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Husband Denies His Dependency on Alcohol

QUESTION: I really feel like my husband has a problem with alcohol. He drinks beer or whiskey every weekend. He does not drink during the week at all, because he works so much. He tells me that he "deserves it" because he works two jobs. I work one full time job and we have a 20 mo. old daughter. How can I get him to understand that the drinking stresses me out. He doesn't admit to having a problem. He denies when he's drunk. I have even noticed him hiding it, because he knows how much it upsets me.

ANSWER: Your husband may be on the road to alcoholism. He may later look back and identify his current dependency as the early stages. The clinical definition of this disease is determined by impairment of work, relationship or other areas of life. Clearly, your husband's use of alcohol is impinging on the satisfaction of your marital relationship. The fact that you experience his drinking as "stressing you out" compounded by his own need to "sneak" a drink indicates that alcohol is quickly becoming a problem in your marriage.

Your husband is drinking to relieve tension or worries. He may be suffering from depression which he is treating by medicating himself with alcohol. But by numbing himself he not only avoids dealing more productively with unhappiness, he diminishes his ability to learn more promising coping styles. Drinking may enable him to maintain the "status quo" for a period of time, but increased consumption inevitably leads to deteriorating capacity to handle stress.

His sense of entitlement to "drink" may stem from childhood role models. If his own parents "ran away" from problems by using alcohol to ease pain, he is likely to follow suit. It may also be true that fatherhood triggered this coping style, as it requires adjustment to putting others' needs first. Decreased couples' time and increased responsibilities may be creating stress that is being answered by withdrawing from family relationships, instead of relying on partnership and sharing to get you through the "rough" spots. Again, the overriding probability is that this withdrawal from relationship and intimacy in times of stress is a family pattern in your husband's history, and perhaps even your own.

Let you husband know that you are missing him and that you are feeling the effects of his retreat when he is home. Let him know if you observe that he is choosing to drink instead of ease his pain by talking with you or other friends. Perhaps he is pushing you away at a time when you need each other the most. Family relationships are suffering and you are only at the beginning of the family life cycle!

Talk with your husband about the stresses you are experiencing as a family, financially and otherwise and the ways you have chosen to meet these. What other options are there? If your husband is feeling stuck in overworking at jobs he dislikes, what potential is there for alternate employment or job training? Are there other ways of releasing tension other than drinking?

Exercise, socializing and developing nurturing family rituals around dinner, baths, children's activities or home improvements may channel energy more positively. We all need a sense that we belong and that we matter. Did you experience this sense of value in your own family? Did your husband? What family rituals or activities existed in your respective childhood families to give you a sense of "belonging"? And finally, what kind of family do the two of you want to create together?

Start by insisting that your husband spend some quality time with you without a drink. Carve out time to catch up with the changes you have experienced in your marriage since your child was born. Reestablish your bond as a couple by developing shared time to relate on a regular basis. Ask your husband to join you in creating the kind of family relationships that will ease your pain and offer you shelter from the stresses of the outside world.

Use resources on the "Making Healthy Family" series for exercises in exploring family patterns and books such as William Doherty's "The Intentional Family" to create the kind of family relationships you want. If your husband still denies that his dependency on alcohol is causing problems in intimacy in your marriage, consider attending "alanon" meetings in your area for support and sorting through the meaning that his alcoholism may have on your life, and further strategies for addressing it. Look for a state program in your area, such as Florida alcoholism recovery, which offers recovery treatment for alcoholism..

Alcoholism is a disease that progresses through stages from prodromal (latent) to full blown stages of deterioration (in the neurochemical pathways) of the brain that are irreparable. It is possible to use the love and support of your relationship as a springboard for change. Invite your husband to change his life if it is so intolerable to him that he needs to drink to sustain it as it is.

One wife with a similar problem to yours was able to reach through her husband's denial by bringing his attention to his fatherhood. She said, "Michael, you have to stop drinking. I refuse to be put in a position of telling our daughter that Daddy didn't come home last night..." If your husband continues to use alcohol as an answer to his pain, his dependency on it will more than likely progress. Ask your husband to consider the effects of his drinking on your marriage now, and what the developments of the future could mean for your family.

Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter..

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