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I think i need to talk to my boyfriend about his drinking - help me
February 23, 2013 12:57 PM   Subscribe

I am at home visiting family this weekend, I’ll be back at the rented house I share with my boyfriend of 6 years in less than 24 hours. In a phonecall today I heard pretty much the last thing/piece of evidence I need to make me realise that I need him to properly address his problems with alcohol. Or maybe I need him to address my problems with his alcohol behaviour. Please read the extended story inside and tell me how to frame this in my mind and how to talk to him.

I love him, we live together, we have a lot of shared history, we laugh a lot, he can be very kind.

I hate his drinking and do not feel ‘in love’ with him when he is drunk or hungover.

This would typically be at least once a month, it would be more if I didn’t insist on doing some stuff away from alcohol/big drinking crowds (though I don’t frame it that way as I tend to avoid the row or putting the thought of me limiting his alcohol intake in his mind) e.g. going to the cinema or staying in together with a takeaway just eh two of us. After about 3 beers/half a bottle of wine (spirits not so bad but not his drink of choice) he becomes very unattractive to me.

When boyfriend and I met we had just graduated from uni and were working abroad in an expat community of recent (western) uni graduates. It was work hard play hard. 6 years down the road I drink but not really to excess, I can have a bottle of wine open in the fridge for a week or more, I can switch to soft drinks when out and ignore requests from anyone else that I should have just one more or get a large measure etc. I have reaches the stage where I think a hangover just isn’t really worth it. And if I have a lot to drink I still get up out of bed and I function. My boyfriend, no.

Here are some things that worry/irritate/upset me:

When he is ‘out’ drinking he cannot limit his drinks. He downs his drinks, will drink outside of ‘rounds/shouts’ so he drinks more than friends. When I am there I am always the one who stops drinking first or has to suggest leaving. He would drink til dawn if people were there and he didn’t have work, and will stay up drinking by himself in the home. I have lost count of the times I have said to him that he always the most pissed person in the room. We regularly row when he is drunk or the day after.

He is a waste of space when hungover. He sleeps all day. He gets up and mopes around the house generally feeling sorry for himself. He sometimes complains that his sides hurts and asks whether I think that’s his liver. He will do nothing for himself save maybe open some chocolate or crisps. If ever we had been out together and I felt rough too (rare) he would never even dream of making me a cup of tea, or breakfast or brining me a painkiller. I pretty much used to do always do this for him but now frankly, I can’t be arsed. I’ll get him a painkiller more because I hate the whinging and I just think he should take on – if you feel ill you do, you don’t just sit and groan.

He is on serous medication (olanzapine – antipsychotic) but still drinks. His psychiatrist upped the dose recently because BF said that he (sometimes? I don’t know he wouldn’t really clarify) drinks to block things out or to make himself better. He is still drinking.
He got punched in the face last year when he was drunk. Apparently he took some guy to task over an antisocial behaviour and the guy hit him in the jaw. Over time having spoken to his friend who was with him and more details forthcoming from BF, actually he was out of control drunk and he was aggressive himself first he didn’t just tell the guy off.

He has bought/smoked weed twice when massively drunk. He originally gave this up 10 years ago due to paranoid schizophrenia. Him doing it again in the summer resulted (or seemingly resulted as it was 2 days later) in him having a breakdown, getting prescribed tablets again and him being signed off work for a considerable period.

On my birthday (a Sunday) he slept until 3pm. I was up around 11am. We had friends over the night before for dinner and played cards. He drank an excessive amount, didn’t clear up before bed, didn’t get up with me in the morning. I did all the clearing up, made myself breakfast etc, talked to my family and basically waited for him to get up whilst I sat by myself on the sofa. I have explained a few times that this made me feel lonely (what’s the point in living with someone if they don’t spend time with you), underappreciated, not at all important, and really stupid/embarrassed when I spoke on the phone to my family and they asked what he’d got me (he wasn’t up yet so I hadn’t had a card to open) or what we had planned for the day (nothing) and that actually he wasn’t up yet and I’d spent my birthday so far cleaning.

On NYE we were vile to each other. We were at a small gathering with other couples and they are a fairly hard drinking crowd (or at least a couple of them are). I drank too and yeah, various things got at me and I sniped at him a few times and he was the same back, then I think he got worse. I stopped drinking probably a good 2 hours before we left (and kept saying I wanted to leave) whilst he continued to hammer it. We eventually left about 5am and walked home without talking at all. Once again I was up hours before him. He cannot remember that we were horrible to each other or that we walked home in silence. Or so he says.

I have seen him on numerous occasions overstep the mark with personal comments to family members. He has hung out with people he doesn’t even really like as a means to drinking. He seems to care more about filling other people’s glasses than whether I have switched to water and am saying that I’d like to leave.

