March 8, 2019 at 6:00 am EDT | by Michael Radkowsky
Coping with an alcoholic partner
alcoholic, gay news, Washington Blade

Michael,

I think my girlfriend is an addict and I am struggling with how to help her.

We met three years ago when we were both in our mid-20s, and Anna told me she had a history of drinking too much back when she was a teenager. But she said it was now totally under control. 

I’d notice that she’d seem to drink a lot when we were out at a club but I trusted her that she no longer had a problem.

After about a year I started noticing that her drinking was increasing and not just when we were clubbing.

Once I was on a business trip and when I called her she seemed out of it, slurring her words and not making much sense.  She said she’d spent the evening home alone.  That really worried me that she’d be drinking by herself on a weeknight.

After that, I started really paying attention to how much she was drinking when we were together and I got alarmed. I raised it with her and she got angry.  Then she got a DWI.  

I tried to make a plan with her not to drink too much but told me not to tell her what to do.  I don’t want to tell her what to do.  I just want to help her get back to where she was when we met, and drinking wasn’t a problem for her.  

It’s gotten so I don’t want to be with her anytime she might drink, because I get nervous and upset.  

Last Tuesday she yelled at me to stop making her feel like she’s a drunk. Then she went to sleep in the guest room. When I left for work the next morning she was still asleep. I tried to wake her up so she wouldn’t be late for work but she was out cold. When I was leaving the house I saw three new empty bottles of wine in the recycling. She must have drunk them overnight.

Since then she’s barely talking to me. I am trying to be nice and not bring up anything about drinking but I know this isn’t good for her.  She has already gotten written up for repeatedly being late to work and I am also worried about her getting another DWI because she has to drive a lot for work.

How do I approach this to help her without her getting angry?  I feel we were on a really good trajectory and now it is derailing. Thank you.

Michael replies:

You can’t help Anna stop or reduce her drinking if she does not want to change her behavior. Nor can you find a way to approach this without Anna getting angry. Anna’s anger is up to her. I’m sorry. Living with an addict who is using is frustrating, infuriating, and often very sad.  

What you can do is find a better way to cope with Anna’s drinking than letting it take over your life, as you are now doing when you monitor the recycling, try and keep her from being late to work, and search for ways to get her to cut back. 

Can you accept that you are powerless over Anna’s drinking, and enjoy being in this relationship with Anna as she is? This would mean that you stop trying to change her behavior and accept that Anna is responsible for her life—job loss, DWI, and all.

Practically speaking, if you stay with Anna under these terms, there may be times when you won’t want to just stand by. You might try such strategies as taking away her keys so that she doesn’t drive drunk. Doing so might save her life—or someone else’s life. But a relationship where you play this role is not a love relationship of two equal partners.

If you don’t want to be with someone who drinks as much as Anna does, you can leave the relationship. But do not to threaten Anna with leaving unless she curtails her alcohol consumption. Threatening your significant other with consequences to get her to change her behavior will poison your relationship.

Whether you decide to stay with Anna or not, consider checking out Al-Anon, a support fellowship for families and friends based on the principles of Alcoholics Anonymous. You could use some help getting out of the role of wanna-be rescuer.  

For Anna and anyone struggling with addiction: People abuse drugs and alcohol for complex, deep-seated reasons. But alcohol and other substance abuse is entrenched in LGBT culture  Many of us drink and use other substances to block feelings of depression, anxiety, isolation and self-loathing. LGBT socializing is often alcohol-focused, which encourages and normalizes drinking to excess.  Reducing or stopping substance use isn’t easy, but it is possible. Consider getting support including through a 12-step group such as Alcoholics Anonymous, a harm reduction program, or a therapist.

Michael Radkowsky, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist who works with LGBT couples and individuals in D.C. He can be found online at michaelradkowsky.com. All identifying information has been changed for reasons of confidentiality. Have a question? Send it to Michael@michaelradkowsky.com.

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