Is My Partner An Alcoholic?

Is My Partner An Alcoholic?

Living with an alcoholic means living with doubt and uncertainty. There is the obvious uncertainty: will he be late or even turn up at all? Will she get through the evening without making a fool of herself and upsetting our friends? Anyone reading this that lives with an alcoholic will instantly recognise that feeling of insecurity, where the only thing that you can count on is unpredictability. It's uncomfortable, isn't it?

But that is not the only uncertainty. In fact, it is not even the worst uncertainty. If you live with an alcoholic, you start to doubt yourself. You doubt the evidence of your eyes, your ears and even your sense of smell. You start to think that you might be fussing about nothing, that your judgement is completely wrong, that maybe you're going mad. These feelings come from scenarios like those below.

You spent hours preparing a nice meal and he is late, very late. When he does arrive, saying that he was held up at work, it is obvious that he has been drinking. When you complain that the dinner is ruined and that he might have phoned, he says that he just needed to unwind and distress with some of his work mates. So what's the problem?

Every time you entertain, she drinks far too much and gets louder and more embarrassing as the evening progresses. She says that you are too stuck up and need to loosen up. She is just having a little fun at the end of a hard week. So what's the problem?

So what IS the problem? Is there a problem?

There are two answers to this question. Well, actually there are three answers—if you include the drinker's answer, that is. Probably you have learned that according to her/him that s/he does not have a problem—instead the problem is you, your attitude, your intolerance, your moaning, nagging etc. Does this sound familiar? Most alcoholics are very good defending their drinking by blaming everyone else around them and, in their view of the world, their partner is usually the main culprit for any problems.

Ignoring the drinker's rather distorted view of the world leaves us with two answers. First is s/he an alcoholic? It is easy to answer that one. Without having a consultation session with him/her it is impossible to tell. You are probably thinking that that was not a very satisfactory or even useful answer; however, let's look at the issue in a different way.

Whether or not s/he is an alcoholic is, to a large degree, actually irrelevant. The issue is that if her/his drinking is causing major problems in the relationship then it is a problem whether or not s/he is an alcoholic or not. 

Leaving alcohol aside for a minute, if s/he was spending a major portion of their time with their friends and neglecting you, would that be a problem? Or if s/he criticised you constantly, would that be a problem?  Or if s/he spent large amounts of time surfing the internet for porn, would that be problem?

Almost certainly you would view all of the behaviours above as a problem. So what's the difference? In these scenarios we can focus on the behaviour as being unacceptable. We do not need to complicate things with questions about whether this is a disease or not. The issue is straightforward: this behaviour is causing a problem in the relationship. So why do we complicate the issue when alcohol is involved? Unfortunately to provide an adequate answer to that question is beyond this article, but this video may help: what does the alcoholic get from drinking?

In Bottled Up we take a different approach. Rather than concentrating on the alcohol and whether or not s/he is an alcoholic, we look at how the drinking behaviour is damaging the relationship. We provide tools to assess the problem and to start to make a difference. In particular, Bottled Up sets out to empower the partners of drinkers and to alleviate some of the uncertainty and doubt that so undermines your relationship with yourself and others.

If your drinker wants to find out if s/he has a drink problem, they can get a free confidential alcohol assessment, help and support here.