Being married to a functioning alcoholic is a big problem. Tens of thousands of families in North America alone are struggling with the issue.
For a minority of people social drinking can gradually deteriorate into alcohol abuse and eventually into alcohol dependence. The drinking could have started in a lot of different ways, but that’s not what’s important. What is important is that the drinking became a habit and the habit became alcohol dependence or alcoholism. It matters not a hoot whether the alcohol is in the form of beer, wine or hard liquor.
Now your partner has shifted from enjoying a drink to compulsively needing alcohol to feel okay. And you may have shifted from being giving and caring to being addicted to your partner’s care. (Compulsive caretaking often grows alongside the deteriorating self-care of the compulsive drinker.)
If the alcoholic has more or less continued to hold down a job, he is politely called a “functioning alcoholic.” But he is an alcoholic nonetheless. He works much below his potential, he neglects or abuses his family and he may not live very long if he continues the self-abuse.
Like all addicts he lies (bold faced lies, lies of omission, cover-ups, minimization), he makes excuses, he blames others for his drinking, and he continues to seek out and use alcohol regardless of consequences.
If there are children present, they copy the lying, justifying, blaming behavior which they see modeled. They also learn to keep family secrets and to cover for their alcoholic parent. In other words they join in the “dance of alcohol” and participate with their parents, learning how to be alcoholics or how to live with them when they grow up.
If you are an alcoholic and you are in a marriage, you may have to leave your drinking behind completely in order to gain any hope of reversing the progressive damage your alcoholism is inflicting on yourself and your family.
If you are living with an alcoholic, there are steps you can take too. Perhaps more importantly at first, there are things you can learn to avoid so that you don’t further your partner’s alcoholism. Making excuses for him, for example, only makes things worse. You don’t want to be an enabler or a rescuer.
Over the years in my psychology practice many women have started their first session with “My husband is a functioning alcoholic.” In the last few days alone two more women took the Alcoholism Test and left a comment opening with “My husband is a functioning alcoholic.” I seldom see or hear the statement without also sensing an undertone of desperation and frustration, as if to say, I didn’t bargain for this when we got married.
Some time ago I started to write a “survival guide” for women caught in the predicament of a marriage troubled with alcoholism. It is now available as the book, Living with a Functioning Alcoholic – A Woman’s Survival Guide. Although it is addressed to women who live with alcoholic husbands, it could be addressed to men with alcoholic wives. Whether you are a man or a woman, your hope begins with educating yourself about the alcohol abuse. Like all personal change, it starts with you.