Can you drink every day and not be an alcoholic?
December 27, 2013 6:15 AM   Subscribe

Where is the line between drinking-is-my-hobby and alcoholism?

This is a question I've waffled on asking for years, but I turn to MeFi as I find myself looking up where the nearest Al-Anon meeting is, then questioning whether I'm being overly dramatic and worrying about something that isn't a problem.

My husband is a fantastic, great guy. A great guy who really loves beer. And wine. And sometimes rum. Over the years he has cut back in volume from his wild twenties drinking, but it seems to have settled into a reliable pattern of drinking He goes to work, fulfills dad duties, and is financially responsible, but I worry that he's basically a functioning alcoholic, and I read threads like this one and wonder if I am doing a disservice to our son by ignoring the issue. I also worry about the long-term health implications of this, but he had a reportedly clean bill of health from his last check up. We are in our mid-30s, so I suppose there's plenty of time for the health issues to catch up.

Most nights he doesn't get to the point of being drunk, but on weekends/special occasions he definitely gets to that point. His work schedule changed recently and now that he has an extra day off his new day-off-afternoon activity is to head to the bar at lunchtime and remain there drinking the rest of the afternoon. He is noticeably impaired by the time we pick up our son from daycare together, to the point where it's embarrassing me to have him with me, but I have talked about my embarrassment with him and he's offended by it. We discuss his drinking every six months or so when he has a particularly heavy night or gets uncharacteristically mean. It doesn't really result in anything changing much, though usually by the time I work myself up to discuss he has slid to a point where he admits that he's been drinking a bit too much and will scale back the volume for a while. The longest I've ever seen him go without drinking is two days in a row, for the past ten years. We've talked about his needs for time/space to pursue hobbies, and I think I've been as accommodating as humanly possible for that, and I've told him repeatedly that I would support him taking some time to do whatever floats his boat if he found a new hobby or non-drinky social group activity (we have tons of friends and plenty of socializing outlets but our friends activities tend to revolve around booze, which I have zero problem with, I enjoy a few drinks now and then, too, it's just that having a kid dramatically changed my relationship with booze for myself). He has a new social group activity.... but it's trivia night at the bar.

So, MeFi, my question is- can someone drink every day without being an alcoholic? Is running to Al-Anon overly dramatic in this situation? Is drinking just a hobby for some people and not that big a deal?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (44 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
The usual working answer to "Is this alcoholism?" isn't how much you drink or how often you drink or even who you become when you drink -- it's whether your drinking negatively affects the rest of your life. You are part of the rest of his life, and it is not at all unreasonable for you to say, "Hubby, I love you so much, and I wish you would drink less, or less often, or less in these particular circumstances." If he can't do that, then yes, he might have a problem. At that point, the question is whether he's willing to risk his relationship with you over having "just one more" before he comes to daycare.

You going to an Al-Anon meeting is not a formal declaration that your husband is a degenerate drunk, nor that your relationship is irreparably damaged. It may not help you at all, and that's fine too. But it might give you the tools you need to help him come to a decision about alcohol. That's a lot of what it's for. Give it a try.
posted by Etrigan at 6:24 AM on December 27, 2013 [18 favorites]

Whether or not he's functioning, his drinking has an effect on your relationship. You don't like him being inebriated while picking up your child and he's occasionally mean. Whether or not the volume is in and of itself problematic, his inability to see how his behaviour impacts others is tell-tale alcoholism.

I have friends who drink, more or less, every day - but they're almost never inebriated, are generally speaking single/no kids, and thus their relationship dynamics are pretty uncomplicated. A wife, child, and household responsibilities for most people mean spare days off aren't automatically all-day bar days. I don't think it's unreasonable to expect that your/your child's needs are considered when it comes to what he does with his time off, particularly when an intoxicant is involved.
posted by rutabega at 6:35 AM on December 27, 2013 [5 favorites]

I don't know if there's a defined line. My husband has a brandy every night with dinner, maybe two on occasion, but I would never call him an alcoholic. It's rare that he gets drunk, and he would never spend an entire afternoon where drinking was the social activity.

What matters here is that YOU are uncomfortable with his drinking. Say something and see what he says.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 6:35 AM on December 27, 2013 [4 favorites]

Go to Al-Anon and just listen. You may find that you don't relate at all to what people are saying, or you may find that you do relate. Understanding how you fit into the puzzle is an excellent step in the right direction.

As for your husband being an alcoholic, what you call his relationship with alcohol isn't important, it's how it impacts your family that is.

