Saturday April 19th 2014

How can I help my husband stop drinking?

Why do people stop drinking?

Any person stops drinking because that person realizes that the costs of drinking now exceed the benefits. Drinking must have been fun at first or the person would have stopped soon after starting. With enough drinking the costs grow, even if awareness of those costs lags behind.

Fortunately, the closer you are to someone the more influence you can have on the actual costs and benefits, and on helping that individual to realize that the experience of drinking has changed (and it’s time to get motivated to stop drinking!).

8 tips for communicating with a husband who drinks

The suggestions below could be used for helping anyone you are close with to stop (or cut back) any substance or activity addiction. To keep it simple, we’ll talk about helping your husband stop drinking. In this article we’ll focus on communication. In future articles we’ll focus on how to shift the cost-benefit analysis by increasing the costs of drinking, increasing the benefits of not drinking, and supporting new behaviors that replace drinking.

1. Converse when he is sober and in a good mood.  How long alcohol takes to leave the system varies by drinker, so be sure that your husband is in the clear.

2. Don’t give up! Stay in the conversation as long as you can.

3. Acknowledge that you have (perhaps) given him a hard time in the past.

4. Compliment him when you can.

5. Break bigger questions into smaller ones. If he can’t answer the big question (what do you like about drinking) perhaps he can answer the smaller question (what did you like about drinking Friday night?).

6. Acknowledge his point of view, and accept it or ask about it (Does it seem like I’m trying to psychoanalyze you?). You are here to understand, not disagree.

7. Make mental notes during the conversation, and perhaps written ones as soon as possible thereafter, about the benefits of drinking he has described. He is opening up his world to you. This information will be the foundation for what you do next.

8. End the conversation by thanking him and promising to think about what he has said.

How can you start taking?

When your husband is NOT drinking, ask him what he likes about drinking. Perhaps the conversation might go as follows:

Wife: I’ve been thinking that maybe I don’t understand your drinking well enough. I know we have fought about it. We both know that much! But I wonder if I have pushed too hard without understanding enough first.

Husband: Are you looking for ANOTHER fight?

Wife: No, I’m not. What I’m curious about is, what do you like about drinking? I realize I may not understand your drinking very much. Would you tell me what you like about drinking?

Husband: Why would you want to know that?

Wife: Obviously you like to drink. You wouldn’t do something unless you thought it benefited you. You are a smart person, that’s one of the reasons I married you. I know I have focused on all the things I think are bad about drinking, but only you could tell me what the benefits are. I’d like to know.

Husband: So what are you going to do with that information?

Wife: At first I just want to think about it. Your drinking has a history. The benefits associated with it are probably complex. I want to start by understanding it better. I think it will also help me understand you better. I know I have given you a hard time about drinking. I’d like to make a fresh start. So, what do you like about drinking?

Husband: That’s a hard question to answer.

Wife: OK, let’s take Saturday night for instance. It was a moderate night for you. You seemed to enjoy yourself. What was enjoyable?

Husband: I just had a few glasses of wine that night. I wouldn’t call that drinking! You know that when people are around I don’t drink very much.

Wife: Well, OK, why don’t you pick I time where you were drinking more? How about one of the nights last week?

Husband: You mean like a night when I start drinking as soon as I get home from work and then stay up late drinking after all of you go to bed?

Wife: Yes, a night like that.

Husband: I don’t know.

Wife: OK, that’s interesting. Are you sure you don’t know or would you just prefer not to tell me?

Husband: I never really thought about why I like to drink, I just like to drink!

Wife: So maybe we can both learn something. Aren’t you curious about your own behavior?

Husband: Not really. I just like to drink. It seems to me a lot of people like to drink, and they don’t need to be psychoanalyzed about it!

Wife: OK, you’ve stayed with me this far in this conversation. I’d like you to keep going with me a bit more. Does it seem like I’m trying to psychoanalyze you?

Husband: All right, I guess not. But that doesn’t mean I can answer your question, or even want to.

