How to encourage my boyfriend to work on his drinking problem?
February 8, 2010 9:25 PM   Subscribe

Boyfriend is a problem drinker - but not necessarily an alcoholic. What can I do to help him? And how do I protect myself here?

My boyfriend and I are in a loving, committed relationship. We rarely fight and our relationship is pleasant and drama-free. He's a really good guy. Until he starts drinking.

There have been several instances in which he has gone totally overboard in terms of speed and quantity. It doesn't happen every time there's alcohol around, and he doesn't drink daily. But if there is some sort of celebration, or birthday, or sporting event, or some occasion where there's unlimited alcohol, he WILL be bombed. He won't get tipsy, or just nicely buzzed. Or even "normal" drunk. He will be obliterated and totally unmanageable.

Recently, we went to dinner and a dive bar to celebrate my friend's birthday. He drank several glasses of wine at dinner, and had about five 32 oz beers at the bar afterward. In the past, he's asked me to let him know when he's had too much to drink. So when I spotted him with a SIXTH beer, I said with a smile "Nuh uhhh, I think you are done, sir!" and calmly took the beer from him. At this point he was slurring and stumbling. Of course, this was not well received. He threw a tantrum, accused me of trying to ruin his good time, and demanded that we leave the party immediately, because he was now forbidden from drinking. When I explained that I'd still like to stay because I was enjoying my friends, he stormed out. He eventually returned, and we left the party because he was starting to embarrass me. I was a bit drunk myself, but what happened afterward was quite sobering.

During our cab ride back to his place, he tried repeatedly to pick another fight. I told him I didn't feel like fighting, I just wanted to go home and sleep and we'd talk in the morning. He responded to this by telling me to get out of the cab and not go home with him. I told him that I was done with his behavior, couldn't do this anymore, and promptly left.

There is no talking to him when he is in this state. He is nonsensical, illogical, irrational, and mean. He is pushy, instigating, and obnoxious. He teeters between desperate melodrama ("WHY DON'T YOU LOVE ME? WHAT DID I DO WRONG?") and extreme hatefulness ("F-YOU, BITCH. GO DATE SOMEONE ELSE.") It is disturbing and hurtful, even though I know he doesn't mean what he says. And the next day? He doesn't remember a thing. He is extremely apologetic, weepy, embarrassed, confused -- and begs me and pleads with me not to break up with him. Agrees that things got way out of hand. Promises it won't happen again. He'll be on his best behavior for awhile, and of course, the next time there's a birthday or an open bar, he loses control again.

This time, however, I told him that if he didn't seek counseling and seriously work on this, I could no longer be in this relationship. He agreed that this wasn't fair to me, that he should talk to someone about this, and that he had a problem with drinking. He said he didn't know why he lacked an off switch, and it was starting to worry him. I referred him to some counseling resources, which he has yet to use.

I want to make it clear that this isn't a moral issue. I enjoy going out and drinking with friends too, and I have no problem with being drunk myself. I just know when I've had enough, which he doesn't seem to be able to see. There is also a history of addiction in his family, and I worry that he's headed in that direction.

Is there anything else I can do to help him? And how can I make it clear now that I won't tolerate this behavior anymore, after a looong time of putting up with it and ultimately forgiving him? I feel stepped on and weak, and sometimes downright stupid for allowing it to happen time and time again with no real repercussions for him. I realize this hasn't helped him, and it's been to my detriment as well. How can I put my foot down now?
posted by blackcatcuriouser to Human Relations (41 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: I realize there are a few questions within my post and this may be confusing. General advice is welcome. Thanks all.
posted by blackcatcuriouser at 9:35 PM on February 8, 2010

Best answer: This is not your problem, it's his and he ultimately has to find a solution to it: be that quit drinking altogether or get counseling or something else. HE needs to take those steps to deal with his own self.

