We’ve spent the past week working with a couple. This isn’t particularly unusual except in this case they’ve both been official clients from the beginning of their treatment. Usually we start out with one person being the “designated” client and only later does the process expands to include the other spouse.

This shouldn’t seem unusual – alcohol abuse always exists within a context and that context will almost always include a husband or wife. However, most treatment “programs” still like to pretend that your alcohol use is a “disease” and that you, and alcohol, are the whole of the problem. Therefore, you can be whisked away, cured, and returned home where nothing else (nor anyone else) needs to change.

No wonder these programs’ relapse rates exceed 95%!

Even when AA/12 Step programs “work” the cure is often worse than the “disease” as described in Mary Ellen’s article: “Great, He Quit Drinking – When Will He Recover? – Why The Families of Alcoholics Need AA Alternatives”.

Many of our successful clients have been supported by caring spouses who recognize their own need to change. That awareness can begin with an exercise as simple as asking them to list the benefits they get from your continued drinking.

Yes, impossible as it may seem, your spouse does benefit from your alcohol abuse. Otherwise they would have left.

What are some typical pluses?

* It’s easy to look good in comparison;
* It covers up their own problems;
* It excuses their own behaviors;
* They stay in control;
* And so on…….

Imagine that? That’s why success is also a matter of inclusion, not exclusion. It takes motivation, real support, good counseling, coaching, and time. It also takes good-will and humor.

It helps a lot when you and you spouse take the attitude that you’re in this together.

It’s why we incorporate family members whenever possible while traditional treatment excludes them. But then we’re interested in your success, not in recycling you again, and again, and again.


“I’m appalled! My grandchildren are a trigger!”
She was laughing at herself, but it was also true. She’d called to talk about giving herself permission to quit being Super Grandma who needed to drink to escape the three active urchins her daughter-on-law frequently dumped on her.

Have we mentioned the frequently necessary assertiveness training we usually do with you?

“He has opinions! He never had opinions!”

Not only that, but “…he’s around in the evenings, and his employees like him a lot better!” Not easy changes when you’re the office manager as well as the wife.

“But I’ll lose my job!”
If you job is “managing” your spouse, you could be right. This wife literally dragged her husband out of treatment when he began making progress.

“I think I have a problem too.”
At 5’5″ and obese, she was right, but she’d hidden behind her husband’s drinking for years. Now they’re both better, and closer, and their children have two parents instead of none.

“We’ve never been closer or happier.”

We hear that too – and it’s true time after time.

Tools We Use

HAMS stands for Harm Reduction, Abstinence, and Moderation. The HAMS Harm Reduction Network is a free of charge peer-led support group for people who use alcohol or other mood altering substances. HAMS supports every positive change. Whether your goal is safer use, reduced use, abstinence, or moderate use within specified guidelines, you will find a safe and supportive environment at HAMS. Mary Ellen is a Board Member and Ed is an Advisor to HAMS.

You can find a link to their web site at:

Alcohol Treatment: Organizations and Resources.

Please! Always feel free to call – for information or just to talk. One of us answers the phone personally from 8:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m., Pacific Daylight Time, Monday – Thursday, unless we are with clients, or from 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.