Q: Hello, I have been known my husband for fifteen years and over time I’ve noticed that his behavior with drinking has gotten out of control. We used to drink socially fine, but over the past year he drinks alone, and often drinks to the point of getting drunk. I’ve tried addressing the topic, and gently suggested possibly going to an AA meeting, but he just gets angry and throws it back in my face saying I’m being controlling. I honestly don’t know what to do, and I don’t my kids to see their father like this. I’ve tried to shelter them from when he has come home drunk, but I can’t keep it going forever. I just don’t know what else to do anymore.
A: Addiction is a very hard disease on families. Addiction ruins relaitonships and families all the time. The worst thing about being with an addict is the feeling of helplessness. As much as you want to help your husband, until he admits he has an addiciton, most likely, he won’t change. Most addicts have to hit their “rock bottom” moment, and then things start changing. One thing I could suggest is setting boundaries and consequences in the meantime. When it comes to addicts, setting healthy boundaries is essential. Addicts, in their addiction, tend to not only hurt themselves, but the people they love around them. You have kids, and want to protect them, rightfully so. I would suggest having boundaries, like, “If you come home drunk, the kids and I will be staying elsewhere.” That is setting a boundary where you can feel safe with your kids and let your husband know that that behavior is not tolerated. Sadly, with the stories I’ve heard, most addicts are at the brink of losing their family before they make the necessary changes.
Steps to take for now would be self-care. Make sure that you are feeling safe and taken care of, whether that means confiding in a girlfriend or seeing a therapist to try to have some guidance during this time. Another step is making sure there is safety. You didn’t mention violence, so I will assume your husband does not get violent when drunk, but for your kids sake, they need to be psychologically safe and not exposed to damaging behaviors, so having a place to stay at when your husband comes home drunk is one strategy. If you have a girlfriend who knows about the situation who has kids that are friends with your kids, seeing if there is a possibility for the kids to sleepover on your husbands bad nights. Getting educated on addiction is another great way to take care of yourself. Understanding addiction can help you understand your husbands behavior a little better. And even going to Al-Anon can be a great support. Others in those groups can probably relate to things you’re going through, and may have advice or let you know what they did in a similar situation. Also, I know of couples that do a trial separation when addiction seems to be running the relationship. A trial separation is when the people agree to separate for a time, so the addict can truly see what they are about to lose and get their act together, while the parter of the addict can take care of themselves and see what life is like when addiction is not present in their daily lives. Of course, when kids are involved, that is more difficult, but still something to think about, especially if your husbands drinking gets so out of hand danger enters the picture.
Every parter of an addict has to make a choice in the end, are they going to stay or leave? Addiction, no matter the addiction, is harmful to all parties that are in the addicts intimate life (family, close friends, sometimes colleagues). Sadly as the saying goes, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink it,” applies heavily when it comes to addiction. You can tell them there is a problem, give them resources, offer support, but until they themselves come out of denial and are ready to take steps towards recovery, things won’t change. The best advice I have is to take care of yourself and your children, make sure there are safety plans in place, set boundaries and follow through with any consequences you state (or the addict won’t take you seriously and continue the destructive behavior), get educated and get support during this time, and in the end if you reach a breaking point, suggest the trial separation to get your husband to see that he is about to lose his family. I hope things do get better and stay safe during this hard time!