Help me help myself and my alcoholic girlfriend.
May 25, 2010 12:46 PM   Subscribe

Help me help myself and my alcoholic girlfriend.

My girlfriend and I have been together for a little over five years. We're both 28. She's been a daily drinker since I've known her (I'm a one beer most days guy myself), and during the early years she'd reach a point every few months where she basically turns into a monster for a night. She'll do just about anything, she'll say the most horribly hurtful things, she basically doesn't resemble her nurturing and mild-mannered self. The next day she has little to no memory of the event and crushing remorse for what she's done. Usually she'd stop drinking for a few days, then it'd be a glass of wine, then two, until a few months later it'd be time for another night with the monster.

After a few particularly terrible incidents, I told her that she had to seek help about a year and a half ago. She did go to an outpatient counseling service, but it seemed like they were used to dealing with the rock bottom crowd and were unable to deal with her. They basically told her she could moderate, or cease drinking forever, but they weren't convinced she had to cease drinking forever and so of course neither was she.

She started seeing a "regular" counselor after that, and also started taking anti-depressants, and for about a year things were OK. She'd have her glass or two of wine, a scotch or two on weekends, and she kept in control...until last night.

She had the day off yesterday, and had a few drinks before I came home. A relatively minor argument about our sex life apparently set her off, and she left the house. I found her almost three hours later, went to go and bring her home, and found her leaving the bar with her arms around another guy. During some strong discussion with said guy, she left and went home.

This morning, I told her it has become unhealthy for me to be in a relationship where this is happening even occasionally, and that our relationship was over. She was absolutely devastated, because she doesn't even fully remember what she did or why. She said she is willing to do whatever it takes to get treatment and continue our relationship. I told her that at this point that's just not possible for me. She said she wants to get treatment anyway. She initiated the treatment conversation in this instance, which was a change.

We've lived together for 4 years. I'm going to be moving out as soon as it's feasible to do so, and she's going to stay here for the time being. She comes from a pretty fucked up family situation where displays of weakness are often used against her in the future. She's incredibly ashamed and doesn't have any close friends that she feels like she can tell about this right now. She's an awesome person when she's sober (or not "monster drunk" for that matter) and that's probably the only issue I would say has stood between us and a relatively healthy relationship.

So, here are my questions:

What is the best type of treatment and/or therapy for someone who is this "type" of alcoholic?

Is it a benefit or a detriment for me to support her emotionally while she is starting treatment?

Is it reasonable for either of us to think that we could separate, physically and as a couple, while she gets treatment, and then get back together at some point in the future?

Should I expect to stop drinking around her or altogether were we to ever reunite and/or cohabitate again?
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (11 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
1. I'd look into AA. You might want to check it out for yourself too.
2. I think it would be a detriment to you, given what you've already been through with her already. I understand you want to be supportive, but she's never going to be able to look for the support she needs if you're giving it to her. She's gotta do this on her own.
3. I think this is a little bit of wishful thinking. Each of you has to focus on getting healthy. After some or a lot of time has passed, maybe you can have a discussion of being in a relationship again, but I don't think it's healthy to to try to get healthy with the end goal of getting back together someday.
4. Yes.

By the way, good for you for putting your foot down and saying NO to this behaviour. That is really going to set her on the path of getting well; the rest is up to her.
posted by foxjacket at 1:12 PM on May 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

First, good for you. It is hard, hard, hard to stand up for yourself in a relationship with an alcoholic, because of what you said: She's an awesome person when she's sober. It is true. They all are. However, alcoholism is a progressive disease and unless she gets help, those times are going to get rarer and rarer.

Second, good for her. It's also really hard for an addict to ask for help. She has a lot of options. She can go to inpatient rehab. She can go to outpatient rehab. She can go to AA. In my experience, there isn't really a "type" of alcoholic; your girlfriend just sounds like an alcoholic to me. She can be helped by any kind of treatment there is available, if she is willing and ready to stop drinking.

