IS MY PARTNER AN ALCOHOLIC?
Are you one of many people who live with someone who drinks heavily? Do you wonder whether your partner is an alcoholic? Well you are certainly not alone. For many people living with problem drinkers means agony and confusion wondering whether their partner is actually an alcoholic or whether they are making a fuss about nothing. This is a very real problem for many reasons.
You, like most partners of drinkers, probably hide the fact that your partner is drinking heavily. You probably do not want your family and friends to know about this aspect of your life, which means that you are left alone with no one to talk to and no one to test out your fears or ask advice. You are left with the evidence of your own eyes about what is happening, and the drinker’s view of what is happening is generally very different. So you can become confused, and even fearful of your own sanity. The only person you have to discuss the situation with is the drinker him or herself and they often deny that there is a problem. In most cases the drinker does not admit having problem, until it is very obvious to everyone else. So despite your gut feelings you are faced with the drinker’s denial of a problem. Understandably this leads to a lot of doubt about whether you are just making a fuss over nothing and, of course, the drinker will happily reinforce that doubt so that they can continue drinking.
A second problem is a concentration on the word alcoholic. There are many definitions of what constitutes and what causes alcoholism. This makes it more difficult for the drinker to admit a problem and also makes it easier to argue that they don’t have a problem. Let’s make that a bit clearer. For most people, even today, the word alcoholic still carries a lot of shame. It suggests a damaged person somebody who is different from the rest of society, who has a different psychological or genetic make-up and therefore can’t drink. It is very difficult for most people to admit that they are different in any way from everyone else, it is even more difficult if that difference carries with it a sense of shame. Consider how difficult it is admit being different, if that means having to give up something that most people enjoy without any problem.
The lack of a clear definition of alcoholism can be very useful for the drinker. It means that they can point to various aspects of definitions and say “well I can’t be an alcoholic because I don’t do that”. For example if we look at the cage questionnaire (a simple assessment tool) it suggests that one of the defining features of alcoholism is the so-called eye-opener, that is having a drink first thing in the morning. Although most people who do drink first thing in the morning would clearly have a drink problem, many people with a drink problem, or even alcoholism, don’t drink first thing in the morning. Therefore concentrating too much on a diagnosis of alcoholism can lead to difficulties, and to a very large degree, fails to recognize and address the real problems. Other common arguments are “I can’t be an alcoholic because I don’t drink all the time” or “I don’t get drunk every time I drink”. So what!! Its when you do drink that’s the problem.
Whether someone has a problem with their drinking does not lie in whether they fit a diagnosis or not, but rather whether or not alcohol is causing a problem in their life. For example is it causing problems between themselves and their partner, or between themselves and their friends, or at work, or does their behaviour deteriorate when they drink? These are the real signs of a drink problem. Whether they fit the definition of an alcoholic or not is a side issue. If you have a headache you probably treat it with a pain killer. You almost certainly don’t argue that you don’t need to do something about it because it is not a brain tumour. You don’t need a medical diagnosis to tell you that you are miserable, frightened, embarrassed or stressed.