Is he an alcoholic? Do you think she has a drink problem? Does he need to go to AA or an alcohol abuse treatment center? Do you think she needs treatment?
People who live with heavy drinkers often ask these questions.
Why? Well usually they are seeking justification for what the already believe – that there is a real problem, that they are not just fussing about nothing or inventing a crisis from a trivial episode. Let’s first look at what lies behind the question and then look at it again in another way.
Why do you need justification?
Does the following ‘conversation’ sound familiar?
You were drunk again last night.
No I wasn’t
You tripped over the TV and fell asleep in the toilet.
I didn’t want to put the light on and disturb you.
I wasn’t asleep and that is the third time in two weeks that this has happened. Don’t you think you have a problem.?
Well maybe I have been drinking a bit much lately … a lot of stress at work. But you should see Graham and how much he drinks when he is under pressure AND his wife doesn’t complain, but that doesn’t mean we are alcoholics. Alcoholics …..(fill in what you like here, drink every day are always drunk etc)…. and we don’t do that.
This argument, or something similar, is played out in many households around the world. Are you familiar with it yourself?
Unfortunately, in this scenario the trump card, verbal checkmate, match winning volley (call it what you will) is that statement “I’m not an alcoholic”. This is a discussion closer if ever there was one. Are you going to say yes you are an alcoholic when you know it’s true that he doesn’t drink all the time or isn’t always drunk (or whatever reason he gave)? Not that that is relevant.
An official diagnosis
So where does that leave you, when the drinker is drinking themselves into a stupor, is a loud, obnoxious, aggressive, silly drunk AND this is happening on a fairly regular basis. When he spends the money that was going to pay the outstanding bill, or she fails to be at that important appointment – AGAIN!
It is hardly surprising that you want to know the answer to the all-important questions. “Is he an alcoholic”. “Does she need treatment”. “How can I get him to change.”
If you can get a proper, official diagnosis then you can counter the argument by appealing to higher authority. Wouldn’t it help you if you could say – the doctor says that you are an alcoholic and you need to change. So it is not just me!!! It’s official!!!
For many then, the desire for a diagnosis is more about leverage for change, than the need for an actual medical opinion. It justifies their concern and takes the guesswork out of it and provides the perfect reason that will motivate the drinker to change.
Or does it? Maybe, maybe not.
You now have the full weight of medical opinion in the shape of a doctor who says that your significant other is quite definitely an alcoholic!). Surely now things will change, he can’t deny it now – can he?? Well actually yes, he can, like a stuck record!!
No wonder you feel frustrated. Your life has just been reduced to the kindergarten where the intelligent discussions about crucial aspects of your life have been reduced to “Yes you are” “Oh no I’m not” “Oh yes you are” “Oh no I’m not”.
How do You Break Free of This Cycle?
Is it a problem
You probably don’t need to be told that confrontations, based on logic, appeal, guilt, accusation and whatever else you have thrown in, don’t have the desired effect. However, you feel that they should work … if only you could find the right words … get her in the right mood … find the right time – maybe when she is hung over … maybe this time!!!
You have probably heard the term Denial used when talking about alcoholics and problem drinkers. It tends to be used by people and organisations who believe that alcoholism is a disease and that denial is a symptom of that disease. They suggest that denial is a mechanism used to protect their drinking, some describe is as outright lying!
However, when you look around at other health risk behaviours you find denial there too, eg smoking, drug use, overeating, under eating, under exercising, general unhealthy behaviours. Few, if any, of the people engaged in these behaviours would be quick to admit that they are doing anything wrong.
Come to think of it, do any of us rush to admit that we are in the wrong – about anything???
Think for a moment about the last time someone accused you of something. It may have been something trivial, a mistake or an oversight. How did you feel and how did you react? Did you own up or did you fight your corner, make excuses or just down right deny it? (Alternately you may be a paragon who never makes mistakes and in the extremely rare occasions when it does happen you immediately own up. If that is the case then this argument is wasted on you, as it is actually meant for us lesser mortals!!!)
What we are arguing is that denial is not something pathological (a symptom of an illness) but instead is how most humans react to being accused or feel under threat. And the more threatening the situation is, the more robust the denial will be.
So a frontal attack accusing him of being an alcoholic will probably not be successful on two counts. First, if denial is indeed a symptom of the disease of alcoholism then it will kick in to protect the drinker. Second, if it is just a normal defence mechanism it will still be difficult to penetrate.
So if confrontation won’t work, what will?
Your significant drinker may have an alcohol problem (or not) she may or may not be an alcoholic or alcohol dependent. However, you don’t need a professional to tell YOU if YOU have a problem. If your social life has disappeared because your husband gets drunk and upsets your friends, or you have no money because your wife spends so much on wine, or you are ashamed to talk about your home circumstances, you don’t need a professional to tell you that YOU have a problem. A diagnosis or denial of alcoholism does not change that.
You probably feel that the diagnosis just gives you hope and leverage, that having identified the problem now you can fix it. One of the most difficult lessons that you need to learn is that it doesn’t!
Wow, bet you weren’t expecting that, were you?
The drinking is his (or her) problem. However, there are things you can do about it. You can influence how he drinks, where and when and even IF he drinks. But in order to do that you need to change your approach and use a system that runs counter to anything you have been doing so far.
You have probably been in denial about your ability to change him as much as he has been in denial about his need to change.
Madness has been described as doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome. It is now time to do something different, to change what is within your power to change and to stop wasting your time and efforts on actions that make you increasingly frustrated and feeling powerless.
In this website we will give you a new perspective and help you to step out of the shadow that alcohol is casting on your life.