My boyfriend thinks he's an alcoholic - should he go to AA?
August 31, 2005 3:52 PM   Subscribe

Alcoholics Anonymous question: my boyfriend has announced that he wants to start going to meetings - can anyone offer any advice as to how I can help him? I don't know if it is the alcohol that is the problem, or something else.

Details: he's 36, drinks socially and sometimes on his own, not every night, sometimes gets drunk and sometimes just has one or two. He usually but not always has drink in the house. I've no reason to believe he is hiding any drinking from me. I'm ten years younger (female), have known him two years, we've been together for most of that time. I drink, but only rarely do I get drunk.

Last night he got drunk (I had a couple) and did what he often does, which is rant about various things until 2am. In these rants, it sometimes seems as though all the accumulated bitterness of many years emerges. Defining characteristics are: an unwillingness to take responsibility for his own problems, often trying to place the blame on me or his parents; also sometimes inappropriately blaming himself for things that aren't his fault; difficulty in hearing reason from me. I don't want to be too specific, in case I identify him. He's unhappy at work, and had to return back to work this morning after a short holiday, and I suspect that getting drunk and staying up late the night before gives him a reason for under-performing in his job.

Now I'm not sure whether these rants are drink-fuelled - I suspect they are, partly, but also that the issues he has are deep-rooted and just exacerbated by the drink. On the face of it, I wouldn't say he had an alcohol problem as such - and on re-reading the above, it all sounds quite tame. He functions well and has a full life, hobbies, job, me, friends etc. Yet he wants to go to AA.

I've told him that I support his decision, and I found some meeting times for him (he didn't want to google it at work). I also read up on the organisation, and it sounds like perhaps it might help him, even if the drink is just a red herring and the problem lies within. Group therapy, that kind of thing. The only thing is, he is a fairly militant atheist, though was religious when younger.

I really am floundering here, so will appeal to mefites for any opinions or personal experiences they may have - is it a good idea for my boyfriend to try AA? What's the best thing I can do to help him?
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (22 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I know that AA has been great for friends of mine who are not alchoholics, one that I know of is an atheist, too. The meetings are completely open, you can sit and listen, you're not pressured, you get out of it what you want. The support, the healing process, the weekly or daily benchmarks, are helpful to anyone.

How can you help him? The fact that he is taking action, seeking help is taking responsibility. Give him credit for that. Don't deride him for the way he's starting this process, since his choices are his own to make. Recognize what issues may be your own; what are you so afraid AA will do to him? Allow him to go through this process as an individual. But try mostly, to be a positive force in his life. Take a deep breath.
posted by scazza at 4:04 PM on August 31, 2005

I think if he thinks he needs to go then he should go. It can't hurt, and it may well change his life.

Don't get caught up on the religion aspect. AA people are pretty good about not trying to force any particular belief system on you, but rather letting you interpret things the way you choose. If you look around there are even meetings specifically with as little religious emphasis as possible.
posted by Rhomboid at 4:19 PM on August 31, 2005

I feel like I've just seen some things that maybe I didn't see on the first time around.

I drink, but only rarely do I get drunk.
Is there some element of shame going on here? Is your problem with AA that it labels your boyfriend an alchoholic? Is this just not what you expected in this relationship?

If you've told him you support his decision, then you really should do just that. That means not second guessing his choices, since whether he should be going to AA or not is really not your call. You seem to be recognizing a disproportionate number of problems in him, and not enough of the goodness in this decision.
posted by scazza at 4:34 PM on August 31, 2005

This was a good thread on AA and being an atheist. And this was a good thread on which version of meeting to attend. And finally, this was an interesting thread on what to do when one's S.O. joins AA (generally) and, more specifically, was an atheist but has now "found god" (or his/her version of a higher being in the steps). AA can be the foray into other aspects of improving oneself, so don't think that just because you don't think he's a raging alcoholic, doesn't mean that AA won't a) be good for him as an independent process and b) help him identify those aspects of his life that he wants to work on. One way to help him is by going to Al-Anon, the sister organization that works with family, friends and anyone else who was affected by an alcoholic.
posted by fionab at 4:43 PM on August 31, 2005

AA deals with a lot more than just alcohol intake, it really encourages people to deal with the same types of issues you say he has. Specifically: honesty (with yourself and others), taking responsibility, black-and-white thinking, letting the little things go, focusing on what you yourself can change and not on other people's issues. Sounds to me like he could benefit from it.
posted by cali at 4:47 PM on August 31, 2005

The only requirement for AA membership is a desire to stop drinking.