I called him today from my mums as an engineer was due to visit the house to sort out our internet. Their call time was between 12 noon and 4 pm. I called him twice on his mobile and twice on the landline and let them ring for ages. Nothing. I finally got a call from him at around 3pm. He sounded horrific. He’d been out with friends and had just woken up. I said well, what about the engineer and he said he’d got missed calls from them and that a card had been pushed through the door with a time stamp of around 15 mins earlier saying they’d been to the door but got no answer. To say I was fuming was an understatement. I told him I couldn’t speak to him as I was annoyed and hung up.

Then I burst into tears. It was the final straw. Ignore me, fine (though not really) but can’t get out of bed by midday to wait for the internet engineer? He’s a bloody web developer – he needs the internet if he wants to do anything at home. Doesn’t pay attention to a psychiatrist who’s upped his medication dosage based on what he’s said about his drinking behaviour? Irresponsible and in denial.

I’ve talked, I’ve shouted, I’ve screamed, I’ve cried. I’ve done it in the moment of him being drunk, I’ve done it the next day when he’s hungover, and I’ve done it away from them in neutral times/spaces. Nothing works. Yeah I sometimes get ‘sorry’ but not all the time and it doesn’t have really any lasting impact.

I’d say that actually his drinking has been a problem (for me) on and off for the last 3 years.

Too Long Didn’t Read:
I want to say when I get back to the house tomorrow that whether he acknowledges he has a problem with alcohol or not, I have a problem with his use of it. And that if he doesn’t seek counselling either by me or him setting up an appointment with a counsellor this week, then we need to start thinking about what this means in terms of dealbreakers for our relationship. He says he loves me so im hoping this works - for me it is i think the last time i can have the discussion about his drinking if he's not prepared to address it properly. If he doesnt then i guess i have my answer.

FWIW – he has said stuff about his drinking in the last couple of weeks and I’ve batted it back at him that doesn’t he see that as a problem or something he thinks he should work on (e.g. I have to drink to feel real or have to a good time). So far no he doesn’t.

Please tell me what to say and also how to proceed - should I ask to attend his counselling if he does say he will go or trust that he will be actually open up to his problematic behaviour rather than just do this as something to keep me quiet?
posted by moreteaplease to Human Relations (37 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
I’ve talked, I’ve shouted, I’ve screamed, I’ve cried. I’ve done it in the moment of him being drunk, I’ve done it the next day when he’s hungover, and I’ve done it away from them in neutral times/spaces. Nothing works. Yeah I sometimes get ‘sorry’ but not all the time and it doesn’t have really any lasting impact.

This is someone who will continue to exhibit this behavior for however long it takes him to realize what reaching bottom means.

You need to extract yourself from this relationship, and examine what has led you to spend 6 years with a man who is on anti-psychotic meds and drinks to the point of excess on a regular basis. I would gently suggest that you break up with him, as hard and difficult as that may be, and not continue to enable (even inadvertently) this behavior.
posted by ellF at 1:01 PM on February 23, 2013 [23 favorites]


It's hard for me to say whether he has a problem with alcohol - it sounds like he does but more importantly, it sounds like he's inconsiderate. I think you should consider your escape plan. You can give an ultimatum and leave if he doesn't hold up or you can get out now. I think ultimatums are rough and you definitely shouldn't do it unless you're sure that you will walk if he doesn't follow through but that way, you can be confident that you gave him every opportunity to reform. I'm sorry.
posted by kat518 at 1:13 PM on February 23, 2013


He sounds depressed and is self-medicating (the pain relief he gets from drinking outways how it makes him feel afterwards/the risks to his life/how you feel).

Counselling if you want to stay with him. If he doesn't go, I think you have to leave.
posted by heyjude at 1:24 PM on February 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


BTW, this part struck me as especially manipulative: "He sometimes complains that his sides hurts and asks whether I think that’s his liver." People frequently argue against ultimatums because they're manipulative but he's already being manipulative.
posted by kat518 at 1:27 PM on February 23, 2013


There is absolutely nothing you can say or do or ask that will make him stop abusing alcohol. He clearly doesn't want to stop, and you can't change that. In other words, if your question is, "how can I get him to address his drinking?" the answer is that you can't. All you can do is protect yourself, physically and emotionally, and let him know that you are no longer willing to keep enabling his addiction and that you will leave him if things don't improve.

You say that your boyfriend is a paranoid schizophrenic. People with schizophrenia frequently abuse alcohol and other drugs, which tends to make their medication less effective. In other words, your boyfriend may be experiencing symptoms of his underlying mental illness that inhibits his ability to make good decisions. That's not to say that you need to put up with being treated as poorly as he treats you; no one deserves to be treated the way he treats you. But it does suggest another reason that talking with him is unlikely to be effective, just as it has been ineffective in the past.