Let's think about this. What percentage of the family income is spent on alcohol? That's a definable cost right there. Do you think that if you were strapped financially, that your husband would stop drinking to save money?

What if you became ill and he needed to step up and care for your son while you regained your health? Could he do that without having to drink? Could he stop drinking to take care of his family?

Right now it doesn't seem so bad because you're not under stress. But can you count on him to pick up the slack if need be?

Drinking alcohol isn't a hobby. Drinking to the point of being drunk frequently is a problem. Drinking when it puts your family at risk is a problem. When drinking causes problems, it's problem drinking.

You can't hold it together on your own, and his drinking is causing you to have to do so. Picking your son up from daycare drunk is a non-starter. You are allowed to make the statement, "You are drunk. I do not want Elmo to see you drunk. Therefore I will not take you with me to pick him up from daycare." Who cares if he's offended. You're offended by having a drunk husband infront of your son and his playmates, he's not too concerned about that. Why is that?

So yes, you need to get to Al-Anon, go now.

What you are describing to me sounds like alcoholism, but it's not for me to say.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:45 AM on December 27, 2013 [21 favorites]

Al-Anon is a great idea. I've written in AskMe before about my alcoholic dad and the degree to which people did and did not put up with his drinking (which included occasional meanness and inebriated falls and other things that were problematic for him and the people around him. What people have said here is spot on

- Does not matter what the real definition is, the designation people usually care about is if alcohol is negatively impacting your life. As far as I'm concerned the fact that you've tried to talk to your husband about being inebriated around your kids during the day (which sets of my cringe alarms, but I am particularly sensitive to this sort of thing) and he's not only dismissed your concerned but actually gotten annoyed with you about it? Ick.
- The sad truth about people with drinking problems is that they often deflect criticisms about their problems back on the people raising the concerns. It's totally valid for you to not want your partner to be mean to you. Even if your husband is being mean because of his drinking, he's still mean. Meanness shouldn't be okay even if there is a "reason" for it. This is his issue to manage. I believe that alcoholism can be a thing that people can't or won't control, but the meanness is coming from them and it's okay for you to say you don't like it.
- My opinion for what it's worth is that the level of drinking he's exhibiting is problematic for someone who is a parent of a young child. What if something happened to you and he needed to be the primary caregiver for a few days. Could he be? What if you needed him to pick up your child? Would be do it inebriated? Would he be able not to.

Living with someone with a drinking problem becomes an exercise is lowering your expectations to the point where you feel like it's a good thing if they are not mean or not falling down drunk. This is a very low bar and you deserve better. Al-Anon can help you think through this and notice patterns that you may have become sort of blind to over time. It's worth exploring and you can think through what, if anything, you'd like to do about this. My father had a long unpleasant decline from his drinking (even though he had "clean bills of health") and I would not wish that end-of-life stage on anyone. Best of luck.
posted by jessamyn at 6:46 AM on December 27, 2013 [27 favorites]

Regardless of whether your husband fits our or anyone else's definition of an alcoholic, it does sound like Al-Anon could be really helpful to you. I wish I had gone sooner. And now that I am no longer in that sort of situation, I still find that the things I learned there help me in my daily life.

Hugs and best wishes to you, I'll be thinking of you.
posted by fiercecupcake at 6:53 AM on December 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

If I went to pick up my child from daycare with my wife and I wasn't sober enough for it to be unnoticeable, my wife would figuratively smack me upside the head to the point where I would never do it again - and I mean ever. And she'd be morally right, and I'd be 100% in the wrong, and I'd know it. If he wants to drink at a bar and do trivia - fine... but put it in terms for him. If he f's up and crosses the line in front of a cop and gets pulled over, or if a rock flies up and knocks out a tail light so that the cop pulls him over and he's drunk, how is that making anything like a responsible choice for his kid?

You can't make him stop drinking, but you can firmly put down some ground rules for the long term safety and security of his family.
posted by Nanukthedog at 6:56 AM on December 27, 2013 [6 favorites]

So, MeFi, my question is- can someone drink every day without being an alcoholic?

Yes, but that may or may not be relevant to your situation. Your husband doesn't sound like a drunken bum or anything, but some things jumped out at me.

He's noticeably impaired when you pick up your son from day care together. You have the right to ask your husband not to be drunk when you go to the day care. He might think this is silly, and he can think that if he wants, but you're talking about a situation where your husband is drunk every time the day care people see him. I'd be embarrassed, too. I would not want to pick up my kid with a spouse who smells like the floor of a brewery and who is slurring his words. If I were in your situation, I would push through the offense he's taking, and explain that he has options: Either he can be sober when you pick up your kid, or he can stay at the bar and you can pick up the kid yourself. Something like, "I'm sorry you're offended by this, but the person you are now, when sober and offended, is different from the person you are when you're drunk, who is visibly impaired in the middle of the afternoon." I suspect he takes offense because he knows you're right. Denial isn't just where you can find a jewel in the sequel to Romancing the Stone.