Your problem is to deal with the repercussions the behavior has on you and to figure out if you still want to be in a relationship with this guy or not. You can't fix him, you can't make him fix himself. the best you can do is clearly communicate your boundaries and your feelings to him. Don't let that get mixed up with him dealing with his own issue.
posted by fshgrl at 9:36 PM on February 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

From your description it sounds like he is an alcoholic.
posted by dfriedman at 9:42 PM on February 8, 2010 [20 favorites]

He's a drunk and you're in denial. You both need help and a support structure.
posted by ged at 9:45 PM on February 8, 2010 [4 favorites]

Sorry to say but your boyfriend IS an alcoholic. People don't need to drink everyday to be classified as an alcoholic. Life with him will not get better but will only get worse until he chooses to get help (a tough sell when people don't really think they have a problem). Read this.
posted by MsKim at 9:48 PM on February 8, 2010 [5 favorites]

The classic recommendation in this situation is Al-Anon. But basically, you need to do whatever is necessary to come to the conclusion that his alcohol problem (whether you want to call it alcoholism or not) is not under your control, and that there's nothing you can do that will get him better. All you can do is decide whether and how you're going to deal with him.
posted by decathecting at 9:52 PM on February 8, 2010

"Problem drinkers" are alcoholics. They're one and the same.
posted by squorch at 9:54 PM on February 8, 2010

Response by poster: This really resonated with me, minus the stuff about being a nag:

Whether it's classic alcoholism, or binge drinking, or a drinking problem, I know it requires intervention and help. I know there's a dependency there. I know he has a problem, whether he fits all the clinical criteria for alcoholism or not. I'm just having trouble figuring out my role in all of this.
posted by blackcatcuriouser at 9:56 PM on February 8, 2010

Best answer: Alcoholics come in lots of flavors. "problem drinker" is one of those flavors. If alcohol turns him into a vile beast, and he has difficulty preventing this with some frequency, then he's an alcoholic. He needs to acknowledge this fact and get help for it.
posted by Jon_Evil at 9:56 PM on February 8, 2010 [6 favorites]

I'm just having trouble figuring out my role in all of this.

Your role is to protect yourself. That means setting boundaries and sticking by them. Based on the questions in your last paragraph, it sounds as though you may need some help learning how to do that, which is totally fine. There's a lot of help out there for you in the form of Al-Anon, therapy, support from your loved ones, etc. But that is your role. You need to protect yourself, because as long as he's drinking, he absolutely never will. And there's nothing that you can do to get him to stop drinking.
posted by decathecting at 9:58 PM on February 8, 2010 [3 favorites]

He will not learn an off switch. He will slowly lose his ability to not switch on his on switch. He will drink more often and with the same results. Some people, addicts, cannot drink in moderation or with limits. It is either on or off. His hope is that he learns this and chooses off. If a big part of your relationship is having a good time drinking in moderation, forget it. THe relationship is doomed. If you have a relationship that flourishes even without alcohol, you two can have a terrific long term relationship.

I see no reason to classify him as either an alcoholic or not. Labels are meaningless. He has a track record of not being able to handle his drinking. Your statement about a history of alcoholism in his family and his actions leads me to believe he has an addictive personality which he does not have willpower over yet.

I would hold to your threat to leave the relationship if he does not address the issue. Soon.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:04 PM on February 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

ged's right - he's a drunk. And a horrid one to boot.

It seems like every time I read a post where somewhere has "a problem" drinking, it's followed by some rationalization that this isn't alcoholism, and descriptions of ultimatums (à la "I told him that I was done with his behavior, couldn't do this anymore . . .") which are never followed up on, and are thus fundamentally dishonest. That's enabling behavior, for which you need some help.

Your boyfriend can't control himself around unlimited liquor. He drinks to grotesque excess (several glasses of wine and roughly a gallon-and-a-half of beer?) He picks fights. He's abusive and manipulative. He can't remember a thing the next day. He doesn't follow through with promises.

Personally, I'd break it off and wouldn't let him through the door again until he's shown a long period of therapy, involvement in AA and total abstinence from alcohol. And I'd probably drastically slow my own drinking as well. This may very well mean that you or he will have moved on before it happens, so don't sit around waiting for him either. This is the only real option - this guy's never going to "manage" his alcoholism until he stops drinking.

And how can I make it clear now that I won't tolerate this behavior anymore, after a looong time of putting up with it and ultimately forgiving him?

