August 14, 2014 at 12:00 pm EST | by Michael Radkowsky
The alcohol question
alcohol, gay news, Washington Blade

You can’t get someone else to stop drinking.

Hi Michael,

 

My girlfriend’s drinking is ruining our relationship. Is there some way to get her to cut back?

 

This is an escalating problem. At first it seemed mostly that Lisa would drink a lot when we were out with our friends. I didn’t think much of it because all of us can drink a fair amount when we’re together. But then she began to get a little too buzzed — she’d flirt overtly with other women or have trouble walking. One night she lost her laptop at the bar.

 

This started getting on my nerves and I began noticing that she was also drinking more and more at home. It’s not much fun to spend the evening with her when her speech is slurred, her eyes are glazed (when they’re open) and she passes out as soon as her head hits the pillow.

 

Lately I cringe whenever I hear a beer can open or ice cubes drop into a glass.

 

I feel like she’s not in control of her drinking and that it’s taking over our life. I don’t want to be with someone whose main relationship is with alcohol. When I try to talk with her, all she’ll say is that she doesn’t drink more than our friends do and if she didn’t drink when we go out, she would have a bad time and our friends would think she’s boring. Also, she thinks I’m exaggerating about how unavailable she is at home due to being wasted.

 

What can I do?

 

Michael replies:

You can’t get someone else to stop drinking. Lisa will stop if and when she’s ready to stop on her own.

What you can do is figure out your own bottom line. Are you willing to stay in a relationship with Lisa as she is? Or would you rather be alone?

If you decide to stay, you will have a better life if you can find a way to enjoy what is good in your relationship and give up trying to change what you can’t.  Figuring out how to not be driven crazy by your partner’s substance abuse is really hard work. Like many people in your shoes, you might get some help by attending Al-Anon meetings, the support fellowship for families and friends based on the principles of Alcoholics Anonymous.

If you decide that you don’t want to stay if Lisa continues to drink, you need to let her know. But only take this step if you mean it. Avoid making threats as a tool to try to get what you want. That strategy erodes any good feeling between two people and once you introduce it into a relationship, it’s hard to eradicate.

It’s possible Lisa will decide she’d rather get sober than lose you. However, keep in mind that people abuse drugs and alcohol for complex, deep-seated reasons; this is especially true in the LGBT community, where substance abuse rates are estimated at 20 to 30 percent. Lisa might not be willing or able to look at underlying problems and make changes right now, so that might seem like she is choosing alcohol over staying with you.

No matter what you ultimately decide about your future, can you let Lisa know you’re concerned about how she might be hurting, and encourage her to find ways to address what may be bothering her?

You didn’t say anything positive about your relationship with Lisa. I am sure there are some good parts, but I still wonder about your motives for wanting to stay if your connection is as bad as you say. Do you enjoy being miserable or ignored? Is there anything appealing about being the long-suffering spouse? Or about feeling superior to your girlfriend? These are important things for you to figure out about yourself.

Looking at your own unexplored issues isn’t easy, so please find a therapist who isn’t going to baby you or pity your predicament, to help you understand what might be keeping you where you are.

Michael Radkowsky, Psy.D, licensed psychologist, specializes in LGBT couples counseling and individual therapy in Washington. He can be found online at personalgrowthzone.com. All identifying information has been changed for reasons of confidentiality. Have a question? Send it to michael@personalgrowthzone.com.

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