He gets mean sometimes. If this is only happening every six months, it isn't a huge problem but it's still a problem. It's more of an issue that he promises to cut back every so often and then sort of cuts back a little but then goes back to normal soon after. I see this in alcoholics all the time. Not saying he is one, but that's something that tends to come up.

All his social activities and hobbies revolve around drinking. Problem.

Look. You get to have problems with his drinking if it's worrying you. What you describe would worry me, too. You don't have to prove he's definitely an alcoholic before you're allowed to be a little more forceful about your objections.

Is running to Al-Anon overly dramatic in this situation?

No. I think it's a good idea, and I'll tell you why.

Take a look at the question you've asked here. Specifically, look at how it's phrased. You obviously have concerns about his drinking. You laid out his patterns of behavior. But you didn't ask, "Is my husband an alcoholic?" You asked, "Can someone be doing what my husband is doing and not be an alcoholic?"

Maybe that's just how you tend to phrase things, but it comes off to me as though you're trying to find a way for this to be okay, like if it's possible for this to not be alcoholism, then that will allow you to tell yourself it isn't, and it will quiet down the part of your brain that's getting uncomfortable. This is denial, and it's part of a pattern that alcoholics tend to draw their partners and loved ones into. Al-Anon is for those partners and loved ones, and it's intended to help them recognize and deal with those behaviors. So, I think Al-Anon is a good idea.

Is drinking just a hobby for some people and not that big a deal?

See above.

Your husband's behaviors are concerning to you, and you have the right to ask for things to change. My opinion is that your concerns are reasonable ones.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 6:57 AM on December 27, 2013 [17 favorites]

My father went to work, went to the pub, came home and went to bed, and repeated that cycle every day until he died young at 54, in part due to complications brought on by cirrhosis of the liver. My dad did quit drinking at around age 50, but by then it was too late.

Whether or not he fits some clinical definition of alcoholic is not really important. It's negatively impacting your life, and potentially setting you up to be a young widow if the constant drinking takes the same kind of toll on his body that my it did to my father.
posted by COD at 7:01 AM on December 27, 2013 [3 favorites]

People are going to tell you that yes, you can drink every day and not be an alcoholic. And that is true. However. If your spouse's drinking is worrying you, there is a problem. If his drinking wasn't a problem, you wouldn't be asking this question. It takes a lot to get to the point where you, as a spouse, admit to yourself there is a serious issue with your partner's habits, let alone admit it to others. Trust your gut. I cannot say that strongly enough. TRUST YOUR GUT.

And go to Al-Anon. You don't have to talk. Just listen. Go a few times, to a few different meetings - don't give up on it after one time.

I'm sorry. It sucks to be in a situation where you can't rely on your husband to be a full partner in your relationship, and where your gut feeling about what is right and wrong are being called into question but someone who is supposed to stand by your side in all things. You are not wrong in feeling something is off here.
posted by something something at 7:03 AM on December 27, 2013 [5 favorites]

To cut to the chase: yes, you are correct - consistently spending virtually all of one's free time drinking and/or at a bar is a problem. If he was spending this much time practicing saxophone, it would probably be a problem (unless he made his living doing it). Even if he never got drunk, it would be a problem, but he's getting drunk on a regular basis at times and places where he will then be around the kids. I can't imagine this is going to instill a healthy attitude about alcohol in the kids.

The effects of alcohol on the body accumulate over time. Don't expect him to get obvious health issues until he's older, and then it will be too late. At his age, the sitting on a bar stool for long periods and the fattening foods they serve at bars is probably as bad as semi-moderate amounts of booze.

Comparing a problem to a worse problem is sometimes useful, but don't let it blind you to the fact that there is an avoidable problem. He's not falling down drunk all the time and he's supporting his family - good for him. But he's still spending a significant period of time drinking.

Is there a way to have a conversation about things in his life that might be eating at him? Get him into therapy, or both of you into family therapy? It sounds like he is exerting all his self-control to remain functional at work, and his family be damned. I can relate to that, unfortunately, but it ain't good, and eventually it affects work too. Appeals to pride are always dangerous, but if you can get him to think about how his self-control -- isn't, it might be a way in.
posted by randomkeystrike at 7:04 AM on December 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

I got very interested in what the definition of alcoholism is in the period of time leading up to me quitting drinking. I found that there is not really a hard and fast definition. The American Medical association does have one, but it is somewhat vague.

