to be married, successful, and educated. It often comes as a surprise to learn that they even have a drinking problem.

People who are functional, or high functioning, alcoholics try hard to hide their disordered drinking from family members, colleagues, and friends. Even if someone might approach them asking if there is a problem, they will likely deny it. Denial protects themselves from the stigma of alcoholism, or from appearing weak and not in control.

Signs of a Functional Alcoholic

As much as a functional alcoholic tries to deflect and hide their alcohol use disorder from loved ones, there are often some telltale signs. These might include:

  1. They have a high tolerance to alcohol and are able to consume large quantities and not appear drunk.
  2. They may isolate themselves where they can drink alone.
  3. They drink as a tool to manage stress, or as a reward after a hard day at work.
  4. They lie about how much they drink, and may hide alcohol around the house.
  5. They engage in high-risk behaviors.
  6. They drink to boost their confidence.
  7. They have blackouts.
  8. They deflect with jokes or become angry when asked about their drinking problem.
  9. They neglect their diet, preferring alcohol to healthy foods.
  10. They may forget important dates or events.
  11. They drink in the morning.
  12. They have been arrested for a DUI or multiple DUIs.
  13. They rely on enabling from others to cover up the problem.
  14. They use alcohol to manage a co-occurring mental health condition, such as anxiety or depression.

What is Codependency?

At first, it isn’t all that easy to identify codependent people. These are people who care about someone in their life who is down on their luck, and just want to help them. Or so it may seem.

In reality, codependency is the lopsided relationship dynamic that is built on unhealthy neediness. One person, such as an alcoholic, has ongoing needs, while the other person finds self-worth and purpose by fulfilling their needs. Playing the martyr role, the long-suffering caregiver bends over backward to meet the sick person’s every need. In turn, they neglect their own wellbeing.

In essence, codependent relationships feature one party who is the perpetual taker and one who is the over-the-top giver. They usually deeply resent each other but are caught up in a cycle that satisfies some defective need for control.

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Why Functional Alcoholics and Codependent Wives are Common

Alcoholism can take a heavy toll on a marriage, especially when codependency seeps in. Functional alcoholics and their codependent wives form a kind of twisted dance routine. He is an alcoholic, which comes with all the baggage attached to it. She then becomes addicted to looking after him.

In some cases, the wife is so consumed with controlling the alcoholic husband’s every move that she becomes obsessed. His disease makes her feel needed, and offers a sense of purpose. She may enable his disease just to continue the dysfunctional caregiving because it makes her feel good about herself.

A codependent wife may have had only good intentions when she became entrenched in taking on his problems. Maybe she was trying to protect herself and the marriage by putting out his fires and cleaning up his messes. Because he is high functioning, most friends and relatives have no idea that he even has a problem. She helps maintain the secret.

The problem is that as long as the wife enables his drinking by taking care of his every need, he keeps drinking. As long as he keeps drinking, she feels needed. And so the cycle continues: He is dependent on her and she is dependent on him. This is codependency.

Signs of Codependency

There are common features of a codependent relationship. If you are married to a high-functioning alcoholic, see if any of these traits are present in your relationship:

  • You find it hard to say no to your spouse; have vague or non-existent boundaries.
  • You tend to seek out people who are broken and need fixing, which can often be someone with a substance use disorder.
  • Your own emotions depend on your husband’s emotional state. When they are happy you are happy, if they are depressed, you are depressed.
  • You feel embarrassed by your spouse’s behavior or choices.
  • You stuff your feelings to avoid conflict.
  • You are highly sensitive to criticism.
  • You are willing to make major sacrifices for the other, even if it causes you to neglect your own health.
  • You allow your spouse to belittle you.
  • You have a hard time expressing your honest feelings with him.
  • You allow your spouse to abuse you verbally or physically.
  • You spend huge amounts of time pleasing and appeasing your husband.
  • Your relationship causes you to feel anxious.
  • You feel that nothing you do for your partner is ever enough.

Seeing the signs of codependence in your marriage is the first step toward making needed changes. The dysfunctional type of relating, though, is not the only thing that needs changing. Hopefully, you can persuade your husband to get help for his alcoholism.

If you find yourself a functional alcoholic with a codependent wife, there are rehab programs that include couples counseling. Learn ways to heal all aspects of the alcohol use disorder, including marriage.

Capo by the Sea Provides Treatment for Alcoholism

Capo by the Sea is a luxury rehab that offers specialized couples therapy to help repair marriages that have been harmed by alcoholism. Woven into the evidence-based treatment approach is an emphasis on healing relationships that includes the spouse. For more details, contact us today at (888) 529-2114.