“Drinking is one of the most common, least talked about problems in relationships. Here’s how to start the conversation.”
Maybe they do it to loosen up. Perhaps it’s to feel more confident or attractive. Or it could be because it’s finally happy hour after a long, stressful week. For whatever reason, some people tend to drink too much in social situations.
They may still be considered “social drinkers” under the strict definition of the term, but they either are currently abusing alcohol or on their way to alcohol abuse. Either way, drinking to excess in social situations is a problem that can affect the drinker’s loved ones, and in most cases, it needs to change. The best person to intervene is someone close to the drinker, such as a partner or spouse.
Social Drinking: A Slippery Slope
Someone who has a glass of wine with friends or co-workers now and then doesn’t necessarily have a drinking problem. When it comes to imbibing with others, it can be tough to tell when social drinking turns sticky. Here are a few things you can be on the lookout for as a loved one of someone who socially drinks:
They drink too much: According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, a someone is at risk for developing alcohol abuse when they have more than three drinks on one occasion or when they drinks more than seven drinks in a single week.
They’re acting differently: If you notice significant changes in your spouse’s behavior—either when they’re drinking or not—it’s a red flag. Look out for irritability, anxiety, depression or feelings of distrust. They may also lose interest in activities they used to enjoy doing.
They neglect responsibilities: If they forget daycare pickup or arrive to work late because they’re managing a hangover, it’s important to pay attention.
When drinking replaces coping: You might notice that your spouse drinks to feel more comfortable in social situations or to deal with unpleasantness and stress in life.
They lie about their drinking: If you catch your spouse trying to hide their alcohol use, they may have a drinking problem. They might buy alcohol at several different stores to hide the amount they purchase or drink in private when you’re not around.
They takes risks: Someone with an alcohol abuse problem may take risks while drinking, such as driving, combining medication with alcohol, or watching children while under the influence.
They black out: If your spouse experiences periods of time they can’t remember or if they forget things they did or said, they’re drinking too much.
How to Offer Support for A Spouse’s Social Drinking Gone Wrong
If you think your spouse’s social drinking is indeed spiraling out of control, first, realize you’re not alone. Drinking is one of the most common, least talked about problems in relationships. To offer the right kind of support, consider the following tips:
Pick your moment. If you decide to confront your spouse about her drinking, make sure you do it at a time when they’re sober and in the mood to talk. If you sense they don’t want to listen, it may be worthwhile to wait until another time to continue the conversation.
Don’t use the “A” or the “D” word. When it comes to confronting a person with an alcohol problem, one of the worst things you can do is call the individual an “alcoholic.” For one, most problem drinkers are not alcoholics by the true definition of the word. Secondly, the stigma associated with the “A” word will most likely put your spouse immediately on the defensive and alienate them even more. Another word to avoid: denial. Accusing your spouse of being in denial will only breed resentment and contempt.
Highlight the connection between the cocktails and the consequences. A sensitive yet effective way to approach the topic is to link your spouse’s drinking to the results of their behavior. For example, “You say you’ve been more tired than usual—that seems to have gotten worse since you started drinking more.” Or, “You say you don’t have time to exercise; I noticed you’ve been skipping your exercise class to make time for going out for drinks.”
Banish blame. If you assign blame and say things like, “Our daughter is failing in school because of your drinking,” or, “You are ruining our marriage,” your spouse is likely to move toward drinking more. Instead, always focus on positive change. Tell her you believe she has the inner strength to change for the better.
Don’t push too hard. Remember: every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Instead of demanding they leave a party or forcefully pulling a drink out of your spouse’s hand at a social function, let your opinion about their drinking habits be known the next morning, and then drop it for a little while.
Support your spouse in cutting back. After you’ve talked to your spouse about their drinking habits, don’t expect a drastic change overnight or seek a promise of complete sobriety that they cannot keep. Instead, support them when they take one or a few days off in a row from social drinking or cut back on the number of drinks they have in one sitting. Nothing breeds success like success.
Brace yourself for a rocky road. If your spouse listens to your concerns and cuts back on their social drinking or stops altogether, be prepared for some dissatisfaction on your part. Your spouse may be grumpier than normal or all of a sudden want to take more of a role in things like managing money or spending time with the kids. These changes can require some adjustment on your part.
Consider an intervention. If your initial efforts to instill change fall on deaf ears, you may want to think about involving other friends and family members in your quest to get your spouse some help. (Make sure these aren’t friends or family members she drinks with). As a group, you may be able to make a stronger argument surrounding the problem, and, depending on the severity of the social drinking, possibly get them into treatment.
Remember the Serenity Prayer. When dealing with a problem drinker, it’s important to remind yourself that it’s not always possible to change another person. If you express your concerns about her drinking and they do not respond, you may have to consider leaving the relationship.