People who I have spoken with in recovery often emphasize the obsession with alcohol and craving for alcohol - I think that's basically how the AA "big book" characterizes alcoholism.
posted by thelonius at 7:05 AM on December 27, 2013

There may not be a well defined line between drinking-as-a-hobby and alcoholism, but this:

He is noticeably impaired by the time we pick up our son from daycare together

is WAY beyond it.

That's not even functional alcoholism there. What if you were sick and couldn't pick up your child on his day off? Would he drive there drunk to do so?

Al-Anon seems like a good first step for you. Others might have better advice for how to help your family as a whole. Good luck!
posted by sparklemotion at 7:17 AM on December 27, 2013 [10 favorites]

People are going to tell you that yes, you can drink every day and not be an alcoholic.

On the flip side, I think one part of this larger picture is, Can he not drink everyday? You say
The longest I've ever seen him go without drinking is two days in a row, for the past ten years.
Was this by choice or by circumstance? Because that's a long time to go without missing a drink and I would add that to the "problematic" category.
posted by Room 641-A at 7:22 AM on December 27, 2013 [5 favorites]

Personally, I wouldn't go to Al-Anon about your husband's problem without your husband's agreement. If he gets offended by your reasonable objections he's going to be very offended if he thinks you're going behind his back, and that's not likely to be helpful.

I'd try to negotiate some non-drinking days each week. You might need to pick your moment and keep to a supportive, non-censorious tone, though. Remind him he's talked about cutting down now and then.
posted by Segundus at 7:36 AM on December 27, 2013

He is noticeably impaired by the time we pick up our son from daycare together

That, right there. Yes, he has a problem.
Everything else is chaff. If he has gotten to this point, even once, he has a problem.
posted by SLC Mom at 7:40 AM on December 27, 2013 [5 favorites]

I was married to this man. Al-Anon helped me immensely. My ex was at the level you describe for a while and he also got very defensive when I asked him to be sober for certain activities and events (we did not have kids but they day care pick up is analagous).

A friend (a fellow mefite and fangirl) once said of my ex when we were discussing hobbies, "Honey, the problem with YourHusband is that his fandom is alcohol." She was right and she didn't mean he was a wine enthusiast or a beer geek or a cocktail fan (which are all fine). If her description fits your husband, and it sounds like it does, there may be a problem.
Somethingsomething and FAMOUS MONSTER say wise things.

I wish you well and my memail is open.
posted by pointystick at 8:09 AM on December 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Here is the "Other Places, Other Cultures" take on this. In Europe, particularly Eastern Europe, drinking every day is very often the norm, but again, it is not considered acceptable if it impacts family and work responsibilities. Most everybody I know drinks every day, often to full inebriation, but they usually do it after the kids are in bed, work is done, and almost never at lunch.

When I was in my 20s I would often have beer with lunch, but of my old buddies almost nobody continued to want a lunchtime drink after they aged a bit. The lunchtime drinks are what make it sound like he needs to get something in control.
posted by zaelic at 8:14 AM on December 27, 2013 [3 favorites]

It sounds to me like he's an alcoholic. But what's "likes to drink beer and have a good time" at 35 looks a lot different at 50. Deal with it now, however you choose to proceed.
posted by skbw at 8:30 AM on December 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Put another whole family likes a drink at lunch. When they were 35 and I was a kid, I thought this was something that all kids had to put up with from their parents. The long game has not turned out so great for them.
posted by skbw at 8:32 AM on December 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

If someone regularly compromises their own wellbeing and safety or that of others, no matter what the reason, then there is a problem. Someone might say your husband is a "problem drinker". Someone else might say he's an "alcoholic". I think defining the terms distracts from the real issue. That is to say, if it turns out that your husband doesn't fit the criteria to be considered an alcoholic, would it make any difference?

I think the examples you gave in this Askme and the fact that you are worried means that there is a definite problem. My dad was an alcoholic who never got himself any help. I, however, attended Al-anon, Alateen, ACOA, etc. The best first step for you is to get some support. Your husband will have to come to his own decision regarding his drinking (though your attending a group meeting or going to therapy could help lead him to make better decisions down the road). In the meantime, all you need to ask yourself is whether this is effecting your life in a negative way, whether your husband's drinking is negatively impacting his relationships and whether he's putting his health in jeopardy. If the answer is yes, then look into attending a group meeting tailored to help family and friends of alcoholics. Good luck.
posted by marimeko at 8:38 AM on December 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

I would also look at whether he seems to drink as a means to escape bad feelings. If it's reactionary "self-medicating" it's on the path to alcoholism. If he's always been the sensitive type and takes things personally, he could have the emotional predisposition for alcoholism. Does anyone in his family have alcoholism? These are the things I would consider.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 8:53 AM on December 27, 2013

You don't need his permission to go to Al-Anon. He doesn't need your permission to go to the bar at noon on his day off - a considerably more problematic activity.

