Q: My husband drinks every night. He starts with few glasses of wine with dinner and always ends with whisky. Some nights its just one or two large ones and other nights can be half a bottle. I know that we believe that drinking at a Farbrengen is allowed, but when does it begin to become a problem?
A: Many people drink alcoholic beverages as a way of relaxing or as a way of socializing and for some individuals this never becomes a problem. For example, those of us who attend Farbgrengens do enjoy a few L?Chaims and have no problem limiting how much we drink. In the cases of some individuals, however, they are unable to limit their intake and develop consistent patterns of behavior that can eventually lead to an even more serious problem ? alcoholism.
It is often assumed by many that alcohol abuse and alcoholism is the same thing however the reality is that there is a difference between the two. One significant difference is that in most cases a person who is known to abuse alcohol still has some control over when and if they drink while a person who suffers from alcoholism is often dependent on the use of alcohol.
Alcohol abuse often occurs when individuals begin drinking as a way to deal with the stress of certain situations such as losing a job or the death of a close loved one, or marital tension. While initially the effects of alcohol may numb the pain or reality of these circumstances over time it seems to take more and more alcohol to have the same effect. Over time this can lead to a dependence on alcohol known as alcoholism.
When alcohol abuse becomes an issue a person may know that they shouldn?t be drinking at that particular time however they allow poor judgment to win out over common sense and continue drinking anyway. In many cases this causes problems such as failing to keep up with prior commitments like taking care of children or other family responsibilities and may even have serious detrimental effects on job performance and the ability to maintain relationships.
It is often hard for individuals who are affected by alcohol abuse to admit they have a problem because this would mean they are admitting to not being in control of the situation which is often why they drink in the first place.
Just because your husband has a drink or two on a regular basis with dinner this does not necessarily mean they have a problem although attention should be paid to be sure that this practice does not lead to a problem over time. When you mention that his wine drinking is capped off with a shot whiskey, or that he tends to drink up to half a bottle ormore, I begin to question whether or not this is crossing the line towards addictive, or a least, abusive behavior.
Another distinction between casual drinking and alcohol abuse is when an individual looks for any opportunity to have a drink and use the cover that they are ?celebrating? something specific. For many people this may come in the form of acknowledging some minor achievement that does not really warrant celebration like finishing a good book or getting dinner ready on time. Although for average people this may not seem like much, to a person who has issues with alcohol abuse it may be considered a big deal as a way to give them a reason to drink in a situation that they consider celebratory.
When it comes to a point where a person finds themselves continually looking for a reason to celebrate in order to have a drink this may be an indication that a problem is starting to develop.
How do you know if your husband is an alcoholic?
The following symptoms should tip you off that you — or someone you know — may need treatment for alcoholism:
An uncontrollable craving. An actual need for alcohol may seem unfathomable to someone who’s not an alcoholic, but if you’re alcoholic, you have a craving for alcohol similar to that of food and water.
No such thing as “one or two.” Alcoholics can’t just have a drink or two. You may have good intentions, but once you start, you have to keep drinking.
“Eye openers.” Needing a drink first thing in the morning is a sign of alcoholism.
Drinking for one. Drinking in secret (and hiding the evidence) is another indicator.
High tolerance. An alcoholic can drink an extraordinary number of drinks and still appear to function relatively normally.
Needing more and more. An alcoholic often ends up needing increasing amounts in order to achieve the “high.”
Drinking dominates everyday life. When drinking is doing significant harm to your work, school, or home responsibilities on a regular basis, and you still can’t control it or cut back, you are likely suffering from alcoholism.
Withdrawal symptoms. If you regularly experience nausea, sweating, shakiness, or anxiety when you stop after a period of heavy drinking, you are physically dependent on alcohol.
What can you do if I think your spouse is an alcoholic?
There are some researchers who believe alcoholics can learn to drink “normally.” However, most experts believe that total abstinence for life is the only way alcoholics can recover and avoid relapse, and that is the goal of most successful treatment programs. Treatment usually begins with an initial period of detoxification (getting alcohol out of the system safely), followed by counseling, a nutrition program, and sometimes prescription medicines to help prevent relapse.
Alcoholics Anonymous, the best-known program, offers a 12-step path to recovery that focuses on getting alcoholics to admit that their drinking is a problem and that they need to stop. Rabbinic figures such as Rabbi Dr. Avraham Twerski support the efficacy of AA and often refer their clients for support. With the help of such programs, millions of alcoholics have gone on to lead healthy lives free of alcohol.
If you think that your spouse is an alcoholic, I suggest that you seek help as soon as possible through your doctor or therapist. Do not attempt to talk to your friend or relative about the problem when they are drinking, and try to avoid blaming them when you do talk about it.
Rabbi Daniel Schonbuch is a trained marriage and family therapist who maintains a practice in Crown Heights specializing in couples therapy and families with teenagers at risk. For an appointment in person or via the phone/Internet, visit JewishMarriageSupport.com or call 646-428-4723.