Few questions are as easy to answer as this one. Simply quit tolerating it, without the whining and "discussion" and threats. Drop him and move on.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 10:05 PM on February 8, 2010 [3 favorites]

Best answer: You, your boyfriend, booze: three things that can't be in the same situation together at the same time.

First, you don't need to drink every day to be an alcoholic. The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence defines alcoholism as "a primary, chronic disease characterized by impaired control over drinking, preoccupation with the drug alcohol, use of alcohol despite adverse consequences, and distortions in thinking". I suppose "preoccupation" is a little strong here, but the "despite adverse consequences" part rings true.

You said that he asked you to stop him if he'd had too much, but the person he was when you guys made that agreement and the person he becomes after a lot of drinking are not the same. Alcohol impairs his ability to be reasonable and makes him treat you like crap; therefore, you cannot be around him when he's had even a little bit to drink. I mean, geez, if I knew my partner completely lost his mind around, say, the ocean, then we would not be going to the beach together, not even a little bit. Not even like "just the sand, and then we'll go home". No ocean!

I realize you two probably have mutual friends whose parties you go to, where there's booze. I don't mean to suggest that you become a shut-in while your boyfriend continues to go get drunk. I mean that the times you two can choose to drink together or not should be dry. Also, this is probably going to require some radical lifestyle changes on his part: if your friends are anything like mine, there's a fair amount of drinkin' at most social gatherings. If he can't go and not drink (not one drink, I mean NO DRINKS), then he can't go at all.

And last, tell him explicitly how high the stakes are: "Boyfriend, when you drink, you become unreasonable and treat me like crap. If you don't seek treatment by [some date], I am leaving this relationship". His drinking isn't a small problem in an otherwise great relationship; it's a disease that will eventually destroy both of you.
posted by guybrush_threepwood at 10:06 PM on February 8, 2010 [5 favorites]


In grown-up world, people are accountable for their words and actions. Yes, even while drunk. Stick to your guns. He should be mortified that he ever said this to you, if it takes more than that to convince him, well what else is there??
posted by hermitosis at 10:11 PM on February 8, 2010 [15 favorites]

Best answer: What it boils down to is that your boyfriend is a terrible drunk and so he has to give up getting drunk. Whether he has to give up drinking depends on whether he can consistently drink without getting drunk. This means stopping before you've got "a nice buzz on" or whatever, this means stopping at a few drinks and that's it. If he can't do that then he needs to quit drinking altogether. It's never a bad idea to stop an indulgent behavior entirely for a while if you want to get a measure of its hold on you: if you can't that's a very potent indication that you might have a real problem (though succeeding is not a guarantee that you don't). He should try doing some of these events sober: staying sober in a venue where everyone else is getting some sort of high or another can be a very enlightening experience. You might try it yourself: give him some moral support. Getting drunk is one of the most overrated experiences imaginable.
posted by nanojath at 10:35 PM on February 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Whether or not your boyfriend is an alcoholic is actually secondary to the fact that he is abusive to you. The why doesn't matter-the drinking is not an excuse. It's easier to think 'he's not like that when he's sober' but... the guy you think is so loving and kind is the same guy who's hateful and mean to you. If he acted like that all the time, you'd leave him flat- right? So how is it acceptable that he 'only' does it when he drinks?

You've got to a great start - telling him to get counseling or you'll end it. If it were me, I'd insist on a '6 months, no contact, you go to counseling and then we'll see.' In the meantime, Al Anon is a great place to find support and see how other people in the same situation deal with it.

It's a really shitty situation that you're in, and I'm sorry you're dealing with it. I wish you strength and hope you realize you don't have to be treated like this. (And your boyfriend realizes he doesn't have to live this way.)

Good luck.
posted by Space Kitty at 10:55 PM on February 8, 2010 [3 favorites]


Out of the mouths of drunks.

Take him at his word. Your "role" is to provide him with a learning experience about consequences.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 11:18 PM on February 8, 2010 [3 favorites]

Maybe filming him (surreptitiously, with a cellphone cam) while he's being like that will help as a wake up call? It's one thing to hear about it from you and another thing actually seeing himself in brutal clarity doing that.
posted by Omnomnom at 11:31 PM on February 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

I would record him saying these kinds of things. When he is really, really apologetic I would get an agreement to sit through the tape three times. You can stay for the first since it will be known to you and won't be as hard to hear the first time, it will still be really hard.

