Dear Rae: How Do I Talk to My Spouse About Their Drinking?
I’ll get right to the point. Lately, my husband has been using alcohol as a crutch. In other words, he drinks to reduce his stress, but it adds to the stress in our home. He drinks every evening (sometimes starting at lunchtime). It definitely impacts our relationship because when he drinks, he either becomes sleepy and doesn’t want to do anything or gets argumentative for no reason. I do not understand why he is doing this to our family. It feels like he has chosen alcohol over us. I have two small children, and I think they can tell there is “something wrong with Daddy.” Rae, how do I talk to him about my concerns without it becoming another fight?
Dear Carol L:
First, let me start by saying you are not alone. Stress goes hand-in-hand with increased drinking, and statistics show that stress, anxiety, and alcohol consumption skyrocketed during the pandemic and its aftermath. The comorbidity (taking place at the same time) of anxiety disorders and alcohol misuse is a common occurrence. And once anxiety and alcohol misuse co-occurs, they feed each other. Stress causes an individual to drink, and drinking causes stress. Also, the cycle often progresses if left untreated, so it is positive that you have recognized a problem and are ready to get help. Unsure if your husband’s drinking has progressed to alcoholism? A rule of thumb is that if a family member’s drinking negatively impacts the family, there is a drinking problem.
Your husband’s anger or avoidance of sleeping might be because he feels embarrassed, ashamed, or threatened – significantly if his alcohol use has progressed to dependence. Approach him with sympathy and kindness and without judgment. Find a time when you are alone, and he has not been drinking, is overly tired, or visibly stressed. And let him know how his drinking has affected you and your family. Offer suggestions and support.
Things to Avoid when Talking to a Loved One About Their Drinking:
- Choose a time when your over drinking spouse has not been drinking or is intoxicated
- This is a frustrating and hurtful situation, but do not approach him with anger, sarcasm or talk down to your husband about his drinking
- Do not argue – if it begins to get heated, walk away
- Do not blame
- Don’t make excuses for him
- And last but not least, do not put this off. You have a better opportunity for success in recovery if you catch the problem at misuse and treat it with a medical model.
Getting Help for Your Drinking Spouse
Fortunately, several evidence-based strategies are available for treating anxiety and alcohol use disorders, including pharmacotherapy and psychotherapy. Your best friends are research and education. Look for treatment centers in your area offering integrated programs treating both disorders. Sanford Behavioral Health has a wealth of options for care, including residential, day programs, half-day programs, one-on-one therapy, family therapy, and support groups.
Most of all, don’t give up. This disease wears everyone out, not just the drinking spouse. The brain problems associated with substance use disorders dramatically hinder a person’s ability to make the right decisions. Your husband’s poor choices are likely reflective of an escalating progressive disease. Seek out family programs and supports to reassure yourself you are not alone. And remember – when your husband gets well, the entire family gets well.
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