Jackie, my husband of 11 years (and father of my two kids) has been drinking much more than he used to. In fact, he now drinks at least a 6 pack of beer every night, or sometimes a bottle of wine. I keep finding empty booze bottles around, and our trash can looks like we just had a party. I asked him if he’d try to drink less, because it is expensive, he is gaining weight, and it’s not healthy. He yelled at me and told me it was none of my business. I’m worried. Is my spouse an alcoholic?
This is a difficult question to answer. Picture this. You’re out at a bar where everyone is drinking and seems to be having fun, many people even tipsy. If someone told you there were three people in the crowd who had a serious drinking problem, could you step back, look around, and pick them out? No way. On the surface, it’s very difficult to distinguish an alcoholic from a social drinker. A really really drunk girl could be someone who rarely drinks, but just felt like getting hammered that night. Someone who seems very much in control could have already had 8 drinks and does that every night.
Spotting an alcoholic can be just as difficult when it comes to you or your spouse. Why? Because I think that many times, a person knows he or she has a problem, or that his or her spouse has one, but doesn’t want to see it. They have no interest in admitting the problem or talking to their spouse for many different reasons. They might be scared. They might not want to cause waves in the family. Or, they don’t have the first clue as to where to begin to reach out for help So, they push it aside. After all, she’s keeping her job, right? She’s fine. It’s just a phase.
Then, one night, things get really out of control. Their spouse punches a hole through the wall, or falls down the stairs, or becomes angry and abusive. The next day, the person confronts him/her. He or she gets really angry, and tells the person “I do not have a drinking problem, it’s all in your head, you are being dramatic.”
So, what to do? Ignore it and hope it gets better? Here’s a fact. Alcohol addiction or abuse only gets worse over time. Without help, it never ever get better.
I am not a therapist, and am not certified in alcohol addiction, but I speak from what I’ve seen, and can offer advice only based on that.
Here are signs (in my opinion) that you or your spouse’s drinking is out of control and that you should consider getting help.
- You hide your alcohol, so no one sees.
- You get angry and defensive when your spouse tries to talk to you about drinking.
- You make plans around drinking. In other words, it is your first thought when deciding what you are doing for the day. For example, you might choose to go to a White Sox game instead of a movie because you are thinking you can drink there.
- You are edgy and tired and moody in the morning and you are looking forward to 5pm so you can have a drink to feel better.
- You quit for a couple weeks to prove to your spouse and yourself that you are capable of it, but one night you say, “I’ll just have one beer.” By the end of the week you are drinking just as you did prior to last week or maybe even more.
- Your performance at work starts to suffer.
- Your sleep suffers.
Last spring, I covered an event for Sun-Times Media local where popular TV news anchor and reporter, Mark Suppelsa talked about his alcohol addiction. It was beautiful and inspiring to see someone have the self-awareness to get help and remain sober for so long. That takes guts. When I left there, I felt happy and hopeful for people with the disease, because it made me realize that it can be managed.
If someone tells you he or she thinks you have a problem with alcohol control, it is almost always 100% a sure thing that you do. You just can’t or don’t want to see it.
I will end this post with an interesting comparison. I know two men who basically admitted they were alcoholics right around the same time (2 years or so ago.) Both entered a program and both left sober and hopeful that they were facing a new, better life.
One guy is still sober and speaks on the subject frequently. He actually just went to a fraternity reunion at his old school where a dozen of his brothers drank beer all weekend. He drank non-alcoholic beer and said he had a great time. He just met a girl and is falling in love.
The other guy decided two weeks after the treatment program that he was fooled into being told he was an alcoholic, and that he had no such problem. He began drinking again. His wife left him, he has lost his job, and he still drinks.
Every situation is different, but I truly believe alcohol addiction or abuse has serious negative effects not just on relationships, but on your life, if ignored.
If you think you or your spouse has a problem, please please get help. I know it isn’t easy. It might be the most difficult thing you have ever done. But getting help will prove to be worth it in the end.
Below are four resources to give you a place to start.