Friday March 27th 2015

How can I help my husband stop drinking?

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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14 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.

5:07 pm May 28th, 2014

My husband of 23 years recently passed because of liver cancer. He was only 55. He was also a heavy drinker. I begged him to slow down but I loved him so much I never really pushed it because I was afraid that he would chose the alcohol over me. Now I am dating a man that is a heavy drinker and I have asked him to slow down but it is not working too good, it seems like the more I ask the more he drinks. I know he loves me but TRUST me when I tell you that it is not pretty or fun watching someone you love dying from drinking. My advise to all of you reading this is push it as far as you have too. I regret not pushing it more because I miss him more then anyone will ever know and I have to live with it for the rest of my life. I love my boyfriend now but I know it will not last because of the drinking but if they love you they will change, if not don’t let them destroy your happiness.

8:26 am May 29th, 2014

Hi Lori. I’m so sorry to hear of your loss. Have you looked into support groups like Al-Anon or even group therapy? It might help you to understand alcoholism better, and to set boundaries for yourself now and in the future. All my best to you.

11:26 pm June 6th, 2014

My husband has a drinking problem since before I met him but I never knew it was that bad. We have been married for seven years now n been together for about thirteen. Im currently expecting our third child. More than ever I try to help him change his ways with out being the nagging wife.. but it hurts me so much to see that his killing himself slowly every time he open a beer my stomach hurts n my heartaches I feel like I’m llettings our family down by not telling him to just stop an not letting him but more alcohol.

6:01 am June 13th, 2014

Hello Patty. You are not alone! Get help immediately by seeking out a family addictions counselor or a support group like Al-Anon. You need to talk with someone and work out your next steps: an intervention or leaving?

jodi savard
9:36 pm June 17th, 2014

My husband refuses to stop drinking…he says I need to change the way I feel about it NOT him quitting cause that will never happen,even though the only time we fight is when he is drunk. I f say I will leave him if he doesn’t stop he said leave then…no big deal to him. He knows he will be fine without me but I would struggle in life without him. So Im stuck and have no say!! Im a fff fool and feel like giving up on life.I have no family or friends to turn too and he knows it. I don’t feel he loves me like I love him and its been proven time and time again. I hate my life!!!!!

1:37 pm June 19th, 2014

Hello Patti. It sounds like you could really benefit from some talk therapy. Have you reached out to certified psychotherapists in your area? Do you know where to get a referral?

2:05 pm June 27th, 2014

I am 26, married 5 years to a man I’ve been with for 11 years. He is 27. We have been fighting over his alcohol consumption our entire relationship. While we used to fight over one beer he would sneak from his parent’s fridge, it has evolved into him drinking I’d say 6-8 (on average) every single day starting when he gets home from work until he goes to bed. On weekends when he doesn’t work, it’s easily a 12 pack and can (rarely) get as high has 20-30 beers in a single day. His behavior while drinking is completely obnoxious and sloppy, and his attitude is so much different than when he is sober. Drinking alcohol severely impacts his judgment (short story: We didn’t live together until we were married and I had a curfew from my parents to be home and he did not. He spent our engagement staying out after work, getting drunk and sleeping with 4 of his coworkers behind my back and I didn’t find out until 3 years after we were married. Horrific!) No matter how much I express how negatively his alcohol abuse is hurting me and our marriage, he claims he “just likes to drink” and that “if I have a problem with it, then it’s just that – MY problem.” I’ve been reading books about alcoholism and trying to educate myself and understand how to deal with it. We are currently in counseling, but he still sticks to his claim that he doesn’t have a drinking problem, I have an acceptance problem. I am coming to the end of the line. I’m doing everything I can think of and know how to do to help our situation. He is making absolutely no effort to resolve anything and he doesn’t believe I will leave him, or says if I want to walk out on my marriage vows over something ‘so silly’ then he’ll show me the door. I want us to progress in a positive direction and I really want to help him, but I am SO tired of being the only one making an effort to change anything. You know it’s bad when your counselor says “your spouse obviously isn’t interested in changing yet, so why don’t you come alone to our sessions since you’re the only one willing to work on things.” Ouch. I’m doing everything I think I’m supposed to, trying everything I can think of, and nothing is getting through to him.

1:03 pm November 8th, 2014

firstly, Alcoholic dosen’t want to talk about this issue. Then after become irritate and get angry. the situation become tense and he avoid to talk with me.

9:56 pm March 19th, 2015

I’ve been married to my husband for almost 2 years and we have been together for 3. Before we started dating he drank but I didn’t think much about it then after we got together he stopped for almost a year then went back to it but this its worse then it was when we first got together. I have seen him so drunk that he was falling down and tripping over stuff. He’s mean when he drinks he calls hateful names accuses me of stuff I haven’t done. He has almost gotten us in a wreck from drinking and driving BC he won’t let me drive. I love him so much that I don’t want to leave him but I don’t know what else to do anymore. When I try to talk to him about it all he says is I was drinking when u met me and I’ll drink now. His dad is dying of cancer and that has really set his drinking way up. What can I do to help him if he gets another DWI he will go to prison.

6:57 am March 23rd, 2015

Hello April. You can help by seeking therapy with an addiction family specialist like a psychotherapist. The CRAFT model for intervention can also help. Support groups like Al-Anon will open you up to addressing possible tendencies you have to be codependent. The issue isn’t about helping your husband stop, it’s how you can learn to deal with his unhealthy behavior.

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