Readers repeatedly ask me questions about their relationships with the functioning alcoholics in their lives. Today I will look at the case of the woman who is not yet living with her boyfriend, but wants to. She is concerned, however, about his alcohol consumption. It usually goes something like this:
“I’ve been wondering if my boyfriend has a drinking problem. He says he’s a functioning alcoholic, with the stress on “functioning.” I like the odd drink myself, but I can take it or leave it. We love each other and want to live together. Should I move in with him?” Signed, 29 and single
Well, 29 and single, it’s good that you are acknowledging right up front that there could be a problem. You show a healthy level of self esteem and confidence.
Obviously, I can’t tell you what to do, but I can raise some issues for you to think about, starting with the most important one. Ask yourself whether you can accept him exactly as he is without changes. You can’t change him, and you can’t expect him to change, regardless of what he may be promising. This is your primary test question. For the sake of your sanity don’t minimize its importance.
The next question is about him. What does he mean by “functioning?” He is probably a great boyfriend, but is he functioning well in other areas of his life, including his career, his relationships with his family and his social responsibilities like driving only when he hasn’t had a drink? Is he functioning as well as he could in all of these areas, or is he just getting by? And thirdly, can he stay healthy at his level of drinking, or will he die prematurely?
Satisfy yourself as to whether or not he is addicted to alcohol, that is, whether or not he is an alcoholic. Some drinkers overplay the alcoholic card; others underplay it. You could take the Alcoholism Test . The Alcoholism Test is designed for someone who isn’t sure whether someone close to them is an alcoholic, but would like to know.
If all indications are that he has an addiction to alcohol, then recognize that his alcoholism will probably worsen over time. He may or may not become abusive as his alcoholism progresses, but at the very least you will suffer neglect. Another way of saying it is that you will gradually lose the competition with his other mistress, the bottle.
Whether or not he has progressed to alcoholism, he might want to go to a drug and alcohol treatment center for alcohol rehab. Even if he can stop drinking on his own, he will need help with the underlying issues that led to his drinking problem to start with. Otherwise, he remains very vulnerable to relapse. The best time for him to address his lifestyle issues is before you start living together. It’s much harder later.
What happens if he doesn’t clean up his drinking? The hard reality is that whether you know it or not, you are probably choosing between living separately now or living separately later… after a lot of heart ache.