Dealing With An Alcoholic Husband

What To Do If He Drinks Too Much

Restaurant owner Jacques Melac pours Beaujolais Nouveau wine in his customers glasses in Paris, Thursday Nov. 18, 2010. Each year, on the third Thursday in November at the stroke of midnight, the world welcomes in the new Beaujolais Nouveau vintage, a light red wine, produced in the Beaujolais region of southern Burgundy
April is Alcohol Awareness Month. But if you or a loved one has a problem with alcohol, you know it’s a year ‘round problem.  And it isn’t just your problem; it is everybody’s problem.    Like other drugs--and, yes, alcohol is a drug-- its impact reaches out and touches us all. The statistics are staggering.  From health problems, to marital problems, to drunken driving and to deaths caused by inebriated people, alcohol addiction takes its toll.   But statistics aside, if you are the spouse of a someone with issues about alcohol, you have a lot to handle.  How can you tell, aside from the obvious, if your spouse is crossing the line from the occasional social drinker to a problem drinker? And if he has a serious problem, what can you do about it?   First of all, know that alcoholism is not a moral failing.  It is a recognized disease and needs to be dealt with compassionately and honestly – and urgently.   Many spouses of problem drinkers keep a tally of how much alcohol is in the house.  Beer is easy to keep track of because it has to be kept cold to be enjoyed. But liquor can be hidden anywhere and drinkers are quite creative when it comes to hiding their bottles. So be aware.      To convince an alcoholic to quit drinking is a difficult if not almost impossible task. He must decide himself to stop.   But it’s possible to make a difference.    Show your support as best you can and let him know that you will support him in any way that you can if he chooses to stop drinking.   Threatening and coercion do not help.  In trying these tactics he will simply withdraw further from you.   Trying to shame an alcoholic or problem drinker into sobriety doesn’t work either. If you succeed in shaming him, this will only make him want to drink more because he will truly feel ashamed. The alcoholic really is a sick person. Would you shame a disabled person?   Know the difference between helping vs. enabling .  You can offer your support and understanding but do not enable him. Helping can be as simple as driving him to a support meeting. Enabling would be allowing household money to be used to purchase alcohol.    If you stop enabling him, this will get him closer and closer to facing reality and making an eventual decision to stop drinking on his own. This is the real goal of helping the alcoholic/problem drinker.  The goal is to force him to examine his own reality and hopefully make a change. Trying to convince him verbally is pointless. You cannot externally persuade him. He must internally make the decision to stop drinking.     Set healthy limits and boundaries.  Sometime, when he’s sober, you will want to communicate your limits and boundaries with him. This doesn’t have to be an angry argument. Simply tell him in advance how you will behave under certain conditions. For example: “I will not bail you out of jail. I will not call in sick to work for you if you are hung over. I will not make excuses for your behavior.”   Don’t make idle threats – always follow through on your admonitions. Even though this may be hard to do.  It is crucial.    Don’t react. Stop blowing up at him and thinking that this will change things.  He will blame you for your anger, not blame himself for his drinking. Ignore his episodes and he will be forced to look at himself for once. Remember you can change your behavior, not his and be honest about examining your own behavior and see if it has enabled him in some way to keep drinking.    If your spouse is abusive that calls for a different set of actions.  You cannot accept abuse from a spouse and cannot forgive him because he is abusive only when he is drinking.    If you need help, consult with someone you can trust, like a counselor or minister.  There are also organizations such as Al-Anon, for the families of alcoholics. By helping yourself to cope, you will be more effectively handing a difficult situation—and even be helping him.     Sheryl Letzgus McGinnis is on the Parent Advisory Board for the Partnership at

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