When You Are in Recovery and Your Partner Still Drinks

Making the decision to seek treatment for alcohol addiction usually comes after a long string of embarrassing incidents, health issues, problems with job performance, and tension within relationships.  Many intimate partner relationships involve a great deal of alcohol use. Couples often get to know each other over drinks when they begin dating and may use alcohol to lower their inhibitions and bond.  Over time, however, alcohol abuse usually becomes deeply problematic in maintaining a healthy relationship. Alcohol heightens emotional response during arguments and can contribute to insecurities and jealousy.  Relationships with heavy alcohol use are also far more likely to have incidents of violence. When physical or emotional abuse is involved, the best decision is to end the relationship and protect your safety and wellbeing.  But when one person decides to get sober while their partner continues to drink, and there is still love and respect in the relationship, it can be difficult to navigate the situation without adding to the conflict. Here are a few strategies for protecting your sobriety when your partner drinks.

Ask Them to Be Mindful of Your Triggers

It is usually recommended that those in recovery from alcohol addiction keep alcohol out of their house and stay away from others while they are drinking.   This might not be possible if your spouse or live-in partner continues to drink, but you can still ask them to respect your recovery by avoiding especially triggering behaviors.  For example, if your partner typically keeps the refrigerator stocked with beer, invest in a mini-fridge and ask them to keep their beer where you don’t have to look at it every time you want something to eat.  You may also want to ask your partner to avoid bringing your past drink of choice into the house so that you won’t be triggered by a romanticized memory of drinking. If your partner doesn’t have an alcohol addiction themselves, they may also be able to tone down their drinking for a while, or only drink outside the home to help you avoid cravings.  Talk to your partner about what scenarios are most triggering for you, and ask them to be as mindful as possible out of support for your sobriety.    

Set Boundaries

After giving up alcohol, you simply won’t be able to maintain certain aspects of your past drinking life.  A lifestyle built around heavy alcohol use often includes an erratic schedule and a great deal of time spent at bars and parties.  Once you become sober, you may need to avoid certain situations and people. If you have a partner who continues to drink, this may become a source of resentment.  Remember that your sobriety comes first, and explain to your partner that you may have to abandon some social situations, especially in early recovery. This can be a difficult adjustment, and your partner will need to be patient and respect both you and the journey you are on.  This also may require a bit of independence on your part. If you find yourself at a party where everyone is getting drunk and you are feeling anxious, and your partner is unwilling to leave, you may need to take the initiative to find our own way home. A solo taxi ride home is much better than relapse, and your partner should respect your decision in the morning.

Build a Sober Network

Romantic relationships are often all-consuming, and this can be especially true when a relationship is volatile and fueled by alcohol.  You may find when you become sober that you have been so focused on your partner and the issues of your relationship that you neglected to maintain healthy friendships.  This is a great opportunity to build a new network of friends and peers in the sober community that can provide you with support when your partner is unable to. These relationships will give you somewhere to turn when you encounter obstacles to your sobriety or just want to talk to someone who understands what you are going through.

Don’t Let Their Drinking Bring You Down

Sobriety provides you with a new sense of clarity, and you may start to observe your partner’s drinking habits in a new light.  Perhaps before you quit you believed you were the only one with a problem, and now it seems that they may have an addiction brewing as well.  While it is natural to be concerned, it is important that you don’t allow an obsession with your partner’s drinking to cause you to feel stressed and overwhelmed.  Try suggesting that they cut back, or if the problem is serious, ask that they seek professional treatment. If your partner persists into active addiction, and you feel that their drinking and behavior is destructive to your recovery, it may be time to leave.


Staying sober with a partner that still drinks is not easy, but it is possible with the right strategies and support. If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, now is the time to reach out for help.  At Burning Tree, you will find knowledgeable and compassionate professionals that structure treatment to fit individual needs, including the identification of co-occurring disorders. Through accountability and commitment to the 12 steps, each client will develop the tools to create a sober lifestyle and find lasting recovery.  We specialize in the treatment of chronic relapsers and believe with the right support you can experience true and permanent healing. For more information, call us now at 866-287-2877


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