It's ok to get help for your struggles. You don't need his consent. He likely won't give it anyhow. Why should you suffer because he won't deal with his problems?

I had a boyfriend who was kind and sweet but he drank a lot - like your husband did. We dated for eight years and throughout our relationship I repeatedly tried to get him help or to get him to stop. It was a problem. Al-Anon was super helpful for me. I suggest you go - just check it out. It can't hurt.

I wish you the best of luck.
posted by sockermom at 8:56 AM on December 27, 2013 [8 favorites]

There are useful questionnaires -, CAGE questionnaire, Am I Alcoholic?, and more. His drinking sounds excessive to me, and it is affecting your life, so go to AlAnon. You may want to consider disconnecting from his drinking - not giving him rides, not buying alcohol, etc., in addition to expressing your needs - I wish we could spend time doing things together when you're sober.
posted by theora55 at 8:57 AM on December 27, 2013

Here's the thing: what if something happened to you and he needed to pick up the kid? It could be as simple as an important meeting or medical appointment. Part of being in a partnership is that you are able to be there for each other -- and he can't be there for you (or your kid -- at this point, more important) if he's out of commission. I'm overly sensitive to alcohol use, but this would be absolutely unacceptable to me.

Definitely go to Al-Anon. It's a problem for you if you recognize it as such. We all have different thresholds of acceptability, and if it bothers you, it bothers you. End of story.
posted by Madamina at 9:07 AM on December 27, 2013 [6 favorites]

While Al-Anon might (or might not) give you a support system and short-term coping tools, I think this is a situation to escalate to professional help -- a family therapist. Because you have a child, there is more urgency here; and because you have lived with your husband's drinking for so long, I think you need an objective witness to help you see the situation as clearly as possible.

You are within your rights to advocate for your child by putting your foot down, and telling your husband that you'd like to sit down with a neutral professional third-party to go over your concerns. Sure, he'll probably squawk, but ask him this: if your drinking is no big deal, you shouldn't have a problem discussing it with our counselor, right?

This isn't to be punitive to your husband -- it's a way to look at your family dynamic as a whole, and see how his drinking plays into that; and to help him see it clearly; and to pursue a solution. As he enters early middle-age, his current level of drinking will start to take its toll; and like many professional drinkers (I am moving him from hobbyist to pro-level, based on your description), he is likely to start ratcheting up the booze intake as other parts of his life start to suffer, and as his tolerance changes. It's not going to get prettier over time.
posted by nacho fries at 9:30 AM on December 27, 2013

I would consider this much drinking problematic. If he's drunk around your children, your children are already learning coping mechanisms that will work for dealing with an impaired person, but will likely be maladaptive for interacting with non-impaired people later in life.

There's more to alcoholism than meanness. My mom was as benign an alcoholic as you could imagine, a sweet, fun, happy drunk. But she couldn't always be counted on to show up, or to understand important things. Now, I find it very hard to trust people. She always said 'no' to whatever I asked for at first, because she knew her judgment was impaired, but I learned that if I kept pushing she would eventually say yes. Now, I have to force myself to stop pushing before I reach the point of obnoxious.

His drinking is affecting you and your family. It's made you uncomfortable enough to come here to ask about it. You should think about how much drinking and at what times you can be comfortable with, and ask him to cut back to that level. Negotiating an amount that is acceptable to both of you is a fair first step.

If he does, he's probably not an alcoholic. If he doesn't, he either can't (alcoholic) or doesn't care enough about your comfort to ensure it (in which case you still have a problem, just a different one.)
posted by kythuen at 10:01 AM on December 27, 2013 [8 favorites]

"..or gets uncharacteristically mean."
"'s embarrassing me to have him with me, but I have talked about my embarrassment with him and he's offended by it."
".. new day-off-afternoon activity is to head to the bar at lunchtime and remain there drinking the rest of the afternoon."

Drinks too much to be kind.
Drinks too much to drive.
Drinks too much to listen to his partner.
Drinks too much to spend time with his son.