I strongly recommend you check Al-Anon out, at least a few times. It can help you set boundaries and figure out what you want your role to be in her recovery. Everyone in those rooms will have been where you are, and they will be very nice to you and very understanding. No one is really going to be able to tell you whether it's a detriment or a benefit for you to support her emotionally at this point; you are going to have to decide for yourself. And whatever you decide, it is absolutely okay.

Yes, your relationship can survive this in the long run, assuming she moves forward with treatment and stays sober (or assuming you learn to be okay with her continuing to drink). And as far as whether you can someday drink in front of her - well, that depends on what you are both comfortable with. Nobody can answer that definitively this early in the game.
posted by something something at 1:16 PM on May 25, 2010

Treatment options will vary according to location and finances. I went to Sundown M Ranch in Yakima WA and cannot recommend it highly enough.

In the meantime, there is an online resource for BOTH of you.

Go to the forums. There are highly active forums of all kinds. At least half of the thousands of members are "friends and family."

It is an incredible and diverse community. Mostly warm and welcoming. Sure there are the "hardliners" there but, like MeFi, it is moderated and the conversation is usually respectful.

I've been a member for five years and have made lifelong relationships. It is something you both can do NOW. Today. A source of experience, sharing, empathy, and knowledge. If I could order you both to spend a week or two online there I would. Write and converse before you form an opinion.

As you would expect, there are many hardline AA folks there. As there should be. Many however, find their way without. All I can say is that you will find kindred souls aplenty.

You are at a great age to face this squarely. Young enough to not have done great damage, old enough to know that you don't have all the answers.

Memail me for more, if you wish. Peace can be found if you wish it.
posted by private_idaho at 1:37 PM on May 25, 2010

1. AA for her. Make sure she gets a sponsor. Al-Anon for you.
2. Yes, support her emotionally. But make sure you don't support her in ways that enable her addiction. Hence the need for you to be in Al-Anon.
3. Love heals. Show her some constancy and dedication. Move out or do what you need physically to not enable her (e.g. if living together enables her to not pay rent and thus drink more.) You can hold her hand, root for her, love her, all without cleaning up her messes for her and letting her get away with her alcoholism.
4. Yes. Stop drinking around her.
posted by cross_impact at 1:59 PM on May 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Good for you for taking that very difficult step. Stick to your guns. The only way the alcoholic in your life is going to embrace the need to change is when she sees that her drinking is destroying her life as she has known it. Get help/counseling for yourself, and see what you can do to talk her into getting help for herself. MeMail me if you'd like more personal "anecdata."
posted by Lynsey at 2:22 PM on May 25, 2010

First. Congratulations on recognizing that you're in an unhealthy spot with this relationship.

Second. Been there. Done that.

I recommend Al-Anon as well.

As to the question of can your relationship survive (together or after a period of separation)? I'm trying to answer this myself. We're talking about getting back together. It's been a long conversation. I don't believe she would be healthier had we stayed together. I think that things would have deteriorated further and the friendship would have been dashed as well. But her losing me, the house I bought for us, the life we were building really shook her. And worse? The damage she did to me - that is something which has been really hard for her to face. But face it she has.

She has addressed a ton of stuff that was at the heart of why she was over-drinking. It's pretty impressive. But I've also addressed a few things as well. Which, in turn, seems to impress her.

So, for both of us, I hope it's possible.

And you kind of have to answer the last question yourself with the help of your girl. Some people are fine around other drinkers. Some are not. It might be a situation where you can have a drink but only out of the house. Talk with her about that.

Good luck, Feel free to memail or email me if you want to talk about this.
posted by FlamingBore at 3:22 PM on May 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

Before I say anything else: you say she drank on anti-depressants and doesn't remember what happened. Once when I was on Wellbutrin, and drank my usual social-drinking amount (a couple of cocktails), I experienced this. I told my doctor. "You're not supposed to drink on this medication!" he said.

It wasn't hard to lay off the booze while I was on the WB after that. Could this possibly be what happened with your GF? Is it the interaction with the meds, or did she really drink a monster amount of alcohol?

