Should I tell or stay out of it?
June 27, 2014 2:56 PM   Subscribe

How do I approach this delicate situation of a recent breakup, addiction issues, and levels of responsibility and boundaries in a new ex’s life?

I was recently broken up with by my boyfriend of 2-1/2 years. We lived together for the past year, and in that time I discovered he had many problems that he hid from me until we were living together.

Namely, he struggles with addiction to alcohol, drugs, and gaming. This caused much stress between us and was a major factor in our separation.

There were several occasions where I urged him to talk to a professional, friend, or family member about his issues, which so clearly tortured him and he would seek comfort in me. However, he has mountains of shame and self-esteem issues surrounding many parts of his life and personality, and ultimately refused, saying he could solve the problems on his own or that it was his alone to take care of. He also vacillates between ‘I know it’s a problem and I want help to change’ to ‘I know it’s a problem but I’m not ready to change’ to ‘It’s not a problem, lots of people drink like I do, you just don’t like to have fun.’

His problems worsened in the past few months, especially now that we are broken up and he is in the move-out process. The drug use has ceased (though I feel like part of it is a lack of availability) but his alcohol use has increased. It’s not unusual for him to finish a 750ml bottle in an afternoon/evening. On several occasions, I found out he had driven drunk. If I had known when he was on the road, I probably would have called the police.

Regardless, we are now no longer together, but I still worry for his well-being and others’. I want to tell a member of his ‘circle’ about his addictions, so they can keep an eye on him, but I know if my ex found out, he would be both ashamed and furious. As of right now, literally no one other than me knows he has these issues.

Once, during a particularly bad episode, I told him I was concerned and wanted to contact his parents out of fear for his well-being. He was both terrified and livid, yelling at me and grabbing my phone from my hands. He said I had no right to contact his parents, and, ‘how dare you.’ Truth be told, I don’t know if contacting his parents would do any good. They have both struggled with alcohol abuse, and he is their only, golden child. In many situations, I have seen his parents express that he can do no wrong, and if he does, they avert their eyes and pretend that it didn’t happen. I do not know if they would believe or support me, and I think they might just tell him that I ‘told’ on him, putting me in potential danger.

I could tell one of his close friends, but they are closer allies of him than I, and they might also ‘tell’ on me.

I really am struggling with my concern for his well-being, and the potential for him to hurt others if he chooses to drive drunk.

Where do my responsibilities and rights lie in this situation? Should I just leave it alone? It is his issue alone? I know it has to be his choice to make a change, but it still feels like someone else should know. I still love him very much and I want him to be healthy and happy, but I don’t know where my boundaries should be.

I have created a throwaway email at if anyone prefers to email directly.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (20 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
In your shoes, I would probably tell a could of his close friends and then leave it at that. Not your circus, not your monkeys.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:12 PM on June 27, 2014 [5 favorites]

This is so hard, and I'm so sorry.

I hate to say it, but unless he's an imminant threat to himself or others, stay quiet.

You couldn't help him in the confines of your relationship, you can't help him outside of it.

Brando Blatcher stole my phrase, Not your circus, not your monkeys.

He's not your problem any more.

You have my permission to walk away and never look back. Easy to say, hard to do.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 3:15 PM on June 27, 2014 [3 favorites]

If you don't know someone close to him who you know will believe you (might be difficult if he's "high-functioning enough to hide his problems as well as you say, though that might not actually be the case; people often suspect more than they let on when it comes to addicts) and not enable him, then unfortunately that's unlikely to work; even if you do find an ally among his friends, he'll like as not push you both away if you confront him.

Honestly? Your practical options here are either to 1. Walk away and let him hit bottom and/or seek help on his own, or 2. Go for the nuclear option and call an emergency services the next time he has a "bad episode." ("My ex drank an entire fifth of vodka and is screaming and sobbing on the kitchen floor" is a completely legitimate reason to call for help.)
posted by kagredon at 3:16 PM on June 27, 2014

Well, first of all, it's highly, highly unlikely that no one other than you knows about his issues. It's much more likely that they know, but are either unwilling to admit it to themselves, or unwilling to actively intervene. Regardless of what other people do or don't know, his problems are not yours to solve. You can't change him, you can't change his family and friends, and you can't change any of their bad choices.

My recommendation (having been through a very similar experience) is to cut him loose, and get yourself to a therapist for help in establishing, and enforcing, your boundaries.
posted by zebra at 3:16 PM on June 27, 2014 [5 favorites]

First, asking the person you tell to keep it secret is unfair to them. With news like that, they would probably want to verify it with person involved or at least get his perspective. (Why should they believe you if they have seen no evidence of the problem?) Also, if they did believe you and agreed to keep it secret, it cause a strain in the friendship as they changed their behavior to act on this knowledge. You ex would wonder why his friend is acting differently - are you expecting them to lie when asked?