It seems clear to me.
posted by the Real Dan at 10:02 AM on December 27, 2013 [13 favorites]

I'm going to go on a limb here and say the unpopular've asked these questions and are looking for an answer about a label. In terms of a "label" - if he is causing negative consequences (less time spent with family, embarrassment, interruption to relationship dynamics) and impairment to your family, there is an issue. However, "alcoholic" can really only be used by him and he alone, and this is only if he's willing to admit this and wants to change his behavior.

I'd encourage him to talk about this and/or seek help. It's a strain on your family and unfair to the rest of you. He sounds like a good person and am sure that he is a wonderful man who will want the best for his family. I'd suggest having a (gentle) talk with him about how it makes you feel and how it is frustrating to you. Just realize that HE is going to have to do the work and make the realization and admission and (possibly) apply any labels though. Love to you.
posted by floweredfish at 10:05 AM on December 27, 2013

questioning whether I'm being overly dramatic

"Am I overreacting?" comes up a lot on mefi and it always makes me sad, because we (women) are socialized not to trust our instincts. You can't trust your husband, and you don't trust yourself, so you're (understandably) feeling like you're on very shaky ground.

and worrying about something that isn't a problem.

You get to determine what is a problem for you (and your son). It clearly IS a problem for you, in fact you've outlined a half dozen of them in your question. Some people would be fine being married to a daily drinker; you are not and that is totally, 100% okay. You have the right to ask him to tone it down or cut it out. (He also has the right to say no, as it's his body, but he has to accept any possible consequences, up to and including divorce.)

There is something going on beyond "he likes the taste of beer/wine/liquor," and it will take some soul-searching on his part to figure out the real reason he drinks. You cannot do that for him. You cannot control his drinking. You can only control you. Al-Anon has helped a lot of people accept this and to figure out/enforce their boundaries. There's no risk to you in trying a meeting or two.

You can learn to trust yourself again.
posted by desjardins at 10:46 AM on December 27, 2013 [5 favorites]

You're describing me, exactly, 10 years ago. While I can't tell you much about your husband, I can tell you about what happened to me.

Like I said, your story is remarkably familiar, including you (like my wife did) expressing concern now and again. The short version of my story is that I've been in rehab 3 times (once for nearly six months), detox, etc. We're still married - now happily, and I've been clean and sober for over 6 years.

I went from where your husband is at (based on what you describe) to getting progressively worse over time. My wife requested I get a professional alcohol assessment from a professional counselor. If not an alcoholic, I have nothing to worry about. If I am, then let's take care of this (her logic at the time). I agreed. Turned out I am a raging, pathetic drunk (my words).

If your situation continues like mine, you're in for a tough road. It was tough for me and I can't even begin to describe what it was like for my wife. If nothing else, make sure you take care of yourself and your kids. If the worst happens, know that you can't control your husband. You didn't cause the problem and you can't fix him. You're completely and utterly powerless over his health and alcohol consumption.

Hit up my box if you would like to get in touch. I'm more than happy to answer any questions you might have. I can even put you in touch with my wife - who has a black belt in al-anon (I attend AA still as well).

I wish you the best.
posted by thatguyjeff at 11:11 AM on December 27, 2013 [9 favorites]

I would not be OK with the other parent of any young child of mine getting fucked up on that regular a basis. As someone pointed out above, at any moment he could be in a position of having to drive somewhere with the kid or just having to be in charge at short notice.

Beyond that: practice self-care. Become an expert on what YOU need. Your life sounds very short on free time and relief from responsibilities, because you are doing it all. Even if a heavenly voice booms out one day soon, "Yes, your husband is an alcoholic" it's not going to solve that problem. I have watched this go on with a couple of my partner's friends whose heavy drinking is connected with things like amateur baseball leagues. They frame this in terms of needing to have outside activities but I believe they would lose interest if there was no drinking involved. And if they think it is not a bad example for the kids, coming home drunk after these outings, they are tripping.

Your husband may stop this but it sounds like he's got a while to go; if you don't start taking steps to get what you need, the resentment will be insurmountable by the time he does stop.
posted by BibiRose at 11:45 AM on December 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

He "fulfills dad duties"* but alcoholic or not he's not fulfilling partner duties. You married someone to share your life with, and he has a daily solitary activity that makes sharing your lives impossible.

