June 26, 2010 in Features

Wife struggles with husband’s alcoholism

Peter H. Gott M.D. The Spokesman-Review

DEAR DR. GOTT: I simply cannot understand my husband’s habitual drinking. I’m embarrassed, ashamed and frustrated, and we’re even considering divorce because of it. We are a well-educated couple. He’s a professional with a good job, and of all things, I’m a counselor. Wouldn’t you think I might be able to advise my own partner? Well, I guess not, because life is a mess, things are out of control, and what’s worse, my husband doesn’t even seem to know or care. He promises he will change but those promises have been broken so many times I have lost track. We have three wonderful children who have been damaged because of his habit. I try to help them understand, but they aren’t dumb. They can read between the lines.

He knows right from wrong, so why on Earth can’t he see that he is rapidly destroying everyone and everything around him? The things that were important are just that – things. I have said a million times that I can’t compete with his first love, and I’m not referring to another woman in his life but the bloody alcohol. I’m backed up against the wall but hopefully not into a corner. Help!

DEAR READER: Alcohol can be a powerful addiction that can have devastating effects on both partners, their children, family and friends. Sadly, the person who needs the help is often the last to understand the complexity of the situation. Beyond that, the quantity of alcohol a person consumes and how often he or she consumes it is not nearly as important as the behavior that can follow and the results it can have on others.

While the disease – and it is a disease – can be hidden or explained in countless ways, invariably it surfaces. Employers tire rapidly of the feeble excuses. The extended lunch hour so an employee can enjoy a couple of “needed” pops often results in unemployment. Missed meals or soccer games and the empty seat at dance recitals affect children more than the alcoholic can begin to imagine. Children become fearful of their friends finding out and tend to withdraw from their friends and family. Spouses make excuses for canceling dinners with family members and acquaintances. It’s simply a no-win situation – a powder keg waiting to explode.

I am sure your pleas have fallen on deaf ears, so my recommendations may be difficult to handle. Your family needs help, and that help must start with you. Read your local newspaper to determine the nearest Al-Anon meeting. Don’t be embarrassed about attending. Everyone there is in the same boat. What is said there stays there, and you will realize you are not alone with the burden of an alcoholic. You will learn to cope, to find your own path. Your children can attend Alateen meetings to get themselves on the right path, as well. If you are more comfortable, you could start by participating in online or telephone meetings.

When confronted by your partner, and you will likely be verbally accosted, explain that your pleading fell on deaf ears for too long and it was too painful to sit back doing nothing. You were powerless and needed to take a stand. A victim – and that’s just what you are – can then ask if his or her husband, wife, partner, son, daughter, parent or friend will consider seeing a counselor, get in-house professional rehabilitation, or attend AA meetings. There are facilities across the country that work in a professional manner with their residents.

An alcoholic is an alcoholic is an alcoholic. There is no age limit, no ethnic pattern, no financial guideline, no educational group targeted – only broken promises, frustration and repeated heartbreak. Anyone can fall prey to this ghastly addiction. So there can be no excuses. If your suggestion fails, at least you will have tried your best and you will be stronger for making the effort. If it works, you will both have the ability to mend the relationship. You may feel as if you could create world peace more easily than taking such steps, and that may be just the case. It isn’t an easy road, but for the mental health of everyone, it is necessary.

To provide related information, I am sending you a copy of my Health Report “Help: Mental Illness and Substance Abuse.” Other readers who would like a copy should send a self-addressed stamped No. 10 envelope and a $2 check or money order to Newsletter, P.O. Box 167, Wickliffe, OH 44092-0167. Be sure to mention the title or print an order form off my website at www.AskDrGottMD.com. Good luck.

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