Second, what good do you think would come from telling a friend. Just try to imagine what concrete actions this friend might take in the best possible circumstances? They would have a heart-t-heart and he would listen to them even though he never listened to you or even to his conscience? They would be his nanny, watching his alcohol consumption and take away the keys every time he was about to drive drunk?

If I thought telling would make a difference, I would say go ahead tell with anger and tell but it doesn't sound like any positive is going to happen. Why breach the confidence of your relationship (which is what you do when you tell someone else's secret?) for no gain for anyone.
posted by metahawk at 3:18 PM on June 27, 2014

Are you absolutely sure that no one knows? Because people are more perceptive than that. If he has a close circle of friends it's likely they know.

As hard as it is, walk away. If there is an episode of imminent safety threat then call appropriate services (police, emt).
posted by 26.2 at 3:18 PM on June 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

Walk away. You broke up with him-you're done.
If you tell one of his close friends, based on what you've stated, they will let him know and you will be sucked back into his drama.
Just walk away.
posted by Snazzy67 at 3:18 PM on June 27, 2014 [3 favorites]

If he's driving drunk, call the police and give them as much detail as you can about what car he's driving and what road he's driving it along. Otherwise, stay out of it.

This person is no longer any of your business. Caring for him doesn't change that.
posted by Solomon at 3:20 PM on June 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

It's not appropriate for you to crash through his new, post-breakup boundaries just because you have a past relationship with him. It could be very damaging and undermining for him. His close friends may already know a lot of what you know. You telling his parents or friends could undermine his support system terribly and leave him with far fewer resources to take care of himself.

You don't absolutely know that you're the only one who is aware of his issues. Those close to him may have picked up on what's going on even if he hasn't explicitly told them everything. Even if you are the only one who knows, it's not OK for you to interfere in his life and maneuver his loved ones into positions you think are more helpful. If you don't have direct knowledge that he is about to cause himself extreme harm or be recklessly destructive in a way that can harm others (drunk driving, violent rages), you have to let it go and let him deal with his issues in his own way.
posted by quince at 3:30 PM on June 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

You cannot do anything here.
It's much different than not caring about him.

Maybe tell him that if he needs "help" you would be willing to do x, y, and z.

Decide what x, y, and z are, while still not having a relationship with him.

I'm guessing, once you tell him that, it will be the last time you see him, because he won't want to see you again.

Good luck.
posted by hal_c_on at 3:33 PM on June 27, 2014

Put me down as another one who doesn't believe you're actually the only one to know. Particularly about the drinking - there's no way you can go through a fifth without absolutely reeking of it. A lot of people who don't drink (or only drink very rarely) are highly attuned to this and... people figure things out.

Anyway, if you're very eager to say something to someone, you could reach out to a couple of the people who are (or were) your mutual friends who you figure would still be positively inclined or least-negatively inclined towards you and say something like "Hey, I'm worried about [guy]. He seems to be taking this kind of hard, you know? [pause, knowing glance.] Keep an eye on him, I hope he's OK." Don't say anything about any specific addiction or other problem. If they are close to him, they will take the hint to "help him through the breakup" generally and if they're really close, they probably already know at least part of the bad stuff.
posted by Joey Buttafoucault at 3:47 PM on June 27, 2014

Run away, sister. He is not your child. What he does is his responsibility, and you are probably one in a long line of women who have left him, or who will leave him, over these issues. Think about why you want to be responsible for a grown-ass man who makes these choices. His friends and family all know he drinks, believe me. You are a bit player in the drama of this man's life, count yourself lucky that you escaped, and stop feeling motherly toward him, for goodness sake. Find a man who actually wants to have a life with you, and pays attention to you, rather than the other way around. I find that most relationships that work have the man loving the woman and respecting her, work really well. But that's just me.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 4:13 PM on June 27, 2014 [5 favorites]

Trying to "help" in this way, under these circumstances will only create drama. It will not help him in any way, shape or form. He will interpret it in completely negative terms and the reality is that if people believe you, it may make his life harder, not easier. If they don't, it will be viewed as malicious behavior on your part.

The most loving, caring thing you can do in a break-up is walk away and let them live their own life. Butt out.
posted by Michele in California at 4:23 PM on June 27, 2014 [4 favorites]

The principles of Al-Anon might help you here. You don't need to attend meetings; you can just investigate on line. You probably feel anxiety and a sense of urgency because you want to make things better and think you can have a positive influence. Anxiety is so very uncomfortable and of course you want to lessen it. But actually telling someone about the ex-boyfriend's addiction and behavior isn't going to make the anxiety go away. He'll still be an addict and his situation will continue to get worse. And you'll still be in the mindset of being responsible for someone who's out of your life.

