Partners, parents, and other significant others are often unsure about what their role should be once a loved one has begun to actively address his or her drinking. You, too, may have wondered what you can do to be maximally supportive, and are searching for tips on how to proceed.
The following guidelines are for your part of the journey and underscore the ways in which support is different from control.
Match Your Drinking Behavior to the Behavior of Your Loved One
When your loved one is trying to modify his or her drinking, one way of being supportive when you are together is for you to modify your own drinking behavior to match that of your loved one. Thus, if your partner is abstaining, it is generally helpful — regardless of what he may say about this — for you to abstain as well. (When you are out with your own friends independently, you can still drink as much as you like, keeping in mind, however, that coming home drunk would be not supportive (and might suggest taking a look at your own drinking behaviors as well).
If after a period of abstinence, your loved one chooses a course of systematic moderation (based on specific parameters and, hopefully, with a coach to guide this new behavior), you should then limit your own drinking to match those parameters. This means that when you are with her, you no longer need to abstain, but your drinking should not exceed the limits she has chosen. Thus, if her limit is 2 drinks on any drinking occasion, when you are together you will adopt similar limits, and if her parameters call for not drinking 3 or 4 days per week, when you are with her on those days, you will not drink either.
Policing is Out
Despite the sense of heightened vigilance that you have likely carried for years, policing (e.g. reminders about drinking, throwing out alcohol if it appears in the house), is not any more useful in this phase than it was when your partner’s drinking was out of control. Similarly, scolding your loved one either about past drinking mishaps or current slip-ups is equally unproductive, and will merely continue to embroil you with your significant other in ways that are not useful to either of you. It is important to remember that only the drinker can control his or her drinking.
There are, however, other useful things that you can do, discussed in prior posts: Dealing with the Challenges of Living with an Addicted Loved One and Getting Help for Yourself When an Addicted Loved One Needs Treatment.
Feedback is Useful
Although policing is out, giving feedback to your loved ones is useful when it addresses the impact their behavior is having on you. Thus, it is important to speak up when you feel worried, or when you have that old unsettled feeling in your stomach associated with a past drinking-related behavior. Providing such feedback is beneficial because, by the time drinkers decide to get help, it is often because they have become aware of the negative impact their drinking is having on people they care about. And, if past behaviors associated with drinking are again causing anxiety or distress, it is useful for them to know about this.
Be Reflective About Your Own Behaviors Regarding Alcohol
Being reflective about your own drinking behavior and the ways that it may potentially make the drinker’s journey more difficult is important. This includes thinking twice about bringing alcohol into the house, since generally it is a good idea when someone is trying to modify his or her drinking to not keep alcohol around. This is no different from a chocoholic not keeping chocolate in the house — it is easier to control impulses around food or beverages when the desired object is not easily available.
Be Receptive to Hearing About the Challenges Your Partner is Facing
There will be days when your loved one will struggle to not revert to old patterns with regard to drinking, and you can show your support by being receptive to hearing about the challenges he or she is facing. When your partner tells you that it has been a long day, and that he is struggling with the kind of feelings that in the past would have led to a powerful “need for a drink”, understand that he is sharing what he is experiencing instead of giving in to the urge to drink, and this is a big step forward!
Speak Up About Positive Changes You are Experiencing
Finally, when you notice things feeling better between you and your loved one because of the changes that are being made with regard to alcohol, say so. Your loved one’s journey is not an easy one, and it is a journey that is probably being made in large part to protect your relationship. Knowing that his or her efforts are paying off can go a long way in furthering the journey.
Other Relevant Articles
- Moderation Training for Problem Drinkers
- How Naltrexone Helps Curb Urges to Drink
- Getting Help for an Addicted Loved One
- Exploring Alternative Options for Treating Problem Drinkers
Dr. Marsha Vannicelli is an internationally recognized author and lecturer who has written two highly acclaimed books and many articles along with scores of workshops and lectures about her work with those whose lives have been affected by problematic drinking.
© 2019 Marsha Vannicelli