Wife: I understand. Would you answer a few basic questions?

Husband: I’ll try, but I’m not promising anything.

Wife: Thanks. I appreciate the effort you are making. How about this? Let’s pick last Friday night, because it’s the last night you drank by yourself. OK?

Husband: OK

Wife: That night, you waited a bit longer than you sometimes do. You had got home about 5:30, but you didn’t start drinking until 6:30. Why did you wait?

Husband: I had promised [their son] that I would play catch with him for awhile. I knew I could still throw the ball even with a beer or two. But I wanted to be completely free when I began drinking. I was dying to drink, but thought I better wait.

Wife: I remember he was happy you played with him. That was sweet of you.

Husband: I should spend more time with him, but work is so stressful I need to unwind somehow, and playing catch doesn’t cut it.

Wife: I think you just gave us one benefit of drinking. Work is stressful. Drinking helps you unwind, and perhaps especially on Friday.

Husband: I could have told you THAT!

Wife: (laughing) Not two minutes ago!

Husband: OK, do you feel better now? I drink because it helps me unwind. Isn’t it obvious?

Wife: I have often thought that you drink to unwind, its true. But I’ve never heard you say it. I feel better knowing you also think that. But maybe there are some other reasons?

Husband: Well, you know how bad work has been….

How can you start the conversation about drinking?

In the example above, the husband is is now more engaged in the conversation about alcohol use. You can do the same. When are you planning to start a similar conversation with your husband? Are you nervous about approaching the subject of alcohol use in your couple? Please share your questions, comments, or feedback below.

Want to learn more?  Next, we’ll focus on how to shift the cost-benefit analysis by increasing the costs of drinking, increasing the benefits of not drinking, and supporting new behaviors that replace drinking.

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4 Responses to “How can I help my husband stop drinking?
10:59 pm January 15th, 2012

I found the sample conversation to be very helpful. It’s so hard sometimes to get a Loved One talking. This sample offered a great example of how to handle the typical conversation stoppers we so often encounter.

I’m looking forward to more tips for family & friends.

7:03 pm September 9th, 2013

I’d like to use this conversation to encourage my wife to cut back on her drinking (she drinks only wine – but ” a lot “). Then evolve into perhaps having her quit. The problem is, she likes drinking, she “can’t wait” till its 5pm. And some days, its 5 somewhere.
How can I get this conversation started, and then kept up. Our children are grown, and worry very much about her, and I worry enough that it makes vacations and get togethers challenging.
I’d appreciate a suggestion or two… is it possible to go down the “cut back” path. She certainly see’s no reason to quit at this time.

3:34 am January 12th, 2014

My husband is in the hospital. He has the first stages of cerosis ( I know it’s not spelled right) of the liver. He had the flu so he was taking Theraflu and took Tylenol also. This gave him acetamenaphine poisoning. This also affects his liver. I would like to know how to talk to him about quitting drinking. He is currently on a ventilator for a little while because he was having a hard time breathing. His kidneys also shut down. When he found out about the cerosis the doc said he had to be alcohol free for six months before he could get treatment. He lasted about 2 months then he fell off the wagon. I don’t want to watch him kill himself, but I don’t want him to leave me if I force him to make a choice. How do I start that conversation?

2:08 pm January 13th, 2014

Hello Carol. Sometimes the best thing to do is to sit down and have the conversation after you practice with a professional. I’d suggest that you schedule an appointment with a family counselor who specializes in substance abuse issues and get a feel for what to do and what level or enabling is present. You’ll be able to make a more informed decision with professional help from a psychologist.

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Practical Recovery, in San Diego, California, offers self-empowering, non 12-step addiction treatment across all levels of care (outpatient, sober living, rehab). Treatment focuses on underlying problems, and is provided by a multi-disciplinary team of mostly doctoral level providers who collaborate with clients to create completely individualized and empirically supported treatment plans based on the client's goals, values and situation.