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Dear Mary: How can I help my wife quit drinking for good?

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Illustration: Tom Halliday

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My wife is in denial about her drinking. I don't class her an alcoholic but I do think she has an unhealthy relationship with alcohol. Throughout our relationship we always have a running joke that 'she forgot to stop'. We have been married a few years and are parents to a toddler.

In the early days we would drink together. I would have three or four drinks, either a lager or whiskey and coke, while she would drink a bottle of wine. This would happen two or three times a week but this was nearly always together and very sociable.

However, since the birth of our child I have pretty much stopped drinking - I only drink when we are out and have a babysitter. On the other hand, my wife has increased the amount she drinks and prefers to drink alone because she thinks I'm judging her. She will drink a bottle of wine twice a week and then two bottles on both Friday and Saturday nights. Then this increased to a bottle and a half twice a week and on Friday and Saturday she keeps drinking until she falls asleep, with two bottles of wine and a lot of gin. Generally when she finishes her first bottle I go to bed and meet her asleep on the sofa in the morning.

I tell her she drinks too much and she normally replies that what she drinks is a normal amount and that I'm no 'craic' anymore. When I tell her she should stop drinking for a while, she calls me "controlling".

As a result, even when she drinks too much, once she is safe I turn a blind eye. This normally creates a spiral where she will feel depressed and has thoughts about suicide when she is drunk. When it comes to this point, I talk to her the day after when she is sober, but she brushes it off saying she is extremely happy.

Regularly she will say on a Monday morning that she isn't drinking until Friday night, but by Tuesday she will ask me to pick her up a bottle of wine on my way home. If I don't get it she will fall out with me and if I do get it she sees it as "permission" to drink. She is an amazing mother and wife but I am getting tired of worrying if she is OK while I'm in bed, knowing I will have an early start in the morning with our child.

I recently convinced her to see her GP and she is on medication for anxiety. She told the doctor about how she was feeling, but never mentioned the extent of her drinking and was possibly misdiagnosed.

Is there anything I can do to help her see that her drinking 70+ units of alcohol a week is not normal and will cause her health issues? I read an article recently that alcoholics will only turn a corner when they reach rock bottom. Am I at fault because I am almost always covering up for her? It has come to a point where she needs to stop completely. How do I get her to see this?

Mary replies: It doesn't really matter whether you call your wife an alcoholic or not, because the reality is that she has a problem with alcohol which is interfering with her relationship with you, and also her ability to be a fully functioning mother to your son.

You have to bear in mind that alcoholism is a disease and it's the first drink that gets to the alcoholic because they have no 'off' button. The first step in recovery for an alcoholic is admitting that they are powerless over alcohol.

Your point about her not being able to hit rock bottom because of your enabling her is a very valid one. Alcoholics have spoken about their particular rock bottom - for a friend of mine it was when her sons came to her and asked her to do something about her drinking. For another it was when her husband told her he would be leaving her because he couldn't take any more of her behaviour. So while you continue to buy the bottle, or ignore your wife passed out yet again on the sofa, you are allowing her to continue with her destructive behaviour.

Alcohol being a depressant, I am not surprised that she sometimes feels suicidal through an alcoholic haze. But how would you feel if she were to act on those feelings? How would you explain to your son when he gets older that his mum was not in her right mind when she ended her life? It is all too awful to imagine.

Now it is time for you to seek outside help. Al Anon exists to help the families and friends of alcoholics, so find a meeting near you by visiting http://www.al-anon-ireland.org/. Then hopefully in time you will be able to get your wife to attend AA herself.

There is a difficult road ahead for you and your wife and I sincerely hope that you will come through it. I can sense the love you have for her in your email, and hopefully she will feel it also.

 

You can contact Mary O’Conor anonymously by visiting www.dearmary.ie or email her at dearmary@independent.ie or write c/o 27-32 Talbot Street, Dublin 1. All correspondence will be treated in confidence. Mary O’Conor regrets that she is unable to answer any questions privately.

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