If I were you, I would call his psychiatrist. The doctor will very likely be unable to talk about him with you because of medical privacy laws, but you may be able to tell the doctor that your boyfriend is abusing alcohol and that you fear he may be endangering his physical and mental health. Letting his medical treatment team know about his problem is likely the most effective way to help keep him safe. You cannot stop him from abusing alcohol, but you can alert qualified professionals that he is doing so in hopes that they can help protect him from harm.

You should also get into counseling. Not because it will help you "convince" him to get help for his drinking; it won't. But counseling will help you figure out how to stop enabling him, how to deal with your own feelings of inadequacy and shame and anger, and ultimately, how to set boundaries and draw lines about what you will and won't tolerate. You might also consider Al-Anon or another support group for people whose loved ones are addicts, because it will help you to talk with others in your situation about their strategies for staying sane while dealing with this problem. I suspect that once you begin exploring your own feelings and learning to set boundaries, you will end up leaving him. But for now, please at least take care of yourself, because it's very clear that he will not take care of you in any way while he is an active substance abuser.
posted by decathecting at 1:41 PM on February 23, 2013 [15 favorites]


He's got a drinking problem, but there's absolutely nothing you can do to get him to change his behavior. He will, or he won't, but it won't be because you begged or cried or asked or pleaded or set a deadline or let a deadline go, etc. This is the painful truth that you -- and I -- have to accept when it comes to our relationships with people who are addicted.

It sounds from your language that you are in the UK. Here's the Al-Anon UK site...or, sorry, if I'm wrong google it for your country. You need to switch your thinking around to your own self and your own behavior - because those are the only things you can control.

If it was me? Well, I'd say, "Sorry, guy, but this relationship isn't making me happy any more. I'm going to move out. (Or, you need to move out next week, or whatever fits your living situation.) If you're interested in getting sober, I'd support you in that decision. And maybe we can meet for a coffee when you've been sober 30 days."
posted by BlahLaLa at 2:01 PM on February 23, 2013 [9 favorites]


Call him now, and tell him you're staying at your mother's place until he does one of two things:

1) Acknowledges that his drinking is making you unhappy in the relationship (the whole relationship), agrees to get help specifically for his drinking, and go into counselling for the two of you; or

2) he moves out.

I think you're past the point of negotiating. You sound really unhappy. And what's their to negotiate really? What are you willing to compromise on? The most generous option I'd suggest is that you give him a timeline, to the effect of, "behaviours A, B, and C are unacceptable for me. If they don't stop in one month, I'm leaving for good" and then leave.

IF he is going to change his behaviour (and I don't honestly know that he will), you need to start enforcing strong boundaries about what is acceptable for you. Staying at your mother's now will send a message that he has crossed a line. He needs to start understanding where that line is right away. And honestly, if you didn't even want to bother with that and just end it now, I wouldn't blame you.
posted by dry white toast at 2:10 PM on February 23, 2013 [5 favorites]


On preview, what BlahLaLa said works too.
posted by dry white toast at 2:11 PM on February 23, 2013


Also, it's perfectly fine to say nothing, to return home and then make the situation safe for you -- in whatever way that applies, meaning, do you need to withdraw money from a shared bank account? Cancel the telephone service if it's in your name? Deal with your landlord in order to get a security deposit? Move out all your stuff while he's out? Whatever applies, it's okay for you to go ahead and deal with all of that before discussing anything with your boyfriend. Just so you know, it's also okay not to have the discussion. Do what you need to do to make this transition safe and acceptable to you. You don't need to manage it to get his "buy in" or approval. Take care of yourself first.
posted by BlahLaLa at 2:17 PM on February 23, 2013 [14 favorites]


This is going to sound cold, but it's not your problem. All you have to worry about is yourself.

As you've said, nothing you do or say to make him act a particular way is changing anything. Take care of yourself.

You are apparently right that you're on your own here with someone who doesn't care about you. He doesn't seem to care about himself, either.

FWIW I know schizophrenia can involve problems with motivation, but I really can't speak from an informed viewpoint here. This is someone who has an addiction you're not qualified to treat by talking, shouting, screaming, or crying, and who also has a psychosis you're not qualified to treat by talking, shouting, screaming, or crying.

Sorry, it sucks.
posted by tel3path at 2:21 PM on February 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


What BlahLaLa says, but don't put an achievable condition (e.g., "sober 30 days"), because that gives him a finish line. Alcoholism doesn't have a finish line, and giving him one will let him cross it and then revert to form.