I don't say this because I think it will help him. I say this only because when you see how deeply embarrassed he is and how very apologetic, it will be easier to leave him the next time it happens. Because it is far, far more likely that no intervention or good intention of yours can turn this man round. Sorry. But the above activity is purely for your benefit as you clearly don't want to face the obvious. Your alternative is to accept that every X, Y and Z time you will be subjected to this kind of verbal abuse that may in time escalate to physical abuse. I'm sorry you're going through this, it's horrible when you've clearly invested so much in this relationship. But be good to yourself.
posted by Wilder at 11:33 PM on February 8, 2010 [4 favorites]

He's an alcoholic and you're being a codependent. Sorry if that's harsh to hear, but it appears to be true from what you've written and from my experience.

I cut all contact with an ex who displayed similar drinking behavior during the relationship and, after the break-up, took a shot of whiskey with a group of friends and proceeded to tell me to "shut my f*cking c*nt mouth" and "find someone else to eat [my] bullsh*t" when I offered him a ride home. If I were your friend and you witnessed that, what advice would you have for me? It was the absolute line for me; I just wish I'd crossed it earlier because his inability to control himself while drinking was not my problem. Likewise, your boyfriend's inability to control himself is not your problem to fix, and it's in fact harming you. I think you should protect yourself by telling him that the relationship is suspended indefinitely until he gets the help he needs, and (although it's not a moral judgment) you won't be drinking with him anymore because you need to protect yourself.

I believe that what comes from the mouths of drunks comes from authentic subconscious feelings. So "F-YOU, BITCH. GO DATE SOMEONE ELSE" to me indicates problems (at least in his mind) other than just the drinking.

In addition to laying down the law about his own recuperation, I hope you'll attend a session or two of your own to learn about codependency and the comfort that can be drawn from fixing other people's problems before taking good care of yourself.

Good luck.
posted by motsque at 12:06 AM on February 9, 2010 [2 favorites]

The main problem to me is that your boyfriend knows he treats you like crap when he drinks all out but he still drinks. He might be the nicest guy otherwise but drinking is still more important to him than you. Maybe he's self medicating or blowing off all the stress he's built up since the last time but he's taking it out on you.
He's bad at drinking. He needs to stop and get a handle on it. If there's unlimited alcohol, he need to stay sober or not go. I don't know if counseling will help him. I hope so but I had a friend go to the bar right after watching the "car wrecks & carnage caused by drunks" film. AA doesn't wave a magic wand. You can't control his behavior, only yours. Tell him he has one shot to prove you matter more than getting wasted. If he starts treating you badly again, you need to walk for the good of the both of you.
posted by stray thoughts at 12:39 AM on February 9, 2010 [5 favorites]

stray thoughts said:
"The main problem [...] is that your boyfriend knows he treats you like crap when he drinks all out but he still drinks."

Keep this in your head. I know others above said similar things, but this is a perfect boil-down of the central issue.

Tell him this, even. Just like how it's said above.

If you can stomach putting up with it one more time, sure, do the filming thing (surreptitiously, and go home immediately after you capture whatever will put him face to face with what he's denying), but it's better to just tell him you won't go through it again, you'll be supportive in whatever way you can in whatever process he chooses to break free of this compulsion (or whatever it is), but that it's up to him to make the choice: you or getting his beast on. If he picks the latter, leave him to it and move on.
posted by batmonkey at 1:09 AM on February 9, 2010 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I can't see that talking about alcoholism is going to be helpful; probably very much the reverse.

I think this is a case of the old problem that the person has perfectly reasonable views about drinking - but the time when you need those views to be implemented is when they're least able to do it - after they've already had a few.

