Addiction: Tips to Keep your Spouse’s Drinking from Ruining your Life

“Baywatch” star David Hasselhoff’s ex-wife, Pamela, blames his drinking for sending her to divorce court, saying in a recent interview that he could never get it under control and after years of covering for him, she’d finally had enough. “He had a disease, just like cancer,” she said. “And just like cancer, it ate away at our family from the inside.”

Hasselhoff said she covered up for many of his drinking bouts, including one in which the 56-year-oldleft the Betty Ford rehab Centre in Palm Springs, went to a hotel and drank every bit of alcohol in the mini-bar. “Had news leaked out, it would have destroyed the image he created for himself and the image I created for my friends and family,” she said. “David is a falling-down drunk and I covered up for him for years. Alcoholism destroys you whether you are a regular Joe or the biggest star on the planet.”

Hasselhoff, a judge on “America’s Got Talent,” and stay-at-home mom Pamela, 44, have two daughters, Taylor Ann, 18, and Hayley, 16. After a long divorce battle, the two have gone their separate ways, though the financial settlement is still not complete. “I always believed in happy Hollywood endings but our story doesn’t have one. And that’s the truth,”

Other than the Hollywood money and glamor, the couple’s story of marital strife caused by alcohol could belong to anyone with an alcoholic spouse, experts say. “An alcoholic is not in control of himself, and the family is in constant turmoil,” said Tina Tessina, Ph.D., psychotherapist and author of Money, Sex and Kids: Stop Fighting about the Three Things that Can Ruin your Marriage. She says, “Babying and covering up the alcoholism is probably the worst thing you can do, although when the alcoholic is a big star and the breadwinner, it is certainly an understandable temptation.”

“Most alcoholics need to ‘bottom out’ (in AA parlance) that is, to be forced to admit that drinking is a problem,” Tessina said. “Often it takes losing family, friends, and work before the alcoholic will admit he’s got a problem and face up to the addiction. Many alcoholics are living in fear of what’s inside them. They have emotional issues that seem terrifying, life-threatening, and they are using the alcohol to keep them at bay. Sometimes, they’re self-medicating for mental problems.It’s not a simple issue, and the solution is tough for everyone involved.”

Nearly 14 million Americans meet diagnostic criteria for alcohol use disorders, according to Alcohol Health & Research World. Statistics from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism Analysis show that more than 18 percent of Americans experience alcohol abuse or alcohol dependence at some time in their lives. And across people of all ages, males are four times as likely as females to be heavy drinkers, according to a report entitled “Substance Abuse: The Nation’s Number One Health Problem, Feb. 2001.”

The best thing a spouse married to an alcoholic can do, according to relationship expert Brenda Della Casa, is “separate your love for an addict with the addiction itself. You can support the person but not the addiction which means not covering up for them, making excuses for their behavior to yourself, others or even them and not bending your boundaries to enable their addiction.”

Della Casa, author of Cinderella Was a Liar, said, “If you love someone and want to try and help them to get better, you must demand they seek help and stick with their programs….Loving someone doesn’t mean making excuses and enabling their bad behavior while you watch them fall deeper and deeper into an addiction. It means holding them accountable for their actions, demanding they respect themselves, you, your family and your community and even sometimes, walking away.”

Intervention specialist Maureen Felker said addiction affects the whole family. “Addiction… is a chronic, insidious, life-threatening illness which has a progressive course, and a predictable path which is how we know that it is, in fact, a disease,” Felker said. “It tears down families and takes everyone with it. Addicts train the family to focus on the addiction with chaotic, unpredictable behavior and because the family loves the individual and wants the family to stay together, the family relents, cleaning up messes and covering up the addiction. Silence about the addiction becomes the primary form of verbal communication while enabling behaviors to develop in response to the disease.”

Families, she said, stop acting with their own best interest at heart and begin to react to the addict. “Everyone ends up coping by dodging bullets and abdicating their own needs to the needs of the addict. Codependency sets in and like addiction takes on a life of its own. As the disease of addiction progresses, so does the codependency. Everything and everyone gets worse over time. Families build up tolerance just as addicts develop tolerance to their drug of choice. The addict’s behavior becomes the families’ drug of choice.”

Covering up simply doesn’t help in the long term, she said. It just “fuels the continuation of the disease. Attempts to stop disease progression become all-consuming plans of control. Addicts continue to get worse and families become sick with hopelessness….Recovery becomes the only solution to addiction.”


As soon as the family feels as though their lives are becoming unmanageable from the loved one’s addiction, it is time to take action. It is easier to treat addiction in the early stages than in later stages… Families can and should intervene as soon as their lives become affected to support recovery, thereby refusing to reinforce addiction in their lives.Here are some tips to help.

1. Get support and counseling.

The very first thing a spouse, parent, or adult child can do is to begin his or her own healing process. Alanon and Alateen offer families the information and support to start the healing process. Twelve-step programs offer a fellowship of comrades who have been through the experience and will walk with the newcomer through their recovery.

2. Stop the enabling.

The next step is to stop believing that enabling the addict is the solution and begin to believe that the families’ love and courage can inspire the person in trouble to accept help. Once recovery has been offered to the loved one with an addiction, he or she will understand that the family is taking a stand toward health and well being and against the continuation of the disease.

3.Consider an intervention.

In most cases, through Intervention, the addict, will accept treatment and recovery because the family has changed their position, which allows the addict to do the same.

4. Heal your family.

Addiction flourishes in dysfunctional families. It cannot thrive in an atmosphere of family health. The spouse should leave when it becomes clear that the addict has no intention of choosing recovery, as he or she chooses addiction. However, the family can continue their own recovery without the addict which may propel the addict into recovery when he or she has been left to live with addiction alone.