An Allies member examines options for handling her loved one’s alcoholism. His drinking continues to be round the clock when he is not at work, but he still tries to hide it from the family. With children involved, she wonders about the best time and place to confront her husband without including them.
*This post originally appeared on our Member Site blog, where experts respond to members’ questions and concerns. To take advantage of our current special offer and get full access to the Allies in Recovery eLearning program for families, click here.
Illustration © Eleanor Davis
“My husband is a teacher and finishes work at 2:30. I don’t get home till 5 so that eliminates any opportunity during the week because I don’t want to include my older adolescent in the solutions. She usually finds a way to get another ride to events and doesn’t let him drive if she sees him drinking. But I do worry about the other times when she pretends he is fine. I will try this during this weekend.
Recently I found my spouse drinking on the toilet with the door locked (I was going outside to check on a pet and saw him through the window). I feel like he is so out of control. He gets paid again Wednesday so he will have money again for alcohol…”
Dominique Simon-Levine suggests including the children in her plans to help her husband
You have children. Can you get yourself and them in to see a counselor? They may benefit from a safe space to air what is going on with their father. Your husband is ill. Addiction happens to have a large behavioral component that is responsible for so much shame and stigma. Like heart disease, addiction is a disease: your husband’s brain has been hijacked by alcohol. Unfortunately, people with addiction do dangerous, hurtful, and illegal things. People with heart disease don’t typically go through the neighbor’s window looking for jewelry. The stigma and shame makes addiction doubly hard on the family. Children often know more than we credit them for knowing; they also can carry shame and stigma.
Let’s be honest, he’s not fooling anyone
What would a counselor think of asking your husband to stop sneaking alcohol at home, and start drinking openly? What do you think of this idea? Knowing you have children doesn’t eliminate this option, but it would have to be orchestrated with care for their sake. They would need to first have the opportunity to speak with a counselor, feel heard, and have the situation and new plan explained to them. The suggestion of having your husband drink openly could be presented following this type of session with a counselor.
Since your husband drinks all the time at home and he’s not fooling anyone, bringing it into the open could make for a huge change in his drinking. You could frame the discussion something like this:
“Darling. I see you walking a tightrope. It seems you need to drink whenever you’re not at work. I am thankful you are still able to manage teaching. We depend on your income as a family. I want you to know I am scared. Today I announce a war on the beer. I love you. I hate the beer. The drinking threatens our family. The children are aware of all this (I took them to a counselor – they’ve known for some time that you drink in secret); I’d like you to consider drinking openly in the home. No more sneaking please. It’s not working anyway.”
I strongly suspect this will reduce the drinking for a while. It will give you the opportunity to try some of the many things we suggest on the site.
Moderation or Abstinence? An experiment
At this point it is hard to know if your husband can moderate his drinking or not. He will be nudged to try, though, when you suggest drinking openly in the house. It is likely your husband has crossed that line where he can’t control his drinking and he will need to abstain. Shifting to having him drink openly in the house is an experiment – give it 6-8 weeks. If he seems to be sipping/cutting back and not showing signs of inebriation, then it’s time to reward (view an excerpt from Learning Module 5 on rewards). If he fails to moderate, you’ll remove rewards, allow natural consequences, and remove yourself and the kids (view Learning Module 6, for access to all of our Learning Modules, join today).
I hate “using” kids in this, but they are already involved in it. Bring them along with an appropriate counselor. You are going to have to be the judge of how you all are able to manage these interactions with your husband going forward.
Softening the relationship so he’ll listen
The Learning Modules are full of examples of small steps a family can take. They are intended to soften the communication and the relationship, and to remind your husband that he has a loving family. For instance, you get home after him during the work week, and there is no getting in front of his drinking at this point. What if you got the afternoon off and met him at his car at school? …Here you might bring a bag of cookies, hot coffee, and simply take a beautiful walk. The point here is to make a space for some softening in the relationship – no hard conversations, just a moment without alcohol, with each other.
The ultimate goal is to get things softened sufficiently so that he listens to you when you bring up the need for treatment. You and your husband will have figured out by observation whether he can moderate. If not, you’ll need to have treatment options ready, including options that don’t involve getting time off from work (a barrier he is likely to bring up), so intensive outpatient therapy, a long weekend detox, self-help in the evenings/weekends… We can help you with this script when that time comes.
You’ll need support and a plan moving forward
Psychology Today has a good directory of therapists. It’s a place to start. (It’s listed in Our Treatment Resources: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapists). Ask people you know if they can recommend someone good. Your husband’s drinking is serious and needs to be addressed. You’ve taken the steps and reached out to AiR. We are so glad you are here. You are going to need support and a plan moving forward. I imagine you’re exhausted. You will need to take fortification wherever you can find it to keep moving forward toward the goal of getting your husband the help he needs. Your husband has a lot to lose but much to gain by addressing his drinking. Addressing the drinking will bring him back to you and the children.
Thank you for being willing to share all of this with us. We are here to support you and hold space for you throughout every step of this process. You can lean on us.