Tell him that you are done having a relationship with the person he is, and that he should call you once he's better. And then proceed with your life as if he's never going to get better. Don't worry about the six years of sunk costs.
posted by Etrigan at 2:26 PM on February 23, 2013 [6 favorites]


Say this:

whether he acknowledges he has a problem with alcohol or not, I have a problem with his use of it. And that if he doesn’t seek counselling either by me or him setting up an appointment with a counsellor this week, then we need to start thinking about what this means in terms of dealbreakers for our relationship. He says he loves me so im hoping this works - for me it is i think the last time i can have the discussion about his drinking if he's not prepared to address it properly. If he doesnt then i guess i have my answer.

and mean it. The problem with ultimatums can be two-fold; either the person on the delivering end doesn't follow through, or the person on the receiving end capitulates only to avoid further conflict. Either scenario eventually leads to relapse.

But..., it sounds like you've already said this (in a way), his doctor has spoken to him about this, his friends have pointed out that he acts like a dick when he drinks... and he hasn't responded accordingly. I don't think I'd be giving him any more chances.
posted by sm1tten at 2:28 PM on February 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Sometimes a resoundingly uniform crowd response is helpful in gauging situations we're enmeshed in. I am adding my voice to the crowd that were I in your place, I'd leave now and the most I'd be willing to offer is a possible chance of reconciliation down the road if he can stop drinking long-term.
posted by vegartanipla at 2:35 PM on February 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


i am so sorry you are going through this. please leave this man who is abusing himself and manipulating you. what to say? i would be as simple and succinct as, "this relationship is over. i hope you can seek help for your alcohol abuse." it sounds like you've tried to have the talk with him over and over, and you're realizing that it does nothing because you cannot change him. stop having talks and just end it as soon as you can.

you sound really unhappy and understandably lonely. now it's time to act in your own best interest, not his. you shouldn't wait for him to change because you'll be miserable doing that. for HALF OF THIS RELATIONSHIP you were miserable because of his drinking, it is time for it to end. move out of your shared house and separate any bank accounts or other joint legal and financial stuff. go to Al-Anon meetings or get into counseling, whichever you prefer - but please, process this, figure out why you stayed for so many years, figure out how to avoid being in that position again.

Etrigan put it very well: "Tell him that you are done having a relationship with the person he is, and that he should call you once he's better. And then proceed with your life as if he's never going to get better."
posted by zdravo at 2:37 PM on February 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


I was involved with an alcoholic for several years and found Al-Anon to be really helpful, despite having roundly mocked it for years before I really knew what it was like to have alcoholism in my life. You mention that he loves you, and you are hopeful that will make a difference. I think the hardest thing for me was realizing that I wasn't the number one thing in the life of the alcoholic I loved, and who I believe loved me. Alcohol was. People who are truly addicted will destroy many wonderful relationships and opportunities to pursue their addiction. This is a very difficult thing to come to terms with for most people involved with them. It is particularly hard because addict's decisions often make no logical sense to those who are not addicted.
posted by bluespark25 at 2:48 PM on February 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


By the way, even if your boyfriend is an alcoholic, you may not be ready to end the relationship. Try not to be too hard on yourself. Sometimes it takes a while to make this kind of change. Do stay safe.
posted by bluespark25 at 2:51 PM on February 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


Dont want to threadsit but thank you for your input so far. I am in the UK so didnt really know whether Al-Anon (which ive heard about here before) was applicable but i've been through the link supplied and found a meeting in my city so thanks for that. I am not in the financial position to go the counselling/therapy route myself right now so perhaps this is the best step in the short-term.

I deliberately chose not to use words like addiction, abuse or alcoholic in my post, but seeing so many of you use it has reinforced what i already know but i dont think he accepts - that being an alcoholic isnt necessarily about having the shakes or needing to drink to get out of bed or on a full bottle of whisky or whatever.

I hadnt even thought about reporting this to his psychiatrist. In the UK it is someone you are referred to by your GP so i actually have no idea of the name or location of the psychiatrist or whether they sync up with the work of the general practice doctor. If any UK respondent can speak to this query going forward i would be grateful.
posted by moreteaplease at 3:02 PM on February 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


He is an actively-drinking alcoholic.

You have choice here - you can stay or you can go. You have no choice in whether or not he drinks. None. Your only choice is whether you're staying as a passenger on his ride.

Start packing.
posted by 26.2 at 3:02 PM on February 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


Many helpful thoughts here, but I wanted to focus in on the specific issue of the relationship between his drinking, his meds, and his mental illness.

People taking olanzapine should abstain from alcohol altogether or consume it only in very limited quantities for a number of reasons, not least because it aggravates the symptoms of psychosis (see this NHS PDF).

Now, it may well be that your boyfriend's psychiatrist has not explained this in unequivocal terms to him- doctors aren't always great at giving their patients clear guidelines about what they should and shouldn't do. It's also possible that your boyfriend hasn't given an accurate account of his alcohol consumption to his doctor- he may be telling him he has an occasional glass of wine to take the edge off as opposed to drinking himself silly.

