Inside His Head: I think my husband is an alcoholic

Relationship advice from husbandsDear Inside His Head,

I think my husband may be an alcoholic because he drinks a LOT when he comes home from work and we can’t go out to dinner or with friends without him ordering several rounds. It feels like he’s always got a beer in his hand, like he can’t cope without alcohol. Do you have any advice for what I should do first? He’s not mean when he’s drinking, but I have a feeling he’s going to be very defensive if/when I bring it up. He does get mad if I try to slow down his drinking. I’m starting to get uncomfortable leaving him with the kids by himself. Help.

greg1.thumbnailGRAY: My dad was an alcoholic. I’ve seen him function normally and seen him completely delusional and hallucinating from withdrawal. There is no cure for alcoholism – it’s a struggle the two of you have for the rest of your life. It’s not a battle you can fight on your own.

Have a plan. Find local resources for therapy. Ask friends if they are willing to help you confront him. Learn about support for yourself because living with an alcoholic doesn’t have to be endured in isolation.

Be caring and supportive. A lot of alcoholics are unwilling to admit there’s anything wrong and become defensive, sometimes to the point of enraged, if you tell them they have a problem. Instead of saying “You have a drinking problem” it’s better to say “I care about you, but think you need help.” Even if you’re the most tactful he’s still likely to get angry so be prepared and don’t take it personally.

Get him out of denial. Enlist friends and family to help make him aware of his behavior. Ultimately he’s the one who must realize he has a problem, and it might take several confrontations by many people before he accepts his behavior for what it is – alcoholism. Knowing he has you and others to support him instead of punish him can help a lot.

Find real help. Avoid his suggestions of “I can deal with this on my own.” Though he can make himself abstain from drinking for periods of time, professional-level help will enable him with tools to prevent a relapse. And even with therapy, your support and help from others there’s a good chance he’ll relapse from time to time. Continue to give him the support he needs and put him in touch with people who know how to help.

Don’t let alcoholism define your life together. Stay observant of his behavior without being constantly paranoid about him hiding bottles in the house or suspecting every time late arrival home means he’s stopped at a bar. If you act as though he’s going to fail it’s entirely likely you’ll create a self-fulfilling situation.

john.thumbnailMAVERICK: One thing you don’t mention is that he’s drinking to the point where  he’s seriously impaired. You mention you’re becoming concerned about leaving him alone with the kids, but you don’t really say why.

Since you didn’t say otherwise, I’m assuming he’s not insisting on taking the kids for a ride while he’s under the influence or he’s  not doing dangerous “Hey, watch this. Hold my beer” stuff while around you or your kids.

What you describe is a guy who is drinking a lot more than is standard, and he’s been doing it for long enough to raise a red flag with you. So, you’re smart to be concerned but my advice is predicated on the fact that he’s not really a danger to you, or the kids, or himself.

This change in behavior isn’t happening in a vacuum. It seems at this point the drinking is a symptom and not the key problem but you won’t know until he actually gives you some information about what’s going on with him.

As you implied in your question, I suspect he’d get really defensive if you go at him aggressively about his drinking. Saying something like, “Gee Bob, lately you’ve been drinking like a fish and you smell like a brewery and I find it really embarrassing” will likely be pretty counterproductive.

So, I’d suggest, if you can catch him sometime when he’s not been drinking, or at least where he’s only had a few, to look for the chance to ask him if something is bothering him. Show actual concern. Don’t toss around blame. Try not to mention the drinking right out of the gate and see what he says.

He will likely sandbag at first but continue to give him the opportunity to talk. This might take a few tries at different times but don’t nag. Eventually, he’ll come clean.

He could be feeling pressure at work, or he might be dealing with (or actually not dealing with) an emotional issue, or he might be just generally unhappy or depressed.

Once you get him talking, you can mention you’ve noticed his drinking has picked up and that you’re concerned about his health. Give him the chance to absorb that and maybe he’ll see your point. Don’t insult him or make it about how his drinking makes you feel. It will only make  him defensive. He needs to see you as being in his corner, not as his babysitter or his accuser.

In the end, he’s going to have to understand that his drinking is an issue and likely a problem and he’ll need to address it – maybe he cuts back a whole lot, maybe he stops cold turkey, and maybe he needs the kind of help you can’t get from an advice column.

No matter what the outcome, he needs to understand your concerns about the drinking are coming from a place of concern about him, not a place where his actions are bothering you or making you uncomfortable.

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