What To Really Expect When Your Addicted Spouse Stops Drinking

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It’s nice to believe that once your addicted spouse has stopped drinking everything will go back to normal. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case. More often than not, living with your recovering partner is filled with shifting expectations and demands that can leave both of you feeling disappointed and frustrated with each other. Instead of holding onto the false hope that treatment will be a fix-all for your relationship, what can you really expect when your addicted spouse stops drinking?

Feeling Resentment, Jealousy, and Distrust Toward Your Spouse

It’s normal to feel resentment and distrust towards you addicted loved one even after they’ve gotten sober. While you’re happy that they’ve finally stopped drinking, this joy is often masked by thoughts like:

  • Why did my spouse put me through this?
  • Will my partner do this to me again?
  • Are they hiding their drinking from me?
  • Why don’t they love me enough to not drink?
  • Why aren’t things going back to normal?

Although these thoughts are natural, they may come as a shock. Despite facing numerous difficulties in active addiction, you and many others living with partners in recovery aren’t prepared for the challenges that come with early and life-long sobriety.

Additionally, early recovery tends to be a time of selfishness. Your spouse may immerse themselves in going to recovery support groups, practicing coping techniques and hanging out with sober friends. While all of these are good things, it can leave you feeling left out and resentful of their new life after you did so much to help them.

The feelings during early recovery can be raw and intense for you and your spouse, and that’s okay. The best way to overcome these damaging emotions is using healthy communication and joint therapy sessions to express your feeling in healthy ways and build a plan on how to handle challenges before they happen.

Experiencing PAWS (Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome)

Post-acute withdrawal syndrome or PAWS refers to a group of symptoms that your spouse will experience typically about 14 days after the acute withdrawal period has ended. The symptoms of this condition are primarily psychological and mood-related and can continue for months or years after the acute period of withdrawal.

While PAWS rarely involves body aches, stomach pains, increased heart rate, headaches or nausea, the symptoms can be equally as intense as acute withdrawal. Your spouses’ brain will need time to correct the chemical imbalances caused by their excessive alcohol consumption and to relearn how to function with substances.

Throughout post-acute withdrawal syndrome, expect your newly sober spouse to experience some of these common symptoms for months or years after their last drink:

  • Inability to think clearly
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Inability to feel pleasure
  • Insomnia or sleep disturbances
  • Mood swings
  • Extreme sensitivity to stress:
  • Anxiety

Experiencing PAWS is a very normal part of the recovery process and does not mean that your spouse will be unsuccessful in their sobriety. While many of these symptoms will clear up on their own and over time as the brain heals, your support can make the journey much more manageable for your recovering partner.

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Effects Of Secondhand Drinking

Although your spouse may not have intentionally hurt you during their active addiction, their words and actions did so regardless. The impact of repeatedly being exposed to your spouse’s abusive drinking behaviors is so prevalent that it even has a name – secondhand drinking.

Unfortunately, the pain of secondhand drinking doesn’t magically go away once your spouse gets sober. In fact, it may begin to manifest itself in new ways, including:

  • Constant fear and anxiety
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Emotional detachment
  • Feelings of shame and guilt
  • Mood swings
  • Low self-esteem
  • Depression
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Gastrointestinal distress

Just as your spouse needs time to heal from their alcohol addiction, you also need time to recover from the emotional and mental traumas of addiction. Seek out the support of others who have been through similar experiences at your local Al-Anon meeting, learn as much as you can about secondhand drinking, practice self-care and see a therapist, if necessary.

Most importantly, know that you are not alone in your struggle- approximately 90 million Americans experience secondhand drinking. Recovery isn’t just possible for your spouse, but you as well.

Lifestyle Changes For You And Your Spouse

When your addicted spouse stops drinking, your life will not return to the way it was before he or she started. While this may be a hard reality to come to terms with, it is a necessary step towards healing for you and your recovering partner.

It’s well known that your spouse may need to avoid stressful events, like funerals, in order to maintain their sobriety, as stress is most often the cause of relapse. However, celebratory events may also give your spouse the urge to drink. Things like weddings, work outings, and parties where a lot of people are drinking are not going to be the best environment for your sober spouse – especially if they’re newly in recovery.

Until your partner feels like they can safely handle being around these triggering environment, it’s best that they avoid them altogether. Doing so may require both of you to alter your lifestyles in order to prioritize your relationship and your partner’s recovery.

As much as you want life to return to normal after your addicted spouse stops drinking, it will not. Instead, refocus your attention on giving yourself time to heal and rebuilding your relationship with your partner. A life in recovery will be challenging for both of you, but you’ll only achieve success by working together towards the common goal of a healthy and sober marriage.

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