That said, I find it difficult to imagine that your boyfriend's mention of his drinking passed without any comment whatsoever from the psychiatrist about the need to curtail or stop drinking altogether while on this medication. You've also told us that your boyfriend told the doctor he was drinking to block things out and to cope with difficult thoughts but has not limited his drinking. I am left with the impression that your boyfriend has not fully acknowledged or taken responsibility for his illness and is either unwilling or unable to do what is necessary to maintain his health.

Aside from all the other dynamics and issues that come with being with someone with an alcohol problem, this is an important consideration when deciding whether you want to maintain a long-term relationship with someone. Many people who suffer from psychotic disorders do the hard work to maintain their health, both for their own sake and for those who love them. Your boyfriend is not doing that work.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 3:03 PM on February 23, 2013 [7 favorites]


There is a lot of very, very good advice here and I just want to add something else for you to consider.

What do you envision as your future with this man. I'm not sure if you want to have children but, if you do, you need to think long and hard about whether you want to have a family with this man. Certainly, at the moment, he is a long way from being sober and responsible. From your description, he is behaving like a child and if you have a baby with him, know that he will not suddenly 'man up' rather, you will have two children to care for.

I married an addict (pot and alcohol) with undiagnosed mental health issues -- he did get sober for eight years until he relapsed. Those were nice years but my daughter was thirteen when it all went to hell again.

Food for thought. Maybe it's better to do the painful thing now while you're young.
posted by Toto_tot at 3:16 PM on February 23, 2013 [7 favorites]


I imagine you could call his GP and ask the GP to pass the information on to the psychiatrist? It's most likely useful information for the GP as well.

So sorry you're having to deal with this. I wish you all the best, and hope that whatever you decide about the relationship, that your boyfriend will be able to turn things around for himself.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:48 PM on February 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


He frequently drink to excess, to the point that he does not totally recall what happened. He mixes alcohol and his prescribed medications, and that's risky at best. He is chosing his alcohol over his relationship with you, over his health, over his friends, and apparently over his job. He is an alcoholic. He needs to get off the booze, listen to his doctors, get into counseling and straighten out his home life --- but there is NOTHING you or anyone else can do to MAKE him do that: it all has to be his own choice.

But you too have choices: one, of course, is to do nothing, and continue to the unhappy life you currently have. Another is for either you or him to move out, for you to separate your lives and finances, and consider counseling for yourself.

I'm not quite at the stage of recommending you DTMFA, but I DO suggest you protect yourself from him dragging you down with him, as well not continuing to let him treat you as his housekeeper/babysitter/doormat.
posted by easily confused at 4:45 PM on February 23, 2013


This is someone who will continue to exhibit this behavior for however long it takes him to realize what reaching bottom means.

Several people have expressed roughly this same sentiment, and I agree with it.

My dad was a recovering alcoholic. He was pretty open about it. One time, a relative asked him to speak to her husband about his (the husband's) drinking. My dad refused. He explained that if the husband wanted to have a conversation, he would be more than happy to talk at length, privately, openly, whatever. But my dad wasn't willing to just walk up to him and say, "Hey, let's talk about your drinking." From my dad's experience and perspective, only the alcoholic himself can initiate any kind of productive conversation about his drinking.

That has also been my experience. I know interventions happen. I understand they are successful for some people. I have never seen it, though, and it's contrary to everything I have seen or experienced about addiction. So my advice for your conversation tomorrow would be keep your expectations low.
posted by cribcage at 4:53 PM on February 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


moreteaplease, I'm commenting here again, after the unusual deletion of a comment of mine, followed by this follow up comment (hell the only time in more than 4,000 posted AskMe comments), after having a previous comment in this thread deleted, and discussing it in email with the mod who deleted it.

I understand, as you must, that I am on short rope here. And as I hope you understand from my posting history, I've lived with (and walked away from) an alcoholic spouse, lived with and kept alive for years a paranoid schizophrenic, including taking away from him knives and other weapons, and wrestling him and his demons in the public streets, and calling 911 for him, when my efforts failed and he tried to kill himself (more than once, on my watch), and then tried to make him a home, when he was declared again well by the government, the Mayo Clinic, and a psychiatrist he'd seen for more than 20 years.

On the face of your post and comment, and on the history of my own contravening experiences, respectfully, I believe very little of what you've posted to be, as some might say, empirically true.

And yet, I comment. I can only hope you will read.

"... In a phonecall today I heard pretty much the last thing/piece of evidence I need to make me realise that I need him to properly address his problems with alcohol. ..."

It's never going to be question of your needs for him to give up alcohol. He may, or may not choose, in the future to quit drinking, and as part of that choice, your relationship with him may be something he discovers to be a root problem. Getting you, and your needs out of his life, may be the path to his sobriety.

Do you wish him that well? Seriously, if you must walk away from him on his request or advice of professionals, today, or at some day in the near future, for his health, for his peace of mind, will you? Can you?

