There are many reasons why marriages don’t last and usually it’s not just one. That’s what makes each situation unique. However, alcohol or drugs are often involved so you might wonder when does drinking become a problem in a marriage. Is it when the drinker recognizes they have a dependency? Is it when the non-drinker says they have a problem? Is it when the drinking is interfering in the relationship? What is the difference between social drinking and a drinking problem?
Joining me to talk about alcoholism and its impact on relationships is Al. J. Mooney, M.D. co-author of the The Recovery Book: Answers to All Your Questions About Addiction And Alcoholism And Finding Health And Happiness In Sobriety.
Mandy: We often think that it is or it will be obvious when someone has a drinking problem but I don’t think that’s the case. How do you know when someone’s drinking could be called a problem? What does that look like?
Dr. Al: If two people want to have a life together and alcohol is interfering with that desire to have a life together, then you just stop drinking. A person doesn’t have to drink. It’s not a social obligation.
There are some references we can use for how much people drink before it’s abnormal, but there’s a fairly wide range of consumption that can be normal for individuals. Generally, we look at is the chemical alcohol or other chemicals, it’s usually alcohol, interfering with what we want to get out life.
In my relationship if I was eating too many cucumbers, my wife just says, “Honey, I’m really having trouble with all the cucumbers you’re eating because I think it’s interfering with our marriage.” And I ask her for an explanation and it doesn’t matter what she says, I’d say, “OK, honey, cucumbers are not that important, you are. So I’ll just cut out cucumbers and make it easy.”
An alcoholic has invested in their chemicals though, and it doesn’t take much alcohol to create an alcohol problem. There are a number of people that build relationships around alcohol, yet the relationship stays amazingly healthy. My mom and dad were that way up until they both crashed and burned as far as their mental state and freedom. The quantity is not a very good measure.
Most people in America do not drink at all. A third of the people in America drink occasionally, I say when they have to—maybe once a month or something like weddings, Christmas, New Year. And a third of the people in America drink essentially all the alcohol. So a person who is a social drinker is in the top third risk group for having the disease of addiction that could steal everything that’s meaningful in life, including their life.
Normally, the way we distinguish in statistical ways what we call a risk drinker from a social drinker is a normal drinker never drinks more than four drinks in a 24-hour period. A drink is defined as half ounce of pure alcohol. For a woman that’s four or more is abnormal. It doesn’t say you’re an alcoholic, but it says this is a risky amount of alcohol that you drink. A lot of people think that’s normal drinking, but it’s absolutely not.
So what we do is like having an ugly mole. We don’t know that it’s melanoma, but as a physician I tell people that you’ve got a risk factor. Go in and look at it in the microscope, examine it, and learn what to do if doesn’t rectify itself because especially with addiction you could save your life by learning these things.
Mandy: So let’s say if your wife tells you she thinks your cucumber-eating is a problem and instead of saying, “Well, then, I’ll do something about it,” you say to her, “You don’t know what you’re talking about. It’s not a problem.”
Dr. Al: Of course, the problem’s in the eye of the beholder. Now cucumbers are not very important in my life, so I’ll say, “Honey, you may be wrong. But you’re too important for me to trust in the cucumber instead of you.”
With alcohol a person who continues to hold on to alcohol in spite of recognition by their network or by their friends, or by their spouse, is by definition an alcoholic. Alcoholics give up the most important things in life to continue drinking. We never do that with cucumbers or rice, or whatever. So somebody who stonewalls the argument is an alcoholic.
Keep reading to learn how Dr. Al’s daughter handled a this situation.