I would caution you to take any 12-step program with a big block of salt. Before getting into one or encouraging your GF to get into one, I recommend you take a look at alternatives. The main issues I have with 12-step recovery are:

1. The "disease model" of addiction is not validated by medical and scientific studies of addiction.

2. 12 step programs insist on this model, and offer a cookie-cutter approach based on complete faith in a Higher Power at the expense of trusting yourself.

3. Many 12-steppers will respond to newcomers not with empathy and support for their specific situation, but with canned slogans and knowing asides about how everyone who cares about an addict/alcoholic is really just a codependent enabler who is addicted to their "qualifyer" (person with the addiction), regardless of whether you're really enabling or not.

4. They often advocate abandoning the recovering person (toughlove). If you have to get out because the relationship is too unhealthy for you to be part of, it's your decision. But 12-steppers often try to make the loved ones of addicts/alcoholics feel bad if they decide to support the person. They try to make it sound like the person can only recover if you ditch them and they get into the Program.

It sounds from the way you describe your relationship that there is a lot of good there, and I agree with cross_impact that love heals. I think your support could help her.

However, you do have to do what's right for you. And there is one cliche I would agree with: you can't help someone change unless they really want to. But it isn't easy and it won't happen overnight, and there may be backsliding.

Here's some info on 12 step programs that goes into more detail than the critique I just offered. Although it is AA-based, this information can apply to any 12-step program.

Instead, you might want to try Rational Recovery, SMART Recovery, or Moderation Management.
posted by xenophile at 5:35 PM on May 25, 2010 [3 favorites]

Another non-12 step option is LifeRing, which has helped me immensely. These are like AA meetings, but there are no sponsors, no steps, no "higher power", no "helplessness", mostly just people coming together and supporting each other in their efforts to quit their addictions. They aim to keep discussions in the secular realm, and although sometimes someone will mention God, there is no emphasis on supernatural belief. I much prefer LifeRing to AA, NA 12-step type programs.
posted by telstar at 6:10 PM on May 25, 2010

Alcoholic is a clearly defined term and does not represent your girlfriend at all. She is a problem drinker and not an alcoholic; it's a behavioural issue rather than a chemical dependence.

Take a look at the Alcohol Dependence Scale: and score appropriately.

(If the link doesn't work, send me a message. Am at work at the moment and we have institutional access to a lot of science-y resources)

This will at least guide in the right direction and allow you to ask for the right kind of help.
posted by fatfrank at 6:00 AM on May 26, 2010

I'm a little late to the thread! Being a recovering alcoholic myself, your girlfriend sounds a LOT like me a few years ago. I put someone I care about through something very similar. I was diagnosed with varying mental disorders and put on varying anti-depressants as well as mood stabilizers until in the end it worked out that I am an alcoholic. In the beginning I HATED admitting it is so freeing to say that.

Upthread there have been several guesses as to whether or not your girlfriend is or isn't an alcoholic. No one can decide that for her but herself. The only thing that worked for me, and this is just me, was AA. Of course, if she is a daily drinker, she will need to be under medical supervision to detox. Next you asked about your support of her. My advice to you is to take care of you first. Your support of her all this time hasnt worked so far. Maybe after you get yourself some help and she gets herself some help, you can think about supporting her. First you need to learn how. Alanon, as other people have said can teach you that. In answer to your third question, I think that should be the last of your worries. This is a life or death disease, and no offense, but she needs to save her life before she can think about dating. Answer to 4th, Most recovering alcoholics after a long period of stable recovery dont have a problem being around social drinking, ymmv.
posted by heatherly at 12:18 PM on May 27, 2010

Somewhat to my surprise - and very much to my relief - the Sinclair Method allowed me to drop from a bottle of wine a day to couple of glasses of wine a week (at most) in about 21 weeks. No self-abnegation, "stepping", counseling, or "white knuckle" abstention required. Dr took a liver panel after a month to make sure I was tolerating the (generally benign) medication OK and that was that. I'm a year out and still scarcely drinking. I can literally take it or leave it. Some peer support is helpful - served that purpose for me. The method is supposedly successful for only 75-80% of those who use it. It addresses a type of conditioned drinking; apparently it's not really relevant for so-called GABA alcoholics.
posted by cairnish at 1:46 PM on May 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

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