Here's what you've said about him (so you can read it, in isolation, for any truth it might contain):

"... He is a waste of space when hungover. ..."
"... I hate his drinking and do not feel ‘in love’ with him when he is drunk or hungover. ..."
"... After about 3 beers/half a bottle of wine (spirits not so bad but not his drink of choice) he becomes very unattractive to me. ..."
"... I have lost count of the times I have said to him that he always the most pissed person in the room. ..."
"... Then I burst into tears. It was the final straw. ..."

Uh, do you mean, in that last comment, the final straw, or the final one before you begin to ask the larger Internet for advice?

The most you can do, sometimes, for the most troubled among us, is not to pat their shoulders, and leave the room; it is, against all hope and will, to just leave the room.
posted by paulsc at 5:05 PM on February 23, 2013 [5 favorites]


Your boyfriend is seriously mentally ill. He clearly does not entirely accept his diagnosis or take it as seriously as a person with his sort of mental illness should, or else he would be doing everything within his power to stay sane, let alone sober.

I don't mean that to sound unkind, but how are you going to talk to him about his drinking? You seem to feel now that it's a rational thing that a rational discussion will remedy or at least affect. That's not how these things work. In the first place, he's an addict and his addiction is telling him that he's not an addict. His addiction is telling him that he loves drinking and that drinking takes the edge off and that he's not seriously further jeopardizing his health or sanity. Drugs and alcohol lie and he's believing the lie. In the second place, he's mentally ill, so his mental illness is telling him god knows what, but surely something along the lines of he's not crazy, everybody around him is crazy, including you, he's got control and he doesn't need you or anybody else sticking their nose in his business. Talking does fuck all in these situations, truthfully. FWIW, my brother is the same way. It wasn't until he lost everything - his marriage, his child, his job, his mind - that he finally accepted his illness and his addiction. It was then that he could finally begin the long, slow process of getting somewhat stable. And there is still no guarantee that he won't someday fall completely down the rabbit hole into madness. This is the reality for some people with psychosis; they hang on to sanity for a while until they go completely, irrevocably insane. Medication is no guarantee against this. Tell your boyfriend that if you'd like to talk to him about this.

What you could also say to him is that you're leaving and that you hope for the sake of holding onto his fragile sanity that he gets some help to stop self-medicating with alcohol. You can tell him that you love the good parts of him and you don't blame him for being mentally ill but that you're not going to live your life with somebody who isn't able to accept responsibility for themselves. Because truly? If he can't care enough about himself to stop exacerbating his serious mental illness with willfully and recklessly further altering his brain chemistry on a regular basis, there is no way in hell he will ever care properly for you as a serious, loved life partner, and you can just forget having children right now. Imagine this behavior with a newborn baby crying every hour and a half EVERY DAY FOR MONTHS for food while your boyfriend is passed out cold on the couch. What happens if you get sick? Who will you rely on?

I feel for you. You want the rules of many imperfect relationships to apply to your situation. Many people talk it out, go to therapy, one person quits doing X and the other person starts behaving Y, and things get better over time. I don't see this happening for you because your boyfriend does not accept the reality of his medical condition, let alone his alcoholism. This isn't a fixer-upper. It's been six years.

You deserve better. Cut all ties, wish him well, get therapy to figure out why you've spent six years with someone so desperately and completely ill, and find somebody who can love you without chaos and who will make your heart feel full of possibility rather than sadness and dread.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 5:11 PM on February 23, 2013 [11 favorites]


1) The medication/alcohol interaction is a problem.
2) The drinking as self-medication is a problem.
3) The not being able to stop after a few drinks is a problem.
4) The being utterly useless the day after is a problem.

I'm swimming against the flow here (except for dontjumplarry I guess), mostly because I am very familiar with #3 and #4 -- I am a complete "waste of space" when hungover (about 1x a month actually). If these incidents are really 1x a month (with an uptick over the holidays), then I'm not sure if fleeing immediately is your best course of action. Does he justify his hangovers or does he regret having had that much? In that case, there might be a way to come up with a plan to moderate his drinking. I know as my hangovers have worsened with age, I've learned tricks to slow down my roll when out drinking.

As for #1 or #2, IANAD but foxy_hedgehog seems to have really good advice.
posted by spamandkimchi at 5:57 PM on February 23, 2013


People with schizophrenia frequently abuse alcohol and other drugs, which tends to make their medication less effective. In other words, your boyfriend may be experiencing symptoms of his underlying mental illness that inhibits his ability to make good decisions. That's not to say that you need to put up with being treated as poorly as he treats you; no one deserves to be treated the way he treats you. But it does suggest another reason that talking with him is unlikely to be effective, just as it has been ineffective in the past.