If you feel like it's wrong to turn away, think instead about how right it is to turn your attention toward your life and what you need. "Mind your own business" often has a negative connotation, but you can mind your own business in a very constructive way, if you're doing things that enhance your own life. Do something kind for someone that actually will benefit, if the urge to be generous and helpful starts making you want to look back.
posted by wryly at 5:01 PM on June 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

You are not responsible for this person and never have been. Don't assume you are now. You cannot save him from himself. Let him manage his own life.
posted by Hermione Granger at 5:26 PM on June 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

The only thing I think you can do it call the police if you actually know he is driving drunk. If he is doing drugs, you can call the police and tell them he has drugs. Hopefully as part of getting arrested, he will need to go through a substance abuse program and get a good wake-up call. Otherwise, this is a big burden to pass onto someone else who will probably be just as unsure as you are in what to do.

And I agree with the comments above that you can't tell someone something like this and expect them not to say anything to him or act on the info. All you're doing is trying to pass along your burden of worry so someone else will worry about it. You shouldn't need to feel worried about this guy and I understand if it's hard to stop yourself. To me, the police is the only reason answer.
posted by AppleTurnover at 8:10 PM on June 27, 2014

I don't really think there's a way you can, or can expect to tell someone who could actually help and have them not tell him.

How would they have found out? What are they supposed to do with that information if they're supposed to be keeping it a secret that you told them? There's no real answer there that ends without them talking to him, and it coming up.

You pretty much have the options of walking away, or accepting that if you tell someone it'll get back to him that you did. Are you comfortable with, and feel safe with that happening? From your post, the answer seems to be no.

And even ignoring that, i find it incredibly hard to believe that his friends don't know about any of this. Does he have no close friends? Everyone i've ever known who was a regular wasted drunk or drug user, even if they only did it in the comfort of their own home, was known as such by their friends. I've never been "shocked" to find out someone i knew fairly well was a huge wastoid/stoner/heroin user/etc.

Additionally, and trying my hardest not to be or come off as an ass here, what are you trying to accomplish by telling someone? It really feels like a washing your hands of it, admitting something to absolve your own guilt and abdicate yourself of responsibility here. Like when people confess to doing something shitty, with it being more about them than the other person.

None of these people are equipped to properly deal with it, and at least a few of them are aware it's going on if they're his actual friends at all unless he's a SERIOUS shut in.

In your shoes, i would just walk away and say fuck it. People know. You don't know that people haven't talked to him about it even, and he might have just stonewalled/denied til you die/told them to go fuck themselves. His parents have likely minimized it as not bad if they know, and if they don't would probably just call you a vindictive harpy for telling them and write it off since you're freshly broken up(or if they're super polite, think it after they hung up the phone). Anything you do here is going to pull you back in for yet another round.

The only exception to this is calling the police if he's doing something fucking stupid while wasted, or calling an ambulance if you know he's alcohol poisoning levels of drunk or something.
posted by emptythought at 8:10 PM on June 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

If your safety were not an issue, I would be in the minority, say tell his parents or a close friend, just in the interest of his safety. But if doing so could elicit a blowup or violence from him, you owe it to yourself to walk away. You did not cause his problems, you cannot solve them.
posted by freshwater at 7:35 AM on June 28, 2014

You sound young and like you haven't done the addiction merry go round before, so let me reassure you: his friends know, or they're going to figure it out. I think you could really benefit from al-anon type counseling about boundaries, because what stood out in this post is the conviction that you've been somehow preventing his addictions from destroying him, and that it's your responsibility to pass this role along to another of his friend group to "watch over him." It's totally unacceptable for him to have forced you into this caretaker/secret-keeper role, and into believing that it was something real that was actually helping him. You're also afraid of retribution from him if you do something, as his ex, that he doesnt' like? Girl. No. Wash your hands of this man and keep yourself safe.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 2:04 PM on June 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

From the OP:
I do believe I am the only one who knows the real state of his troubles. We unfortunately became one of those couples that spent too much time together and lost sight of friends. Now that we are apart, I know he is seeing his old friends more often, but in the year that we lived together, I am confident that no one knew about his real habits. It is possible that his parents know about his drinking but do not see it as a problem- that is, they may know about how much he can/will drink in a night, but do not know how often it was occurring and under what circumstances. i.e. They all spent time together on vacation/at family get togethers and they would all drink a lot there, but I don't think they know he drinks to excess on consecutive weeknights, and as a coping method to escape his stress and sadness.

It's possible that seeing his friends/family more often may lead to healthier choices, or he may continue on his current path and they may notice.

At this point, I will butt out and stay out.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 3:33 PM on June 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

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