My boyfriend drinks too much; what should I do?

Dear Dwonna:

I’m a 44-year-old woman, and I think my boyfriend of almost three years is an alcoholic He’s 50 and never drinks during the week, but he likes to drink on the weekends. Most of the time he’s easy to get along with, but sometimes he becomes a mean drunk. He always apologizes on Monday when I point out that his bad weekend behavior, and although this helps for a few weeks or so, it eventually happens again. I love him and hope to one day marry him, but I’m not so sure I can do that if this weekend binge drinking continues. What should I do? Thanks!

Signed,

Trina

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Jennifer Cooper, a recovering addict, answered this question for me. 

Dear Trina,

Reading your question took me back many years. Let me first say that I have been on both sides of the alcohol issue. I am a recovering addict of 27 years, and I was married to an abusive alcoholic for five of them.

The first thing you need to realize is that your boyfriend may be an alcoholic, but until he can or will admit it, there is absolutely nothing you can do to “fix” the situation. (Trust me; I’ve tried it myself.) Addiction is an illness. You may hear about treatment centers that say they can “cure” an alcoholic, but it’s a lie if that person does not want help. I am an addict. I will always be an addict. However, with hard work and daily commitment, I am able to live a relatively normal life.

Still, my addiction sometimes feeds my brain lies. You see, Trina, being an addict isn’t just about drinking or taking drugs; it’s a mental state that my brain enters telling me that that I “NEED” something. That something can be alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, gambling, sex, or a multitude of other things. The process is strange when the addict quits the object of his addiction.

For example, my brain tried to convince me I couldn’t function without drugs or alcohol. I had trouble doing everyday tasks as my brain went through withdrawal and told me I couldn’t walk, read, or even breathe correctly without the drugs. For me to heal completely, I needed to be addicted to something positive—I am 44 and working on two masters degrees while I work full time. I am now addicted to my education. When I finish schooling, I will have to find something else to latch on to.

You mention that your boyfriend can be a “mean drunk.” If this means he hits you, then get out immediately! I was in that situation for five years. I heard the apologies and thought it might somehow magically get better, but it never did. For five long years there were earth shattering fights as he pummeled me over and over again, somehow making his drinking my fault.

In the midst of my own addiction, I thought that I could fix my husband. I believed that if only he would stop drinking everything would be fine. I must have made him angry to drink so much, to spend the rent money, to not come home for days on end, to hit me, to lose job after job, etc. By making excuses for him, I was feeding my own addiction.  

I hung on for all I was worth. My parents and friends saw the bruises—both physical and emotional—and they pleaded with me day after day to leave him. I was afraid. I was afraid I wasn’t strong enough, smart enough, independent enough, and that I couldn’t make enough money. When I mentioned leaving him, he threatened to hunt me down and kill me. Eventually, I got sick and tired of being sick and tired. Facing a life of misery, abuse, and isolation, I knew it was time to get out, and I did finally leave him. He did make good on his threat and came after me, but he was too drunk to fire the gun.

The best advice I can give you is if you really think your boyfriend needs help, get to some Al-Anon meetings. These meetings are free, confidential, and supportive. The people in these meetings are all at some stages of life that involve dealing with an alcoholic partner, parent, sibling, or friend, and they will offer you advice. You can take what you want and leave the rest behind. They can offer you support, too, but you have to pick up the phone and call. If you go to Al-Anon, you will not be alone.

I do understand that dealing with an addict is tricky. We want to support them and love them, but by making excuses for them, we are actually making it easier for them to continue the behavior we do not like. If you are making excuses for him now—e.g., he only drinks on weekends, he promises not to hit me anymore, it was better for a few weeks—you are not promoting the change that you hope to see.

Tough love is one of the hardest things anyone can practice, and standing up to someone we love and telling them that their behavior is unacceptable seems overwhelming. However, it must be done, though do not have this conversation when your boyfriend is drinking.

Keep in mind that if he quits drinking for you that there’s a good chance that he will start again. The fact is that your boyfriend has to WANT to quit drinking to actually quit drinking permanently. My husband quit for weeks at a time, and at the next spat we had, he’d go back to drinking again and then it was my fault he couldn’t stay sober. Don’t fall into the alcoholic’s traps.

Do beware the apologetic drunk! During one of my ex-husband’s apologies and shame, he attempted suicide. The hospital called me while I was at work, but I didn’t go visit him until I had gone to an Al-Anon meeting myself. He had taken a bottle of pills and called 911 because my ex-husband really didn’t want to die; he just wanted me to feel so bad that I would take him back. Later, I walked into his hospital room and hit him over the head with my Narcotics Anonymous book and told him he was a “Sorry selfish son of a ……” (you get the idea!)

I also told him that if he ever wanted to try to pull such a stunt again that he should let me know ahead of time so I could help him get it right! He was shocked and actually started to go to AA meetings. I was elated because I had changed him! Boy was I wrong. Soon after, he met up with an old friend and the “just have one” kicked in. He was drunk and beating me again shortly thereafter.

I suggest moving out if you live together. This does not mean you cannot be there to support him if he does quit drinking on his own. However, if he enters a 12-step program, he will be encouraged not to have a serious relationship for at least a year. This does not mean you cannot communicate with him; just support him and be his friend. (Be only this friend, though.)

Please seek some form of help for your situation. If you cannot find an Al-Anon meeting that fits you, try Nar-Anon. To find meetings in your area, you can go to these links:

  1. aa.org
  2. Al-Anon.org
  3. na.org
  4. nar-anon.org

If you do not have transportation to get to a meeting, call the local number for the group, and they will find someone to give you a ride.

Good Luck!

Jennifer Cooper

Jennifer C.2

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