*Picking a kid up at daycare drunk begs the question of whether you have lowered your expectations to a point where you don't recognize that it's already not healthy for your child.
posted by headnsouth at 1:19 PM on December 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

Your son is almost at or AT the age when he will start figuring out sometimes, Daddy is mean to Mommy when he smells funny. This is not a good environment for your son. There is a non-zero chance he will start being mean to your son, as well. I fully and freely admit my bias against alcohol, but then, I work with people who HAVE been emotionally, and sometimes physically or even sexually abused from alcoholic relatives. When is the elephant in the room too much of a problem? When the alcohol seems more important than his family? When he is drunk in public at a daycare? When he yells at you? When he yells at your son? When he drives drunk? When he drives drunk WITH your son? When your son is in therapy because sometimes, Daddy is a safe and wonderfully caring person, BUT, sometimes, Daddy is mean and unpredictable and possibly violent and impossible to please and checking out of his life to be a pub rat.

Sure, it may not escalate, sure, there's a non-zero chance he isn't an alcoholic. But, honestly, if you were my friend/sister/etc, I'd say the problem needs fixing, ASAP. And take as many measures as you can to protect you, your son, and your finances. Because if I was you, I wouldn't put up with this in my future. Maybe, maybe, your husband will sober up and HAVE a future with you. But, that is largely out of your hands.
posted by Jacen at 1:20 PM on December 27, 2013 [3 favorites]

OK I'm going to be blunt. This is a question that you already know the answer to, but you're turning to the public to validate that answer, because you've been conditioned for a decade to doubt your instincts. I give you my permission to go to Al-Anon and to openly acknowledge that your husband's alcoholism is causing serious problems in your family. Please take care of yourself.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 1:26 PM on December 27, 2013 [11 favorites]

you definitely don't need your husband's permission to go to al-anon. that would be like asking the robber breaking into your house if it's okay to call the police. when someone is engaging in not only self-destructive but family-destructive behavior it's time to take action. al-anon sounds like a great place to get help. while i haven't been to al-anon 12-step groups typically focus on taking care of the person going to the meetings rather than trying to change someone else. just hearing other people share about dealing with the same issues as yourself can be really healing. you will learn how to take care of yourself.
posted by wildflower at 2:10 PM on December 27, 2013 [4 favorites]

I think there are two very different questions/issues here: (1) is your husband's drinking style problematic, and (2) if so, should you join Al-Anon.

Being drunk (and in fact legally over the limit) when picking up your son from daycare? Problematic. Getting mean when drinking? Problematic. And dismissing your concerns -- problematic as a husband, as well as a drinker.

Labels like "alcoholic" are more folk terms than scientific or medical terms. "Alcohol Abuse" and "Alcohol Dependence" are specific disorders described in the DSM-IV, and "problem drinking" is the colloquial term for drinking in a way that causes distress to the drinker and/or the people in the drinker's life. Drinking in a manner that causes pain or disruption to marriage and family is a state that can be changed. Medical damage from drinking (and you say there is no evidence of this in your husband) is a verifiable thing, and can be prevented (or healed, if the damage is not too advanced) by stopping drinking. If you feel that your husband is causing harm to your marriage and your family unit, and potential harm to his health, by his drinking style, you most certainly have a right (an obligation, even) to voice this and implore him to change his ways.

BUT, none of this means you must join Al-Anon, or that if you do not attend Al-Anon, that you are ignoring any problems or are "enabling" anything.

I think this is a situation to escalate to professional help -- a family therapist.

I definitely second, third, nth this. Al-Anon, like all 12-step incarnations, is a NON-PROFESSIONAL (they say so explicitly) group/club with a specific ideology/agenda. You are concerned about your child, and your marriage. A professional, credentialed marriage and family therapist will listen to both of you, encourage you to state your concerns, and help on the road to moving your marriage forward. It's quite possible that a family therapist will motivate your husband to change his drinking style, whereas Al-Anon is more of a club for YOU to encourage acceptance of the label "alcoholic" for your husband and resignation to a marriage to a person of that label.

You can't make him stop drinking, but you can firmly put down some ground rules for the long term safety and security of his family.

Yes, absolutely. And Al-Anon is not at all necessary for this.
posted by RRgal at 6:17 PM on December 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

That other question you linked too? That, without further info elided by the asker, was over-reaction. You can indeed drink pretty much every day and not be an alcoholic — my girlfriend and I both do. But we don't drink to get drunk, we drink because we like beer and drinking is a bit of a hobby.