Don't waste your time arguing with someone who's already drunk, just manage that phase as best you can. You need to get in while he's in the repentant, hung-over phase and in a non-judgemental way try to agree some strategies. Instead of thinking 'those bastards are telling me I can't have a drink - at a party! Screw them' he needs to cultivate the subconscious attitude 'those bastards are telling me I can't stop. Well I'll show them'. Then he might just be able to use the truculence of the drunken self to help draw a line. But of course, different things work for different people.
posted by Phanx at 2:07 AM on February 9, 2010 [2 favorites]

I see myself in your boyfriend. For years and years I was that miserable drunk, ruining everyone else's buzz and fun, obnoxious and hateful. You see, the universe revolved around me. When drunk, I HAD to have my way, and more booze. There was never enough. Eventually, I ran off all my friends, alienated my wife and family, and became a recluse, drinking alone.

Rarely do ultimatum's work. For me, I had to convince myself there was a more powerful reason not to drink. I realized I was crossing lines and verging on being abusive. I didn't see myself as THAT person. Other alcoholics I have met and worked with over the years share similar experiences of hopelessness. It sometimes takes years after an alcoholic realizes the state they are in before they finally get help. The drug is simply too powerful. You hope that turning point will come, but you cannot count on it.

If you are fortunate and your boyfriend does reach a turning point, realize the next nightmare is only beginning. Rehab is not pretty. It is demeaning, degrading, dehumanizing, and in my case, absolutely necessary and a life saver.

You have some serious questions to ask yourself. Are you really in this relationship for the long haul, no matter what? Are you willing to accept the potential for physical abuse as well as the mental and emotional abuse you are already experiencing? Are you willing to put down the bottle yourself if needed to help him? Are you willing to work at your own recovery so that you can be stronger for the relationship? Is he worth it? The easy thing to do is turn and run, cry some over lost potential yes, but get the hell away from the drama. It is really, really hard to make this work. Recovery is a life changing, ever evolving process, that takes forever.

You asked what you can do to help. Realize that quitting drinking will probably be the single largest change your boyfriend makes in himself his entire life, and will also be a huge change in the dynamic you two have as a couple. That means your life is going to change dramatically too. Be prepared for that.

Know that he will have tough times, especially in the beginning. There will be times that he is hurting like he just had teeth pulled with no sedative. Be there with him to help him sit on his hands, and hurt with him. He may relapse. Once. Twice. Maybe he'll go on a week long binge. If you have enough invested in your relationship with him, know that there isn't a thing you can do except to be there with him when he tries sobriety again.

Your boyfriend may replace going to bars with going to meetings, so you may not see him much. Realize that he will be hanging with a whole new crowd, also drunks, but recovering drunks. Avoid the temptation to be jealous of the people who now dominate his time, and the fact that you don't know any of these people.

If your boyfriend does become willing to give rehab and/or AA a try, and if he enjoys some short-term success with sobriety... let's say 90 days... he may find that AA becomes his new motivation, his new social network. If, like me, he finds exactly what he needs in AA, he may jump into AA with both feet. Be prepared for him not to be around, to be at meetings instead. You may find yourself at Al-Anon meetings as well.

I attended meetings at least six days a week, sometimes twice on weekends. I became interested in volunteering in the AA community. I conducted AA meetings. I helped out at treatment centers. I participated in 12th step interventions. I attended district and regional AA conferences. Simply put, the time I put into AA replaced all the time that I drank. Your boyfriend may not be like that, but it is common with recovering alcoholics. They need something new to replace their addiction. Are you prepared for this?

Most of all, if he chooses recovery and a sober life with you, what you can do to help is accept that what is, is. Acceptance is the answer to all of his, and your problems today. "When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing, or situation—some fact of my life—unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing, or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment." — AA Big Book

My thoughts are with you. I wish you the very best. Alcoholism is unfortunately a family disease. If you decide to stick all these possibilities out, know that there is help out there. Conversely, no one will blame you one bit if you decide to bail on this future. Whatever you decide, please feel free to contact me. My email is in my profile. Best wishes to you, and your boyfriend.
posted by netbros at 3:26 AM on February 9, 2010 [10 favorites]

This all boils down to a very binary question: your boyfriend either is, or is not, willing to stop drinking entirely. If he is, you can have a happy relationship with him. If he insists on continuing to drink, then you have no chance at a happy relationship. That's really it. You can't manage his drinking for him. You can't learn to live with his bad behavior. You can't reform him by 'putting your foot down.' You can't love him enough to make this all better; it is totally up to him.