If I were you, I would call his psychiatrist. The doctor will very likely be unable to talk about him with you because of medical privacy laws, but you may be able to tell the doctor that your boyfriend is abusing alcohol and that you fear he may be endangering his physical and mental health. Letting his medical treatment team know about his problem is likely the most effective way to help keep him safe. You cannot stop him from abusing alcohol, but you can alert qualified professionals that he is doing so in hopes that they can help protect him from harm.


I am quoting this because I think it is very, very good advice. I think you are right to be concerned about his drinking, not necessarily because he has a drinking problem but because alcohol is going to have a different effect on a person with his mental illness and his medication regime. In the US, prescription bottles have the name of the prescribing doctor on them; I don't know if that's the same in the UK, I'm sorry.

I don't know enough about his particular mental health diagnosis to know if it is good advice to speak with him about this first or if that might trigger some symptoms of paranoia. I'm sorry I can't advise you on that; I found these organizations that are in the UK that might be able to help. There is also this page on living with schizophrenia that includes links under "Who is available to help me?"

Keep in mind that just because this might be a symptom of his larger mental health concerns does not mean you have to accept it. After all is said and done, you may decide that you are going to end the relationship because you want to be with someone who better manages their mental health concerns; because you want to be with someone who shares more interests and hobbies with; or simply because being treated rottenly once a month is too often for you.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 6:03 PM on February 23, 2013 [4 favorites]


What would you do if you knew for sure that he would never stop drinking?

That's what you should do.
posted by medusa at 6:29 PM on February 23, 2013 [10 favorites]


I love him, we live together, we have a lot of shared history, we laugh a lot, he can be very kind.

This could be true about lots and lots and lots of men who aren't alcoholic schizophrenics, whom you don't have to babysit, whom you don't have to scold, whom you don't have to worry are going to die an alcoholic's death. Why are you spending your one, precious, finite life in this... caretaker's role?
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:05 PM on February 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


You might well feel that you need him to address his problems with drinking and believe that you simply need to find a way to frame this and have the right conversation.

May I suggest that you have already talked to him about his drinking. Further, nothing you can say or do will have the slightest effect on the type of behavior he is exhibiting.

His drinking is out of control. All I am absolutely sure of (based on forty years of knowing, working with and loving a lot of recovering alcoholics--as well as a lot who did not recover) is that once the drinking becomes this out of control, it does not ever get better. The only remedy is to stop completely and undertake a rigorous program of self-evaluation and maturation. As your BF also has mental health issues, it is all the more dangerous that he has crossed the line into alcohol abuse.

It is already too late for talking. You need to get yourself to an Al-Anon group and talk this out with the people you find there. Fortunately, this does not cost any money and it could save your peace of mind, your quality of life, your sanity and your life itself. His drinking is not not only outside of your control but also, every day you continue to stay with him and try to cope with it you are digging the grave of your hopes and dreams deeper and deeper.

Go to Al-Anon, tell them everything and follow their advice.

I wish you well. I know that alcoholics are lovable and understand that you love him. Please love him enough to stop enabling him.
posted by Anitanola at 7:22 PM on February 23, 2013


Sorry, heyjude. He is not "self-medicating." He is drinking.

That one phrase has done significant harm in the last decade. The phrase itself enables.
posted by megatherium at 8:11 PM on February 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


Megatherium - I take your point. However, I do believe in the validity of feeling compassion for someone's situation, hence the phrase - pain causes people to behave in untoward ways, such as binge drinking - but note that I did suggest that she should leave if she doesn't get what she wants (counselling/actual change in behaviour).

He's young, he has a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia, he has to take anti-psychotics. That sucks - how many people are going to deal with that perfectly? However, he's also in a relationship and he has to actively participate in it, particularly if his behaviour is hurting his partner.

OP - if you want to stay with him, counselling (actually for both of you). But if you're already over it all, just go now.
posted by heyjude at 9:36 PM on February 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


[I understand that this is complicated, and people have various thoughts and opinions, but folks need to avoid debating/chatting with each other about this and just address the OP and answer the question. Thanks.]
posted by taz at 12:52 AM on February 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


My brother is schizophrenic and (as of right now) a recovering alcoholic.

Your boyfriend is a time bomb in terms of his next psychotic episode. Binge drinking is like begging the psychosis to show up. He's said he drinks to mask certain thoughts, so the fuse on this bomb might be short.

I'm not trying to scare you; most mentally ill people aren't violent. But even if he's nonviolent when he's psychotic, do you know what to do? Do you know how to remove yourself from the situation and who to call to get him help?

In my mind there's no question that if you stay with him, you have to prepare for living with someone who is actively psychotic. That includes protecting your own safety first, followed by helping him if you're able. Sometimes that's calling his doctor, sometimes it's his family, sometimes it's the police.

