When a Loved One is Addicted

How Family & Friends Can Help

Help AlcholicCan people get addicted to alcohol? Yes. But as a spouse, you can help your husband cut back on his drinking. In fact, the suggestions outlined below could be used to help anyone stop or cut back on…

ANY addictive behavior!

But to keep it simple, we will talk about how to help your husband stop drinking.

When will my husband stop drinking?

Generally, drinking stops when your husband realizes that the costs of drinking exceed the benefits. You could wait until the costs are very large, so that he can realize the problem more easily. However, by that point his thinking may not be very clear, and he (and you) will have paid a substantial price, possibly to include problems (such as health problems) that will endure. So it is better to stop drinking sooner rather than later.

How can I help my husband get sober?

In this approach you are looking to build the “landing place” before you ask him to “jump.” Many heavy drinkers are reluctant to quit drinking because they have little sense of how they will spend their time without drinking. All that empty time may scare them. By building up the landing place you hope to engineer a transition, perhaps slow at first, in which other activities come to replace drinking.

Before you begin this approach, you may need to study his behavior awhile, to see what activities he engages in that are not alcohol related. Then you need to figure out how to support or promote these activities in a non-confrontational way. Here are some things to keep in mind as you address drinking problems with your husband.

    1. It’s not an intervention – The approach we describe here is quite different than the dramatic encounter that occurs in an “intervention.” In cases of substantial alcohol problems and if you are dealing with an alcoholic spouse, interventions are worth considering. However, they are not guaranteed to work, and they may cause harm. In some cases interventions result in long-term estrangement within families. Fortunately most contemporary interventionists downplay confrontation and focus on providing support. In fact, confrontation runs the serious risk of making someone worse. It seems wiser to try the gentler, slower approach suggested here, and hold intervention in reserve as a backup plan.

    2. Downplay the costs – Rather than persuading him that the costs exceed the benefits, you might do better to guide him to realize that the benefits of non-alcohol related activities exceed the benefits of alcohol-related ones. The original formula still applies. He will just be realizing, over time, that the costs of missing out on new or renewed sober activities exceed the benefits of drinking.

    3. Help him (re)discover sober activities – The foundation for how to help your husband get sober is to help him discover or recall activities he truly enjoys that do not involve alcohol, and then find ways to promote and support these activities, perhaps indirectly. Of course, the more alcohol is a part of his life, the fewer non-alcohol-related activities he may have. Nevertheless, unless all he does all day is drink, his life includes other activities.

How does it work?

In action, this approach might work like this…

Let’s begin with one of the biggest reasons many men get married, physical affection and sex. When he is not drinking, be affectionate. When he is drinking, be reserved. You might even say “it is hard for me to feel close to you when you have been drinking this much; I prefer to be affectionate when you are sober.” Above all, be consistent. If you are willing to be affectionate if he is sober (moderate) but not abstinent, stay with that position. If you are willing to be affectionate only if he is abstinent, stay with that position. In this approach you may not see results for weeks, but you also have avoided possibly painful confrontations.

Also consider his social life. If he likes your company socially, stay around only if he is living up to your hopes for him. Take two cars to events if needed, and be clear about why you are doing it. If it is just time with him at home, excuse yourself when he is drinking, and make sure to give him lots of verbal and physical attention when he is not. You can even tell him what you are doing. “I love our time together and I don’t want it ruined by your drinking too much. When you do I’m going to excuse myself.”

Also consider other activities that he might engage in right after work, before he starts drinking, or early on a weekend day, before he starts drinking. Perhaps there are ways to do something fun as a family (not something he ought to enjoy but something he actually enjoys) that would postpone or even eliminate his drinking on that day.

Changing behavior requires new programming

In this article we have emphasized using yourself (and your family) as the “reward” for not drinking. Many individuals are reluctant to consider themselves as rewards. Should he not want to spend time with me and us, without my having to manipulate him? Perhaps so, but do you want to argue this philosophical point or get him to change his behavior? If he eventually spends time with you because he truly enjoys it, and enjoys it more than drinking, do you care that much that he needed to be guided initially?

Of course, you may have deep resentments toward him to overcome before you could undertake the pragmatic approach described here. Perhaps discussing this article with a friend, or a therapist, would help you move in that direction. We do not mean to suggest that your resentment is unfounded. But if he is stuck in drinking, and you are stuck in resentment, when will this picture ever change?


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