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Advice From Dr. Stanwix – My Wife Has a Drinking Problem

Advice From Dr. Stanwix – My Wife Has a Drinking Problem
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Dear Dr. Stanwix,

My wife has a drinking problem. I don’t want to stereotype, but she is Irish and unfortunately alcoholism runs in her family. Her mother and father were both alcoholics and her brother also has a heavy drinking problem.

I am by no means innocent myself, but I can somehow put on the brakes when things go too far. My wife used to be able to do the same, but, lately, she has been less and less able to control her drinking.

We used to always have a good time when we were out. We both imbibed heavily and both suffered the consequences the next morning. Nevertheless nothing untoward happened when we were out enjoying ourselves. That is, nothing until recently. These days, my wife can’t seem to handle her booze the way she used to. Now if she has even a few drinks she becomes drunk and obnoxious.  Her personality changes and mood swings are becoming more severe. She also forgets what she says and repeats herself constantly.

This was no more pronounced than this last St. Patrick’s Day. She got drunker than I had ever seen her and basically made a complete fool of herself. She couldn’t even go to work the next day because she had such a terrible hangover. This is a first for her. Regardless of how much she drank, she was always prepared to suffer the consequences of her actions the following day, headache or not.

When I try to talk to her about her drinking she gets defensive and tells me that I have a drinking problem too. I don’t deny that I overindulge, but I try to tell her that two wrongs don’t make a right. I am not chastising her for drinking. I just want her to realize that it is having a negative effect on her and on our relationship.

Do you have any advice on how I can discuss this subject with her without her becoming defensive? I am willing to do anything, including laying off the bottle myself. Please help. She is too wonderful a woman to let herself be washed away in drink.


One Drink Too Many


Dear One Drink Too Many,

It is quite common for people to lose their tolerance to alcohol after prolonged drinking. This happens especially as we get older. We are no longer able to assimilate alcohol the way we did when we were in our twenties and thirties. We also have more problems bouncing back, which accounts for the rough hangovers. Alcoholism (or any addiction for that matter) can also have a snowball effect on the user. At first we are able to control it; however, as we continue to drink, our consumption increases. What were once overindulgences on the weekend can soon become a daily habit of over indulgence.

While your wife seems to be the one with the problem, you must also consider it your problem. If you continue to expose her to situations where there is drink, then you can’t expect to escape some of the problems you described in your letter. The best thing for both of you to do is to lay off the bottle and develop some healthier ways of spending your free time. Try to frame it as an alternative rather than a prohibition. Rather than tell her of your plan to quit drinking, simply start programming activities that don’t involve drinking.

One problem you could encounter is that your wife may refuse to stop drinking even if you do. If this happens, you will have to take a more forceful tack with her. Begin with a serious discussion about this problem. If she doesn’t want to discuss it, write her a letter. Make sure to keep a positive tone in your letter. Write about what you love about her and how alcohol is affecting your relationship. Rather than tell her you’re worried about her, say that you are worried about both of your drinking. If she feels she is not alone in the problem and will have your support, she may be more willing to accept your advice.

Another thing to consider: Although you admit that you have a drinking problem, you say you can handle your booze better. You may find that you don’t want to give up imbibing just because your wife can’t handle her drink. If this happens, then you will have difficulty justifying your drinking to your wife. You also won’t have a leg to stand on if she decides to join you.

If you truly want to help your wife, then you should commit to your non-alcohol regimen. She may have more difficulty giving up the bottle, so it is absolutely imperative that you set an example and show some resolve. It is only by setting a solid example and positive nurturing that you can fix a problem such as this one.

Best of Luck,

Dr. Michael Stanwix




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