Sadly, it seems very unlikely that he's ready to stop drinking. You know all those twelve step-type stories where people talk about "hitting bottom," the point at which an addict becomes willing to change? It sounds to me like he's got a considerable distance to fall before he hits. The fall will be no fun at all, and you can't catch him; all you can do is decide whether you want to be squished between him and the pavement.
posted by jon1270 at 3:50 AM on February 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Netbros is absolutely right. I wouldn't put myself in with the DTMF crowd. You don't sound like you're in co-dependence to me really. You sound like a person who's genuinely attached to this fellow who's been given two really hard choices: 1) leave this sweet, charming, drama-free guy who you love, or 2) stick with this abusive alcoholic.

I side with Netbros in reiterating that there's a third choice here, but I'd read and reread his description of how life-altering and serious that third option is. Recovery from alcoholism can work, and eventually, if your boyfriend is going to make it through this problem, recovery is what will work. I don't think there's an alternative. The first step of the 12 is the acceptance that your boyfriend is powerless over alcohol. Turn over the implications of that for a moment. That admission means he can't work through this problem, only surrender his will to a Power great enough to overcome it for him.

If you or your boyfriend are like me, you're not religious people, and reading over the 12 steps makes you deeply uncomfortable. They seem irrational, cultish, and kind of pathetic. They herald a change in attitude larger than you might be willing to make. All of this seems self-evident to me. And yet they work.

For you, some books might actually be helpful at this point. I thought Dry by Augusten Burroughs was a wonderful read - eye-opening, skeptical enough to be relatable, humble enough to be genuine. America Anonymous by Benoit Denizet-Lewis was decent as well. And if you can hack it, Infinite Jest is overflowing with moments of impossible insight.

The most difficult reality for you right now might be that nobody sees himself as that person until recovery opens his eyes. Your boyfriend - with his patchy memories of having said or done a couple ridiculous things - clearly doesn't recognize himself as that person. He thinks - and without intervention will think, for a long time - that this is a bad habit, something he has to keep an eye on. You might or might not be able to help trigger his recovery.

If you can't, if your best efforts to show him how serious this is and how powerless he is fail, then walk away. If all this sounds like too much for you to take on, please walk away now. I'm so sorry you're having to grapple with this.
posted by grrarrgh00 at 5:27 AM on February 9, 2010

I'm surprised you waited until 3 glasses of wine and 1.25 gallons of beer before you said anything, and unsuprised that a belligerent drunk didn't take your suggestion well. Maybe it would help to bring up the idea that he's setting himself up to be a lousy belligerent drunk, while he's still sober enough to know that this is not what he wants. On the other hand, maybe it wouldn't help - I know alcoholism is more complicated than that.
posted by aimedwander at 5:58 AM on February 9, 2010

I'm a little distressed at the vehemence with which some folks here seem to be suggesting that while your boyfriend's problem is not your responsibility, how you've been treated is somehow your fault. That you're codependent, or stupid, or a dupe.

I'd suggest that while there is no binary test for drinker/alcoholic, there is also no moment when you should have already known this would develop into a problem. This is that moment, and those times that came before are not something you should beat yourself up about, or feel badly about. Your responsibility to yourself does start now, now that you have a clear vision of the problem here. Best of luck.
posted by OmieWise at 6:27 AM on February 9, 2010 [5 favorites]

Best answer: The way you put your foot down is to just do it.

I don't think it's always useful tactic, personally-in-my-experience, to talk about "drinking" in general, because it's so easy for him to bring up the zillion times that you guys have two beers with dinner and there's no problem behavior.

But bring it up the problem drinking again. Sober, of course. "We need to talk about your drinking at that party, boyfriend. It's still bothering me, a lot. You said horrible things, you were utterly out of control, it's not the first time, and honestly, no sane person would put up with a boyfriend that talks to her like that. What is wrong with you, or us, that you would get that drunk? Repeatedly?"

