What Benefits is Your Spouse/Partner/Other Getting From Your Drinking?

We always ask clients to list the benefits they get from drinking. These typically range from anxiety reduction, alleviation of boredom and/or loneliness, escape, and, occasionally, passive-aggression against a controlling spouse or family. We ask about the benefits because these are what will need to be addressed if one is to successfully eliminating the self-medication.

No one is surprised when we ask that question and discuss the results.

Virtually everyone is astonished when we ask the follow-up question: What are the benefits your spouse, children, and others get from your drinking?

At first we hear a chorus of denial: “THERE ARE NO BENEFITS!”

But there are, as demonstrated by the number of spouses, partners and family members who sabotage clients’ efforts to cease excessive drinking.

So what are the typical benefits?

The first, and most obvious, is that the non-problem drinker gets to be the “good guy” – even “a saint.” “Yes, Beth – or Bill – has put up with so much from Clyde – or Claudia.

Second: clearly “drinking” is the cause of all problems, marital, family, and so on. If the drinking would stop, the problems would all magically go away. That’s virtually never the case. It’s just that new problems, ones masked by the drinking, bob to the surface.

Third: controlling spouses/partners, believing that they have finally conquered the last area in their partner’s life they haven’t been able to control, believe that now they will have perfect control.

Guess what?

Controlling spouses or other family members discover they now have less control, not more.

Saintly spouses now find that they no longer occupy that lofty superior position.

Drinking gone doesn’t necessarily fix problems but instead reveals heretofore obscured ones – many of which are the spouses, not the drinkers. Rarely a welcome role reversal.

So how does this unexpected consequence play out?

Conscious or unconscious sabotage.

In an extreme example, a husband – who was a physician – welcomed his wife back to Colorado by having thoughtfully chill a case of her favorite Chardonnay. Another threw a cocktail party.

Slightly more subtle are the complaints that “you aren’t any fun anymore.”

False accusation of, “You’ve been drinking!” rain down upon others until they give up – as long as I’m going to be endlessly accused I might as well drink.

Withholding sex is also common as is keeping the client “on probation” forever – just as controlling financials is too.

This is not to say that this is what always happens – but it does with sufficient frequency that everyone needs to be aware of the possibility.

Remember, when someone stops drinking, everyone’s life will change. And the changes are best addressed with good will, good humor, and the acknowledgement that it’s not just the client who occasionally longs to return to those thrilling days of yesteryear. Right…