Al-Anon is the place to go if a loved one is an alcoholic and/or has a desire to stop drinking.

You can't do it for him, nor should you.

Good luck
posted by NorthCoastCafe at 4:55 PM on August 31, 2005

You'd probably get some useful insight at Al-Anon. The stuff you describe is their raison d'etre. Stop focusing on him, start focusing on yourself, go hear what they've got to say.
posted by Miko at 5:30 PM on August 31, 2005

If he wants to stop drinking my suggestion as to the best way to support him is to stop drinking yourself -- remove temptation, so to speak.
posted by krisjohn at 5:37 PM on August 31, 2005

I've had a couple of good friends in AA who had zero interest in religion. The trick is finding compatible meetings and a good sponsor. And yeah, support him; go with him to a few meetings if he seems to want that, try Al-Anon if it seems to help you.

And what krisjohn said.
posted by languagehat at 6:00 PM on August 31, 2005

It sounds like you are uncomfortable with him going to AA, because you simply don't think he is an alcoholic. Learn more about AA, see if that makes you more comfortable. If not, remember that you don't need to lie/pretend just to seem supportive.

Suggesting alternative group therapies, suggesting that alcohol might be just an aggregator and not the problem itself, or offering to go to a therapist with him are all fine options, too.

Also, did you ever try talking to him sober about the issues that come up when he's drunk? If he is talking to you about them after drinking, maybe he might want to talk them through when he is sober. A long walk or hike, a relaxing dinner, or some such activity may provide a comfortable environment for him to open up without alcohol.
posted by copperbleu at 7:51 PM on August 31, 2005

I found Al Anon very useful when I was in a relationship with an alcoholic. I had to take some of the prayer and stuff metaphorically, but it worked that way for me.

If he is going to AA I would urge you to give Al Anon a try, and give it a chance. As has been said it is a way to examine what your own choices are, including how to be supportive of him.

Go for it. Good luck.
posted by bobduckles at 9:09 PM on August 31, 2005

Are you uneasy about his possible alcoholism because of questions it raises about your own drinking?

If your boyfriend is an alcoholic, and you regularly drink with him, then maybe you're an alcoholic too. I'm not saying you are, but...

Quit drinking to show your support. If you can't quit, go to AA with him.
posted by clh at 9:40 PM on August 31, 2005

If your boyfriend wants to go to AA, be proud of his decision and support it. If he gets with the program, he is going to become quite concerned about his sobriety. If your relationship revolves around alcohol, it may need to undergo some changes.

If you're curious, go to AA yourself, just to see what it's like. You don't have to talk, you can arrive late, you can sit by the door, and you can leave early if you want.
posted by jasper411 at 9:53 PM on August 31, 2005

Some people would not agree with me on this, but one thing I think you can do to help is to deliberately not go to the same meetings as him, particularly at the beginning. Whether you choose to investigate a meeting on your own is your own choice, but you will almost certainly be inhibiting him should you accompany him to meetings.

Also, don't take any responsibility for his drinking. Nothing you do can cause him to drink or to stay sober anyway. it isn't about you. You'd hear a lot more like that, said in a nicer way, in Al-Anon.
posted by Invoke at 10:20 PM on August 31, 2005

Your boyfriend's actions sound a lot like what I went through a few years back. In my case the drink wasn't the problem, it was the symptom. This may be the case with your boyfriend too, who must think something is wrong to be asking for help. Whether or not he is addicted to alcohol isn't really the issue -- if he's abusing it as you suggest, groups like AA can help.

