ADVICE 08: My Husband's an Alcoholic


Photo Credit: Brent Stoller

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My husband and I separated about a month ago. We've been married for 20 years and have two children together. Over the last little while, he's been stressed, especially with work, which led him to drink heavily. He would stay out drinking until 2 or 3 in the morning. When he did come home, instead of talking to me, he'd start drinking and bury his head in his phone. He treated the whole family badly and also began losing touch with our son, who's in college. One morning before he left for work, he said he was leaving me. When I saw him for the first time since the separation, he was crying uncontrollably, saying that he's hurt me and he's failed me, but he doesn't see another way to handle things. He's sad, alone and burned out. He refuses to see a doctor, because he doesn't think it will help. He's good-hearted and loyal, and everyone who knows him can't believe he left. I love him and want my old husband back. What do I do?
-- Heartbreak City; Victoria, WA

What an awful situation. Your pain is evident in your words. In terms of the negative feelings we can experience, I'm not sure any outweigh helplessness. When you're helpless, you're desperate, defenseless, defeated. There's a resignation that change is beyond your reach. It's rock bottom.

Before I write what I'm going to write, I have to reiterate that I am not a doctor or any kind of trained clinician. I'm just a guy with a keyboard, Internet connection and a mother who's a therapist, though I doubt her professional pedigree is hereditary. So please keep that in mind when reading my answer.

It seems to me that your husband is an alcoholic. He drinks out of necessity. It's his coping skill. He uses alcohol to medicate his problems at work and to avoid his problems at home. He's withdrawn socially, he's denying his need for help and he's speaking and behaving erratically -- so much so that you commented that you want your "old husband" back, as if he's become a different person. And in a way, he has. For the moment, anyway.

Again, I'm not board certified in anything, but I view alcoholism as a sickness, a disease. In that way, it's no different from diabetes or multiple sclerosis or congestive heart failure. Your husband is sick. And when your loved one is sick, you call the doctor.

I realize your husband has said he's not open to seeking help. I'd imagine many alcoholics aren't. But that doesn't mean you can't seek help for him. Do it for your own sanity. The sooner you can get some assistance, the sooner this issue has a chance of improving.

For starters, a professional would be able to provide a diagnosis. Is your husband an alcoholic, and does he need treatment? From there, they can prescribe the best course of action, whether that's a treatment center or a 12-step meeting, or coordinating an intervention, where friends and family express to your husband how much they love him and how destructive his alcoholism has become.

In terms of who to contact, a good place to start could be Alcoholics Anonymous. Log onto to find a chapter in your area. There's also the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA), a federal agency that provides free, confidential information and treatment referral. Their hotline -- 1-800-662-HELP (4357) -- is open 24/7/365.

Nobody would expect a person to beat cancer on their own, through sheer discipline and willpower. The same goes for alcoholism -- for both the patient and the primary caregiver. You can't shoulder this burden alone. You've got to get yourself help so that you can help your husband.

COMING WEDNESDAY: I was sexually abused by my brother and father...

Need more ADVICE? Check out the most recent installments:

ADVICE 07: Lessons from the movie "Can't Buy Me Love"

ADVICE 06: Is My Fiancee Getting Cold Feet?

ADVICE 05: Should I Tell My Ex I Want Him Back?

ADVICE 04: Casual Sex; How to Confront Someone

ADVICE 03: Should I Contact My Ex?; Mourning Etiquette

ADVICE 02: How to Stop Comparing Yourself to Others

To send in a question, please complete this short Google form. All submissions are anonymous, even to the author.