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I Can’t Go Get Ice Cream Every Time She Drinks

family outside

Despite years in AA, member Omarcito’s wife still wants to believe that she can “normalize” her drinking. Tensions can get high: she often drinks before dinner, and Omarcito is concerned both for her and their five-year-old daughter. He understands the CRAFT approach at such times—step away, allow for natural consequences. But how long can he practice that approach? The answer may lie with another CRAFT principle: clear, positive communication with the Loved One about the reasons for our choices and the goal of better support.  

©Alexandr Podvalny/

I need some guidance with my situation. My wife was in AA for years. I’ve started going back to Al-Anon. She is trying to control her drinking and is going to Celebrate Recovery, which is a 12-step program. I have tried identifying the patterns of her use and have tried to disengage when she is using. Sometimes it is hard to know the right thing to do. We have a five-year-old daughter. Often when I come home from work, my wife is cooking and having a beer or some wine. I don’t know how to disengage in this case, because we all know that we sit down together as a family to have dinner; that is what we do. I don’t want to leave my five-year-old and…have dinner by myself in another room? Go to a restaurant solo?  

One time, after dinner, my wife was angry and had been drinking, so I invited our daughter for ice cream in order to get away. But I can’t go for ice cream every day. I used to go to open AA meetings with my wife to support her. Now I want to support her when she goes to Celebrate Recovery, but I suspect that on some days she has been drinking before the meeting. Not sure what to do in those cases when she is “doing good things” but also drinking or was drinking earlier. It’s easier to disengage from her when she’s been drinking and she is behaving poorly, being verbally abusive, etc.  

Sometimes she drinks in secret when we are out. For example, today: my wife, five-year-old, and I went to a wedding. I think she was drinking a little bit from a container in her purse. She didn’t behave badly or get drunk. What would be the wise thing for me to do in a situation like this one, when we’re all out as a family and I have a strong suspicion she’s been drinking in secret? 

I believe, in her mind, she is trying to “normalize” or control her drinking sometimes: at home she may not hide it or make a big deal of it. Just a glass of wine (or two) with dinner in the evening, or before bed. I understand AA does not see this favorably: an alcoholic cannot have a drink (one is too many). Does it matter from a CRAFT perspective if she is trying to control her drinking or if she’s trying to “normalize” it? I think her hesitation to go back to AA is the strict definition of an alcoholic, so she is trying Celebrate Recovery. I’m not sure if this should change anything in a CRAFT approach I might take.  

Allies in Recovery has been really helpful to me. Thank you.”  

Thank you for your detailed question on how to apply CRAFT with your wife, who is drinking when your daughter is also present. Your wife is not abstinent and regularly attends mutual aid meetings. One of her favorite times to have a few drinks is while cooking dinner. The question is what to do when you sit down to dinner? Because of your daughter, you just can’t leave the family dinner table every time your wife has been drinking. You did it once. You got up from the table and announced you and your daughter were going for ice cream. Nice CRAFTy move. But you can’t keep doing this.

Or can you? I can understand how you feel caught in this situation. 

Perhaps you do take your daughter out each time your wife drinks right before dinner. How many times would you need to do that before she curtailed her drinking at that time? Can the five-year-old be told that when Mommy is drinking, you and daddy are going to McDonald’s? 

We discussed your case with our child development expert. This is what she said: your five-year-old is likely aware of the tension in the house and that it comes from conflict between you and your wife. She is probably also aware that the problem has to do with Mommy, who does something that is upsetting to Daddy. 

My suggestion is to talk to your daughter together with your wife. Have it be just about wine and dinner. Talk lovingly and gently. Perhaps it sounds something like this:  

Dad: Honey, Mom and I want to talk to you about how we can help Mom. Mom wants to stop drinking wine before dinner. She feels better when she does not have the wine. 

Mom: Darling, I am going to try not to drink when I am cooking dinner. If I do drink, you and Daddy get to go to (McDonald’s, pizza, ice cream) for dinner. Do you like that idea? Do you have questions? 

What I am suggesting here is more transparency in your family. Your wife is struggling. She is sneaking around with a flask at a wedding (it is very hard to go to weddings where there is drinking) or flaunting her couple of glasses of wine as normal drinking, in the hopes she can both drink and not upset you.  

You know your family best. Can you see doing this? You’ve done it once already, so you have some idea of how your wife is likely to react.  

Darling, [daughter’s name] and I are going to McDonalds. I’m sorry about dinner. Why don’t we have it for dinner tomorrow? We’ll be back in a couple hours.

Can you do this repeatedly, perhaps three, four, or five times? My hunch is that your response of getting up from the dinner table and going out with your daughter would only need repeating a few times before your wife stops drinking while cooking dinner and you can enjoy one another again around the dinner table. 

Be prepared for pushback

Families encounter all kinds of pushback, however, when they make even the smallest behavior change in reaction to a Loved One’s use. Even after your family meeting, you should be prepared for a negative reaction from your Loved One as you make your retreat. Have a few calming words in mind to try to keep matters from escalating. Even if your wife agrees and promotes the plan to your daughter, she may still get upset when you and your daughter actually get up and leave the house.  

Can someone in your faith community help facilitate a talk between the two of you? Your family would benefit from a family counselor who has experience with addiction and young children. Your question about drinking at the wedding suggests this may be a workable strategy.  

In short: stop the secrets. Look for a way to talk openly about the drinking. Explain that her “normalizing” isn’t normalizing, that you both have to prioritize your daughter and reduce the tension between you.  

Her support meetings probably help keep your wife from going overboard, even as she attempts to normalize her “light” drinking at home by sometimes even drinking in front of you. My suggestion is to end any secrecy. Get even more actively on her side.  

Since your wife is attending an abstinence-based support group, then abstinence is the goal. I would suggest, however, that you take a look at moderation  as a possible short-term goal, if your wife absolutely wants to continue trying to drink “normally.” It’s a tightrope walk that will probably not work, since you tell me your wife has been in AA for years. There is evidence that people in AA are more chronic drinkers.  

But may I also say that your wife is so close? This last little dance with alcohol is the worst. In Alcoholics Anonymous, they say there’s nothing worse than a head full of AA and a belly full of booze. Trying not to drink and being unable to stop makes the obsession worse. Quitting can feel like a relief. Your wife can’t be feeling good about how she is living.  

Lastly, you ask about supporting your Loved One when she attends her mutual-aid meetings after drinking. Excellent question. I would put that kind of support into the basket of “enabling treatment.” Consider it helping her to access treatment rather than a reward. 

Thank you for your questions, Omarcito. I hope this helps. Let us know how you make out. 



In your comments, please show respect for each other and do not give advice. Please consider that your choice of words has the power to reduce stigma and change opinions (ie, "person struggling with substance use" vs. "addict", "use" vs. "abuse"...)