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Planning Retirement Online


Relationships   

                         April 2010

Maggi Stamp, LaterLife's Relationship Counsellor

Every month Maggi Stamp, a qualified and experienced relationship counsellor for Relate and in private practice, writes about some of the emotional challenges we meet in later life.

For reasons of confidentiality Maggi never writes about a particular person's problems unless you have sent one in to be answered, but all her examples are based on problems raised by clients, family and friends over the years.  

You can write to Maggi at maggi@laterlife.com for her to respond in the column.


IT COULD BE YOU...

Is my partner alcoholic?

Dear Maggi

I’m 21 years old with a 2-month-old baby. Last summer I found out my 36-year-old partner had been drinking secretly and hiding the bottles, which I discovered. When questioned he denied his drinking, but finally admitted having formerly had an alcohol problem.

Over the last few months he’s been heavily drinking again, lying to me, stealing from my parents and me to buy drink. He lied to the doctors about his intake. I’m worried my little son is going to be affected. My partner’s father was an alcoholic. What can I do? He won’t admit he has a problem and thinks I’m over-reacting if I voice my worries. I don’t know what to do. He thinks no-one has noticed but they all have.

 

Maggi replies:

What you have described does sound very worrying for you. I can understand your concerns over how your partner’s behaviour might affect your little baby. The best outcome for him would, naturally, be to have a loving daddy that didn’t drink to excess. But there is time to sort things out, your son is very young.

You say your partner seems unaware of how his drinking habits show and this sounds quite typical of someone caught in the alcohol trap. Though sometimes the drinker isn’t unaware, but in a state of denial. The addictive effect of excess alcohol is so powerful that by the time the drinker recognises that another drink - or more - is the way they deal with their troubles, but feel unable to stop, increasing their stress and worry so feeling compelled to drink more.

The vicious circle is established and is all too often accompanied by depression, an inability to work, being short of money and therefore begging, borrowing or stealing to buy more of their drug, leading to relationship breakdown, unemployment, mental and physical illness.

Alcohol is a dangerous drug if abused. Many of us enjoy using it. Alcohol is advertised and shown in so many films, tv soaps, plays and magazines. We hardly notice how much exposure there is and most people in modern societies find drinks containing a quantity of this drug perfectly acceptable and manage their intake carefully. But this is not so for those who have a predisposition to addictive behaviour, coupled with a lifestyle that encourages drinking as part of ‘normal’ relaxation, with parts of their life that cause them too much stress, or who have been exposed to alcohol abuse in their childhood – i.e. one of their parents drank/drinks to excess.

A person who frequently drinks a lot feels less affected by it as the body begins to adjust to high levels of toxins in the bloodstream. Many regular heavy drinkers think that they ‘can handle booze’ believing it doesn’t affect them. It does. They have just got used to the sensation to a degree where they feel they can drink even more. Alcohol dulls our senses – pleasant and painful - and our reaction times. Eventually it depresses us because the initial relaxation of tension has worn off. This is the point at which the person who might have a predisposition feels that he or she needs more alcohol too numb the growing depression and worry over feeling out of control. So the cycle begins.

All this time the continuing presence of the drug is damaging the most delicate parts of our body. The liver is the organ that cleanses the blood - like a filter. It is only capable of filtering a small amount of blood per hour and if someone has drunk an inadvisable amount of alcohol in an evening – or day – that drug stays in the non-filtered blood for hours, damaging the liver, affecting brain function, suppressing the digestive system and stressing the kidneys as they try to eliminate the toxins while not having enough healthy fluid to flush it with. That in turn leads to very toxic fluids passing through the bladder and increasing the possibility of disease.

Now, what about genetics? There is a huge amount of research undertaken to explore the way our genes play a part in addictive behaviour and plenty of reports that point to the existence of heritable influences. That is to say, there are some people who have a marker in their genetic make-up that indicates they are more susceptible than others to become addicted to alcohol. That doesn’t invariably happen. This could be present in your partner and his father – and your baby – but it is not common to all and the process of finding out is complex. The most likely ‘risk situation’ is that a child sees their parent dealing with stress and worry in a particular way and that becomes imprinted on his or her young and very perceptive brain as how adults handle things. In all the research I have looked at the point is clearly made that the earlier a child has their first alcoholic drink, the more likely they are to become problem drinkers in their adulthood.

So, it is most important that your son doesn’t grow up in a household that uses alcohol unhealthily. If a child who might have a genetic tendency takes alcohol early- say 13 years old - they are more likely to drink heavily in adulthood due to alcohol modifying their developing brain. If they do not drink until their late teens – around 18 years - then that genetic predispostion doesn’t play much part at all, it is much more likely that environmental influences, like acceptance of alcohol excess in their home or their social group will play a greater part.

There are several ways of changing your situation open to you. The most immediate thing is to be sure your relationship is as strong as possible and to help your partner recognize he has a serious addiction problem. That is not going to be easy. He might not be in an emotionally strong enough state to accept what you are telling him. There is a method used in America called ‘Tough Love’ that works for some. This is a planned intervention by all the involved family and friends he respects – including drinking buddies if he has any. Everyone gets together in one place and confronts him with their impression of his situation and what their worries for him and his family are. The whole group emphasise that they see he needs help and offer to support him through whatever course of treatment he takes. That way everyone close knows and he knows this. This might not be the right way of handling the situation, only you can be a judge of that, but however you proceed, do two things first.

1. Go and talk to his GP. Tell the doctor of your worries. He or she will not be able to discuss your partner with you as they are bound by confidentiality, but they might be better informed, by what you tell them, for the next time he consults them. It will not be the first time they have heard such concerns, so don’t worry, they will take you seriously.

2. For your own support, talk to family or close friends and Al Anon. On their website Al Anon explain this:

‘Someone else's drinking can affect your life - be it a relative or friend, male or female. Someone else's uncontrolled, and uncontrollable, drinking can:

  • turn love to hate
  • bring you to the depths of despair
  • affect you financially
  • lead to violent outbursts
  • make you doubt your own sanity so that you wonder if you have driven your partner or family member to drink and that you are the problem.

Al-Anon Family Groups hold regular meetings where members sharing their own experience of living with alcoholism and of how they cope. Al-Anon does not offer advice or counselling, but members give each other understanding, strength and hope.’

Talking to them could help you to plan how to raise your son in a healthier environment and reassure you when you are doing really well, which is what you need to hear. Especially when you so obviously want to give the best possible start to the baby you love so much.

I wish you strength and good luck.

 


You can write to Maggi at maggi@laterlife.com for her to respond in the column.


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