Online ‘class’ supports women with alcoholic partners

Women can't always seek help coping with an alcoholic partner. "Fear of retribution, family turmoil, stigmatization, and financial, time, and geographical constraints also can be barriers," says Robert G. Rychtarik. (Credit: iStockphoto)

An online, interactive support program could help women who face barriers to seeking help coping with an alcoholic partner.

Approximately 7.7 million US adults are currently married to or living with a partner with an alcohol use disorder. The burden of living with an alcoholic partner can cause considerable psychological distress, says study author Robert G. Rychtarik, but many spouses do not or cannot seek help.

“Specialized professional help for spouses of alcoholics is not widely available and insurance coverage can be limited,” says Rychtarik, senior research scientist at the University at Buffalo Research Institute on Addictions (RIA).

“Fear of retribution, family turmoil, stigmatization, and financial, time, and geographical constraints also can be barriers.”

Coping skills

RIA researchers developed a self-paced, internet-administered coping skills training program to determine if it could be an effective way to help reduce distress in this frequently underserved population.

Nearly 100 women living with an alcoholic partner tested the program, which included narrated instruction, animated presentations, and video dramatizations of the most effective ways to deal with problems arising from a partner’s drinking. Certified counselors (“coaches”) were available to chat by computer or telephone.

“The program’s goals are to help women focus on their own needs, reduce stress, and talk to their partners in a more effective way,” Rychtarik says. “The majority of the participants showed significantly higher levels of coping skills and experienced decreased depression and anger compared to those who didn’t take part in the program.”


The program is not yet available to the public. RIA researchers are seeking additional funding to evaluate it on a larger scale, and are determining the best delivery method—through social service agencies, treatment programs, or health care providers, or as a standalone for women to access themselves.

People in need of immediate assistance in coping with an alcoholic partner can find help by contacting Al-Anon, SAMHSA, or, in New York State, the Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services or NYS HOPEline, 1-877-846-7369.

The National Institute on Alcohol and Abuse and Alcoholism funded the work, which appears in the current online edition of Psychology of Addictive Behaviors.

Source: University at Buffalo