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How Do You Tell Your Spouse They Have a Drinking Problem?

Posted in Intervention

Nancy Reagan had good intentions when she came up with the catch phrase, “Just Say No” to substance abuse in the early 1980s.

And while there’s no concrete evidence to show her campaign was a huge success, it did bring attention to alcohol and drug abuse during her husband’s presidency. But many cynics at the time termed the slogan “simplistic.”

No less simplistic is the suggestion to a husband or wife with a drinking problem that they “just stop drinking.”

“Can’t you see what you’re doing to yourself — and to your family?”

If that were such a great idea, they would have thought of it themselves. No amount of nagging, begging, scolding, bribing and threats will work when it comes to getting a loved one to knock off the sauce.

So what do you do? While a spouse can’t force an alcoholic mate into counseling or treatment, there are ways to suggest help, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Here’s what the NIAAA recommends:

• No more cover-ups — Full disclosure:

That means you don’t call the boss and tell him your spouse is sick when he’s really just nursing a hangover. Ditto when you show up alone at the family gathering at Soup Plantation. No excuses.

• Don’t speak in generalities:

You must be specific when addressing the alcoholic. Terms like “all this drinking can’t be good for you,” fall on deaf ears. Instead say, “I’m pretty angry that you missed dinner at the Soup Plantation last night because you drank all day and passed out in front of the TV at 6 p.m.”

• Is now a good time?

The best time to talk to your alcoholic about his or her problem is when they are sober. Get them when they’re calm, and maybe a little sheepish about the recent behavior. Like when they spilled wine all over the carpet and then did a pretty poor job of cleaning it up. Talk to them when the incident is still fresh in their mind.

• There’s strength in numbers:

Nothing adds substance to your discussion like the team approach. Involve the family in the talks. Invite the alcoholic’s closest friends to participate. Those who show up should be folks that both spouses know and trust.

• Drawing the line in the sand:

Tell the mate exactly what will happen if they don’t seek help with their drinking. Explain that this isn’t a threat — it’s just a way to protect you from the consequences of alcohol. Suggest that their inappropriate behavior means you won’t be attending social events with them in the future. And if you tell them you’re moving out if they don’t seek help, make good on that promise. It does no good to say you’re leaving and then back out.

You need a backup plan:

In addition to all of the above, you need some counseling, whether that be one-on-one, couples counseling or the help of a marriage counselor. Outside support can go a long way to saving a marriage on the rocks because of alcohol abuse.