When It’s Someone Else’s Problem

Over the years we have had a constant stream of callers asking essentially the same question: “How can we make ……. Stop?”

The short answer is, “You can’t.”

Short of holding someone at gun point, there is no surefire way to control anyone else’s behavior, and even that method has its obvious limitations since the “change” only lasts as long as the threat remains viable.

However, while you can’t force change on another, you can force change on yourself. Your responses to another’s behavior really is within your control as is how you look at their behavior.

Here’s an easy example. Many of our clients’ spouses have noted that it feels like the drinker is having an affair with chardonnay or vodka or whatever happens to be their drink of choice. It’s a valid comparison which then leads to the next question: “If you wouldn’t tolerate a sexual affair why do you tolerate one with alcohol?”

At this point the drinker will usually respond with a carefully honed reply they have been taught at AA and/or rehab. “It’s a disease and I’m powerless and you wouldn’t abandon me when I’m in the grip of this possibly terminal illness which will certainly kill me if you leave.”


Trouble is, it’s not a disease and no one is powerless unless they choose to be. One of the reasons AA is popular is that it actively encourages members to exploit and manipulate anyone who is concerned.

Threats against parents, spouses, and children are all part of the game, and ready-made excuses are always on hand. “You’re interfering with me working my program and it’ll be your fault when I relapse!” This is total hogwash but it’s had many a parent, spouse, or adult child reaching for their wallet.

Alternatives? Assertiveness, boundaries, self-care.

A person needs to know what they will tolerate and what they won’t. Users are excellent at expanding this zone so vigilance is necessary.

You need to gain some credibility – something neither you nor the drinker have. “I’ll quit!” says the voice from the bottle after another tussle. “If you don’t, then I’m leaving!” is the retort. Of course the drinker never stops and the other never leaves. Sadly, this merry-go-round can operate for years because no one actually follows through.

While the details obviously vary, if you are the long-suffering spouse, you really need to ask yourself, “why am I tolerating this?” Sometimes there are valid reasons, especially financial ones, to stay. Other times it’s just habit. Sometimes one is just too exhausted by the drama to move on. Occasionally guilt rears its ugly head – what did I do to cause this?

As is usually the case, people end up muddled and without any resources for helping make rational decisions. In addition to our primary work with clients who do actually want to fix their over use, we also help those who are tired of being exploited. Sometimes we can combine the two and everyone comes out happier.

“No, Dorothy, It Isn’t About Not Drinking.”

Whether we absorbed it from our families, the culture, or the media, most of us have been led to believe that “drinking is the problem!”

Yet there isn’t any research that suggests that this is true. Instead, when the drinking stops, in most cases, unresolved issues get acted out in other ways. The obvious example involves those who quit drinking by joining AA: the arena has changed but the same avoidant, abusive, predatory, and escapist behaviors remain with a thin veneer of new excuses.

That escape into the Steps is popular precisely because it doesn’t require one to make any actual changes. Still the same old (dry) drunk, hanging out with other drunks, avoiding home for meetings, spouses for affairs, responsibility by hiding behind mythical “powerlessness.”

That road is a well-traveled one to nowhere.

The alternative?

Fix the problems you’re self-medicating and the excessive imbibing will likely go away.

Yes, it’s hard to change the habits of a lifetime, as any ex- or current smoker will agree. But it is manageable and a better life will appear if you just grow up enough to accept it.

Need some short term help with that? Just ask.