But we're not taking a weekly sojourn for a shift at the pub either. And there are plenty of times when we don't drink because we have other stuff to do — we have plenty of opportunities to drink at lunch, ferinstance, and sometimes I do, but in general, no, it's irresponsible. Getting shitty before you pick your kid up is irresponsible.
posted by klangklangston at 6:22 PM on December 27, 2013

Yes, it is possible, theoretically, to drink every day and not be an alcoholic, but probably only if one drinks far less than you describe. People who drink that much will eventually have health problems and the usual trajectory for people who drink daily is a slide into problems with alcohol beginning for men a little later than for women. My forty years sober opinion on this, as an alcoholic myself, is, if a man would go to pick up his child while drunk, I'd say that he has a problem with making good decisions while drinking and very probably a problem with alcohol.

AlAnon groups, although the literature is helpful, are no better than the people in them. They are there to support one another and can be very helpful. The first thing they learn is that you cannot change the drinker. He has to do that. They can give you support and understanding of what you can do for yourself.

"Whatever causes trouble, is trouble" is what the Big Book says. It also says to suggest to a man who thinks he doesn't have a problem that he abstain from drinking for a year and, if he can't do that, it is reasonable to assume he has a problem. Two days is just long enough for withdrawal symptoms to set in and another drink will postpone that; in fact, most alcoholics initially take the curative effects to mean they don't have a problem when exactly the opposite is true.
posted by Anitanola at 7:13 PM on December 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Drinking-is-my-hobby IS an alcohol problem. Especially if it starts before all family responsibilities are complete.

Regularly spending the afternoon in a tavern is an alcohol problem. Whether that is alcoholism or boredom or self medication is an exercise for your husband and his medical professional. But it IS a problem.
posted by gjc at 5:23 AM on December 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yes. He is an alcoholic.

He habitually abuses alcohol. The degree is debatable, the condition is not.
posted by French Fry at 8:04 AM on December 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

I've not read all the replies, but will offer you this...

It's entirely possible your husband is a Functional Alcoholic. Never gets falling down drunk due to the alcohol tolerance he's built up over the years, never suffers from a hangover (same reason) and will deny to his dying day that he has a problem. I dated a guy for 12 years. He never missed a single day in those 12 years of his daily routine. 3 PM = a couple of beers. Then a couple of glasses of red wine with dinner. And then a screwdriver or a couple margaritas to finish off the night. Every.Single.Day! I gave him a choice, me or the booze. He chose the booze.

I got a call from his daughter a few weeks back. He's in the hospital dying of cirrhosis of the liver. It's sad because it's something he brought on himself. His mom died in her late 80s. His dad lived to be 102!! He's 62.

So, ask you husband if this is what he wants for himself, and you. I learned that I could not make him stop drinking. It's got to be HIS decision, but perhaps some cold hard facts might open his eyes to what he's doing to himself.... and you.

Good luck and I'm so sorry. It's an ugly thing to watch.
posted by SoftSummerBreeze at 8:25 AM on December 28, 2013 [4 favorites]

But to give a bit of counterpoint to the responses above...yes, it is possible to be a drunk and still be an effective parent. I don't recommend it. But I was raised this way, along with many of my friends. Times have changed now and people's eyebrows raise more easily. It's not an ideal parenting angle, but I can sure think of worse ones. The drinking you describe, though it is a huge drag to be around, does not automatically preclude being a decent, loving parent. I know this because 3 of my 4 parents/stepparents are somewhere in functional alcoholic land.

Why do I bother to point this out? Because, based on my experience of this lifestyle, your husband very well might not care AT ALL what you say about his drinking. He could go on for DECADES in this fashion. So if you don't want to leave him, you may want to at least think about a harm reduction approach.

I hate, loathe, and despise alcoholism. I hate talking to my parents after 7 p.m. I despise every vestige of this lifestyle. I want to make it clear that I am not encouraging you to become his enabler. I am merely saying that you should come up with a second approach on the assumption that therapy will do absolutely nothing.

If he DOES cut back, then that's great, but I would start by assuming he won't.
posted by skbw at 2:50 PM on January 8, 2014

"Drinking-is-my-hobby IS an alcohol problem." this x100. You are doing your son a disservice by letting him be exposed to this kind of behavior. Google 'characteristics of adult children of alcoholics' - do you want your son to have to struggle with that dynamic years from now? Even if he never takes a drink himself, what he is exposed to now will shape his emotional intelligence and self esteem for the rest of his life.

So sorry you are experiencing this. Start by going to al-anon meetings. Care for yourself and your child. Start with a safe assumption: that he's in denial, he won't cut back, and he won't quit. Realize that he will drink, and probably lie about drinking, and cold hard facts might not even wake him up. Read up on how to care for yourself and not become an enabler; educate yourself so that you have at least a logical lifeline to sanity if you confront him about this and he responds in a way you weren't ready for.
posted by zdravo at 7:36 AM on January 12, 2014

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