And then you remind him of the counseling services. Again. Good luck.
posted by desuetude at 6:39 AM on February 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Is there a compelling non-religious alternative to AA? A "greater power" will not be giving me strength because there is no such thing. I'm offended that participating in a delusion is a major aspect of the most effective and widespread treatment for alcoholics. There is no doubt that AA is effective for a lot of people, and it may be a good recommendation for this asker, but surely there is an analogue that isn't mono-theism/religion heavy.
posted by fuq at 6:43 AM on February 9, 2010

blackcatcuriouser, you mentioned that some sort of intervention is needed. You've already started to intervene by saying that you would leave if he did not seek counseling. All you need to do is to set a deadline, with the stipulation that you are there for support and will be there.

Define your involvement, stick to it, and prepare yourself for whatever you may need to do.
posted by mikeh at 6:52 AM on February 9, 2010

Best answer: My ex-boyfriend was very much the way you describe your boyfriend--he would have what I called "episodes." They sometimes involved verbal abuse and sometimes involved punching people at parties. They would always involve weeping and promises to never drink again, while cuddling on a bed the next day.

I stuck with him for a long time. Off and on for five years, in fact. I tried to rationalize accepting his behavior. When it got too bad (in one really, really, really bad episode, he tried to push me into traffic, and then had to be wrestled to the ground of a subway station so he'd stop trying to attack people), I gave him an ultimatum: stay with me and never drink again, or drink again and be alone. He chose the former, but that lasted a few weeks. He started to drink in secret. Then he'd throw it in my face during a fight. I did not break up with him. I rationalized. I tried to accept. I made myself believe it was his problem and not my problem. He got so bold as to drink in front of me again. I tried not to care. I cared. I told myself that he was troubled and just needed someone who would never abandon him even if he practically begged to be abandoned with his actions. He blamed his drinking on childhood woes, current stress, anything. I made myself believe him and sympathize with him. Every time there was an episode, I tried so hard to believe him the next day when he promised he'd never drink again, even though he had broken that promise so many times before.

Eventually I did at least get him to go to therapy, but it didn't last.

We broke up for real almost exactly one year ago. When I think about how I rationalized his alcoholism, I am embarrassed and wish I had broken up with him sooner. But it's hard. I loved him very much. When we broke up, though, I was so relieved, because I no longer had the constant stress of being vigilant for the next episode. I no longer worried he'd get too drunk while out with his enabling friends and wake up in a gutter somewhere, or in jail. That's when I realized that it WAS my problem. Only once we broke up was it not.

I think the "episode" kind of alcoholic is harder to leave than the kind that drinks more regularly. This kind tricks you into thinking he's not an alcoholic, because sometimes he seems like he isn't one. But he is.
posted by millipede at 7:41 AM on February 9, 2010 [8 favorites]

fuq, some people choose hot air balloons as their "higher power." It still works.

Other people realize the disease/addiction itself is a "higher power" (has more power over them than they have). This can also work.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:41 AM on February 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Ultimatums don't work

Well, they don't work when you don't back them up with action. If you say you're going to leave him if he does it again, you need to be prepared to back it up. No more chances, no waiting, get your stuff and go.
posted by mattholomew at 9:16 AM on February 9, 2010

Best answer: There is no wrong answer here except "do nothing and hope it goes away."

You have some difficult decisions to make, but they are largely contingent on your boyfriend's decision. This is your first lesson in alcoholism: there are some things that you cannot control, and that's okay.

Your boyfriend sounds like he still really enjoys drinking. It is a sad fact that many, many, many alcoholics will choose drinking over other people. I can't stress how important it is to not take this personally. To us alcoholics, a threat to our alcoholism is just a threat - whether it is a person, a job, or a six lane highway. When you tell him that he has to choose between you or abusing alcohol, it is entirely possible that he will choose to continue abusing alcohol. In that case, he has made the choice.

There is no way to become a loving, supportive partner to an alcoholic. Alcoholism is a partnership between the alcoholic and alcohol. Everyone else is just a survivor, a victim or a future victim. You CAN survive this, and so can he and there are a lot of ways to do so. But whether you're reading the first of the twelve steps, or just desperate not to ruin your life any more, the process is the same: you have to admit you have a problem and that it is fucking up your life.