He's actively sabotaging his own mental and physical health. This is not on you to fix, and you can't anyway. There is nothing you can do to save the relationship. I'm sorry. But you can save yourself by leaving. If you want to call his doctor or his family on the way out, it would be a kindness.

I wish you well. I know it's hard.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 3:44 AM on February 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


Thank you everyone.

i have had an open and honest conversation with my parents about this for the first time last night with my mum and this morning when i asked my dad to come over. They have also given me a lot of advice and posed a lot of questions.

I have now called my bf and told him that i can no longer continue as things are, that i will be staying with family members in another city indefinitely and commuting to work. I explained calmly all the reasons i am worried for us, him and for me, and said that whether we work things out or not, he needs to focus on getting to his doctor immediately to sort out a referral to counselling/alcohol worker with the priority being addressing his mental and physical health and then what he wants out of life on a longer term basis.

I have found an al anon meeting and will be attending this week.

I will mark this question as resolved/close it or whatever the correct way of dealing with an Ask is. Obviously i know that this is not 'resolved' either for me or him (regardless of whether we ultimately stay together) - we both have a lot to work on and will do for the coming future.

But to my original question of how to speak to him (and your extra insights and information points that you signposted) you have totally addressed that above and beyond what i expected and again i say a wholehearted and genuine thank you.
posted by moreteaplease at 4:46 AM on February 24, 2013 [6 favorites]


Hi, moreteaplease. I know you've marked this thread as resolved and I know that I likely repeat (and go against) some of the advice given here but I wanted to chime in here because I've been in this exact situation. I was madly in love with a man who I suspected was an alcoholic and though I do like to drink when all my responsibilities are taken care of, he took it to another level as your boyfriend seems to. He self medicated with alcohol, he ignored his mental health needs because of alcohol, he was frequently an embarrassment when he was drunk but never understood because to him, he was just drunk and having a good time.

You obviously need to set some very clear boundaries which it sounds like you've done. Good on you. Protect yourself and care for yourself here. You've cared for him long enough and you deserve some care now.

I will say, that I laid down a gauntlet and had a serious Come to Jesus with my boyfriend after a particularly disturbing incident and he gave up excessive drinking. I antimated that I would no longer be a part of his drinking -- it would not happen in my presence and I would not condone it if he told me about his drunken escapades. I gave him a timeline (which was advised against upthread) because he refused to concede that he had an issue with alcohol and I asked that we separate for 30 days so he could examine his relationship with booze and with me. We did not speak or see each other for those 30 days and he did not have a single drink for those 30 days. During that time, his issues became apparent to him and he turned himself around completely.

In the end we still split (though not because of his drinking) but I wanted you to know that all hope is not lost here. Though your love clearly has an issue with alcohol, perhaps the one he loves most pointing it out very firmly and with boundaries attached will help him. My establishing very clearly that line with my former partner did wonders for his life then and he recognized the issue because he was forced to and sought the help he needed, something he likely would not have done if I'd have kept going along without saying anything. I'm not saying that I was the reason he got well (nor that you are the reason your love might get well if he does) because in the end, he had to want to do it for himself, but I am saying that it might just work out for you, too.

Thoughts to you. Feel free to memail me if you just want to chat about this or need some encouragement. You did the right thing for him and more importantly, for you.
posted by youandiandaflame at 5:44 AM on February 24, 2013


He has more issues than a drinking problem. As suggested above, his meds and psychological condition are kicking his ass.

I believe self-medication is complicating his condition. Please call his doctor and explain to him what you more or less explained to us: but keep in mind that your discussion with his doctor is about him, not you, except that you are being put in an unworkable situation. If his drinking can be brought under control, it seems like your relationship is workable. Clearly his life is in the toilet right now, and also, clearly, you aren't the one to turn it around for him. This isn't a reflection on you--you wouldn't be expected to remove an inflamed appendix, for example.

Your attempts to deal with this with him have been fruitless. Alerting his doctor is the next-best thing you can do for him now. I hold small expectations that his doctor will give you useful advice, but you never know. After your discussion with his doctor, you may need to make some choices about continuing the relationship. You cannot rely on his (your BF) assent or approval for these decisions. If you must separate, it's up to you to move out, not to make him move out. (I guess that's up for grabs--for example, if you own the house. The working premise here is that your actions belong to you, and shouldn't be predicated on what he can be convinced to do.)

Your conversation with him probably won't cover any ground that you've already covered. For it to be productive, you could try to make sure that you aren't using it as a venting session. That's a problem, considering the tender issues involved, but under the circumstances venting seems counter-productive. He's not evil. Hes sick. He won't get better until things are changed, and even then the row he'll have to hoe is going to be a tough one. It's possible, perhaps, that you can be a part of his recovery process, but this isn't something you want to try to direct yourself.

Good luck.
posted by mule98J at 8:47 AM on February 24, 2013


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