The one thing that concerns me is this question of religion that you brought up. You imply that the group you have found for him is religious -- otherwise, why is it an issue? Is faith part of their approach (it might not be, but probably is). If he's comfortable going to such a group then fine, but I'm an atheist too and would most likely resist all attempts to help me on principle. If I'm dealing with emotional problems, the last thing I need is religious dogma and misguided pressure. It could do more harm than good.

If you can't find a secular organisation in your area, perhaps your boyfriend could try talking to his doctor.
posted by londonmark at 2:09 AM on September 1, 2005

I wouldn't pointedly stop drinking yourself (either in general or in his presence) as has been suggested here. I would ask him what he thinks about it. Otherwise the conspicuous absence may appear to be one more negative effect or consequence from his 'drinking life', if you follow.

You spoke about his ranting and blame game -- is this just when he's drinking that it comes out? You could mention your concerns about this pattern of thinking when he's sober. Perhaps it's just letting off steam in vocally searching for easy answers to life's problems -- I don't know this but we all range about the place looking for answers and it's natural for b(a)ubbling thoughts to rise up when inebriated. If these subjects are approachable then maybe he'll be able to put them in context or give you more clues as to his thinking.

That he's chosen by himself to go to AA means that to him, his drinking causes problems, despite the intake level being below what some people would otherwise expect. I agree with all the comments here about it being a positive win-win situation regardless of it perhaps ending up as a faddish idea (again, I don't know this and am just considering the capriciousness possibility). Go with him if he wants, go to Al-Anon if you want. Read your boyfriend for clues as to what might be desired supporting behaviour. There's no clear answer as it relies upon your relationship and your respective personalities. Tell him your concerns, that you care, that you're there for him and that you love him and work off his reponse(s). [2c]
posted by peacay at 2:09 AM on September 1, 2005

If there's something about the AA that makes you, or him, uncomfortable - other groups may have free one-on-one counselling, which might help you figure out if it's alcoholism or a breakable habit as an initial step (some people claim there's no distinction, but YMMV). It can be educational about alcoholism, and give you insight into whether AA is appropriate, without having to confront a group of unknowns. A friend of mine (an openly atheist counsellor) does this for the Salvation Army, for example, working mostly with walk-ins and court recommendations.
posted by Sparx at 2:38 AM on September 1, 2005

I also suggest Al-Anon. In fact, I personally believe that it's vital when one person in a relationship seeks some form of recovery, that the other person do their best to do the same. I urge you check out Recovering Couples Anonymous.
posted by Dean_Paxton at 5:33 AM on September 1, 2005

It's good that he's recognized a problem and wants to do something about it. A question I have is whether the drinking is the problem or a symptom of a larger issue? If AA focuses his efforts at improvement on his drinking, larger issues may be missed.

Talk to him sober about the issues he brings up while drinking, not the drinking himself. Don't try and change his mind about anything, though. He's in the process of self-improvement and too much meddling is not a great idea.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 6:23 AM on September 1, 2005

Alternatively, if he's interested in getting control of himself without signing up for an ineffective, self-defeating, co-dependent cult of perpetual losers following a guaranteed-not-to-cure program based on circular reasoning and inane activities, he should look into Rational Recovery. Then again, it may not be compatible with his "unwillingness to take responsibility for his own problems" and AA is the way to go.
posted by phrits at 7:23 AM on September 1, 2005 [1 favorite]

I am an atheist member of AA. It works for me, and has for many other non-believers through the years. We say, "take what you need and leave the rest here". I leave lots behind. For many, AA is about how to live life, not so much about not drinking. And ex-drunks make wonderful friends.
posted by Hobgoblin at 8:35 AM on September 1, 2005

ex-drunks make wonderful friends.

Amen to that.
posted by languagehat at 5:17 PM on September 1, 2005

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