But if he is interested in cleaning up his act, there are a couple things you can do. First, you're going to have to take a look at your drinking. How does that play into his drinking? Do you drink as much as he does? Do your social activities revolve primarily around drinking? (Any alcoholic will tell you that the answer to this one is almost guaranteed to be an emphatic "yes" but it is something that a NONalcoholic will probably never notice until they're asked to start looking for it.) Do you know the medically acceptable levels of alcohol consumption? Can and do you adhere to them?

Then consider what you are willing to do to help him. Would you keep peanuts in the house if your partner were allergic to them? Would you ask your partner to accompany you to a peanut butter festival? Would you rave about how delicious Reese's Pieces are in front of them? Are you willing to help protect him from those types of triggers that can and will come up? Are you willing to abstain from drinking? Partly? Totally? (This is a big deal for me. I can't kiss someone who has been drinking because the taste of alcohol on someone's breath turns me into a quivering mess.) Will you attend meetings with him (anyone is welcome to attend an open meeting of AA)? Are you willing to go to meetings of your own to better understand alcoholism (AlAnon)? Are you willing to accept that one form of recovery may work better for your boyfriend than another form? Are you willing to let him try and fail? Are you willing to stand firm in your conviction that his drinking is making you miserable?

I wish you the best of luck, blackcatcuriouser. There are a ton of resources available, including a number of MeFites like myself who are happy to offer insight and support if and when you need it.
posted by greekphilosophy at 9:42 AM on February 9, 2010 [4 favorites]

Time to by some Ben & Jerey's. Sorry, it's really the only thing to do. Odds are your heart will be broken, sooner or later (more likely sooner) in one way or another. It's not worth it.

Once upon a time, I was involved with an amazing and fabulous guy. Brilliant and talented. Truly, one of the most remarkable humans I'd ever known. Except for the drinking.

This guy isn't your husband. You don't even live together. Be thankful, and move on. Otherwise, the next phase is where he manages to make you feel it's your fault he's drinking. Or your fault he drinks too much. Or your fault the sun never rises in the west.

Personally, I don't buy in to all that AA has to say on the matter, nor do I believe they are the right solution for all drinking issues, and especially not right for all drunks. It works for many, it fails many. You're not responsible for finding his solution.

Al-anon has a lot to offer, but unless you're going to stay with this guy while he's drinking, you don't need to make a big deal of Al-anon. Folks there will have things to say that essentially will be much the same as in this thread. If your next boyfriend is another drunk, you may want to spend some time figuring out why, and Al-anon will help.
posted by Goofyy at 10:02 AM on February 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

A "greater power" will not be giving me strength because there is no such thing.

Some people use the collective experience/strength/hope of the people who've gotten and stayed clean. It just needs to not be you own best thinking, since it hasn't worked so well so far.

Al-anon may or may not be useful to you, but its mantra, if it has such a thing, is useful to me in all sorts of situations:

You didn't cause it. You can't control it. You can't cure it.

The "it" may vary.
posted by small_ruminant at 1:01 PM on February 9, 2010

He will be obliterated and totally unmanageable

I agree with what others have said about codependency. Grown ups don't manage grown ups.
posted by y6t5r4e3w2q1 at 6:05 PM on February 9, 2010

Best answer: No need to label what he does as this disease or another.

He has a problem controlling his drinking. Doesn't matter what the cause is, he needs to find a way to control it.

The idea of giving up one's vice forever is terrifying. He needs some kind of counseling to be able to cope with it. My counseling consisted of listening to a radio program where the host was honest about his struggles with alcohol, and watching nypd blue. Seriously- there was lots of real in the Sipowitz character.

(Sacrilegious advice: giving up booze "forever" may not be the solution for everyone. If the problem is not booze, but of self control, then "white knuckling" it doesn't solve the problem. When the person learns self control, then alcohol may stop being an issue.)
posted by gjc at 5:40 AM on February 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: He's in therapy and he's been doing great at cutting back so far. Thanks everyone.
posted by blackcatcuriouser at 1:17 PM on March 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Good news.
posted by OmieWise at 5:20 AM on March 2, 2010

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