Do Partners of Alcoholics Need Help?

OK, fair enough, I can understand why some people think that way.  I can understand how they arrive at that attitude or belief, but I still get frustrated.  Sorry about that, maybe I shouldn’t, or maybe if I do, I should keep it to myself.  But if I do, then I feel that I am failing in my duty to help people that could really benefit from what we do.

So, what am I on about?  In the last couple of weeks, I have had the same conversations with a couple of people that I have had countless times over the last decade.  In this case the people I was talking to (actually it was only one I spoke to, the other was an email conversation) were women talking about their husbands drinking behaviour.  So please excuse me if I use the masculine pronoun for the drinker in this blog post, I’m not using it through ignorance or sexist reasons, it just happens to be accurate and reflect these particular interchanges.  I am only too aware that women can also have a problem with alcohol, so nobody should feel the need to correct me and remind me of this fact.  But, hey, if you must then feel free.

The conversations opened with – “I came across your website and found it interesting.  However, I don’t need help, its my husband that has the problem.  He’s a lovely man but ……..”

Now I don’t mean to be dismissive of anyone’s feelings or circumstances.  Everyone believes that their circumstances are unique, and to some extent they are.  However, there are also many similarities, otherwise psychology and medicine could not exist.  For us at Bottled Up, this opening to a conversation is definitely one of the similarities.

There is a belief that a drinking problem is exclusive to the drinker.  Certainly, during my drinking years, I shared that belief.  In fact, one of my constant justifications for my drinking was summed up when I would trot out – “Who am I hurting, just myself?”  A sentiment that my wife, my friends, my mother and just about anyone else that was involved in my life vigorously disagreed with.

Indeed, if you had spent any time with my wife during those years, you would have realised that my drinking was taking a huge toll on her both physically and psychologically.  The evidence shows that this is the norm for this situation.  Partners of drinkers have a much higher than normal incidence of anxiety, depression and physical illness and the children of the drinkers have higher levels of truancy, delinquency and substance abuse.  The point is that, usually, the consequences an alcohol problem are felt by many people beyond the drinker.

This was one of the main reasons that we created Bottled Up, to help partners cope with living with a drinker.  We have said it elsewhere, no one was born knowing how to cope with living with an alcoholic.  All the usual stuff that you would do when someone was causing you problems just don’t work, in fact they just seem to make things worse.  We recognised that partners of drinkers need help to cope with the problem drinking, to make sense of it and to reduce the stress that it brings into their lives.

You may believe that all that is needed is for the drinker to get help and all your troubles will vanish.  Certainly many, many people who come to us for help believe that.  They believe that if they can persuade the drinker to enter treatment then all will be well.  Oh, if only that were true!!

When is the best time to get help?

That’s an easy question.  The answer is NOW!  No matter what stage of the drinking problem you are currently in, escalating, chronic, getting sober, relapse, it is so much easier to navigate your way through it when you have support.

If your drinker is in the heavy drinking stage then you will be experiencing a whole range of problems, emotional, psychological, financial, social and health.  Research has shown that most of these problems can be substantially reduced when you get help for yourself.  So, when you get help and support it can have a marked positive effect on many areas of your life and on your family’s life.

But that is not the only good outcome of getting help.  Research also shows that many more of the drinkers of partners who get help, will seek help for themselves than the drinkers of families who do not seek help and support.

Maybe your drinker has gone to rehab or joined AA or Smart Recovery or some other group.  If that is the case, that’s great, you must be pleased.  You may be thinking, now that my drinker is in recovery, I don’t need any help now – problem solved.  As we said above – if only!

What can often happen is that all the feelings, anger, resentment, depression etc that you have sat on, or yes bottled up, can burst to the surface.  This can be confusing at best, destructive at worst, as everything that you have been wishing for (drinker getting help) instead of bring peace and making you happy has instead resulted in a mass of negative feelings.  This is an all too common and very normal reaction.

To sum up.  For anyone who lives with an alcoholic, getting help and support can greatly relieve some of the consequences of the drinking lifestyle.  It has been proven to help the partners of drinkers and reduce the incidence of emotional, psychological and physical problems in the partners and their families.  But more than that it has been shown to improve the chances that the drinker will seek treatment.  Finally, it can help the partner, family and drinker during the delicate times where they seek treatment and start on their recovery.

Since help and support can alleviate so many problems and have such a positive effect on facilitating recovery for the drinker and the family, you can understand my frustration.  So, if you live with a problem drinker, I urge you, get some help and support.  If you like what you see here, then join us.  If you don’t like it, no matter, seek help where you can or where it suits you.  Just get the help you need!

3 Replies to “Do Partners of Alcoholics Need Help?”

  1. I live with an alcoholic husband ..he will not quit his drinking..he uses his business as an excuse because he has a lot of stress…. I am so depressed all the time, I know that I could use some support… I myself am a recovering alcoholic I’ve been sober for 24 years and it never is easy not to just give up and pick up a drink and start the cycle all over again… but I won’t I want to stay sober! I just want to run away so I don’t have to face him every day. I just want to have a normal life again… I’m tired of dealing with him I hate the thought of coming home from work everyday and dread the thought that he’s drunk again and I have to deal with it…

  2. I am not sure what to think about this…..because of my husband’s selfishness, we are all affected, that is for sure, but the part where he refuses to talk to someone or even consider what I have to deal with is another matter that is hard to overlook. If I could leave, I would. Things have progressed to where he wants to argue about everything unimportant. Why do we, the non-drinkers, have to be the ones to make all the changes?

    1. Hi Katie
      I know, I know, it seems unfair, really £%*$@* unfair, I get it. One of the BIG reasons why the non-drinkers need to “make all the changes” (might be more palatable to think of steps to empowerment rather than changes) is because they tend to be the grown-ups in the relationship. The drinkers, and here I can speak from personal experience, tend to think and act like children. I don’t excuse or condone it, just say that that is how it is. When we started Bottled Up it was because we wanted to help the families of drinkers and we realised that they need 2 things. The first was help to understand the drinking behaviour and to reduce the consequences. And the second was a strategy to affect that drinking behaviour.

      Most people want these things in reverse order. But what we have found, in our personal experience and in our professional experience is that it seldom (if ever) works that way round. So we realised that the program of Bottled Up had to be offered without judgement, moralising or discussion of fairness. We had to instead approach it in a pragmatic way. If there was another way we would offer it, because we value fairness highly but there isn’t. However, if people are willing to try out these steps, what we offer here works, we know that because loads of people have told us that it does. John

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