Bottled Up
 

Help and Support for people living with an alcoholicProfessional therapists bringing you their 
unique experience of both sides of the problem.

Alcohol Problems

Is he an alcoholic?  Do you think she has a drink problem?  Does he need to go to AA or an alcohol abuse treatment center?  Do you think she needs treatment?

People who live with heavy drinkers often ask these questions.  Why?  Well usually they are seeking justification  for believing that there is a real problem, that they are not just fussing about nothing or inventing a crisis from a trivial episode.  Let's first look at what lies behind the question and then look at it again in another way.

Why do you need justification?

You were drunk again last night.
No I wasn't
You tripped over the TV and fell asleep in the toilet.
I didn't want to put the light on and disturb you
I wasn't asleep and that is the third time in two weeks that this has happened.  Don't you think you have a problem.
Well maybe I have been drinking a bit much lately ... a lot of stress at work.  I mean you should see Graham and how much he drinks when he is under pressure AND his wife doesn't complain, but that doesn't mean we are alcoholics.  Alcoholics .....(fill in what you like here, drink every day are always drunk etc).... and we don't do that. 

This argument, or something similar, is played out in many many households around the world.  You may even be familiar with it yourself.

Unfortunately in this scenario the trump card, verbal checkmate, match winning volley (call it what you will) is that statement "I'm not an alcoholic".  This is a discussion finisher if ever there was one.  Are you going to say yes you are an alcoholic when you know he is right he doesn't drink all the time (or whatever reason he gave).

So where does that leave you, when the drinker is IMG_5963.jpgdrinking themselves into a stupor, is a loud, obnoxious, aggressive, silly drunk AND this is happening on a fairly regular basis.  When he spends the money that was going to pay the outstanding bill, or she fails to be at that important appointment - AGAIN!

It is hardly surprising that you want to know the  answer to the all important questions. "Is he an alcoholic". "Does she need treatment".  "How can I get him to change."

If you can get a proper, official diagnosis then you can counter the argument by appealing to higher authority - Dr Yablonsky says that you are an alcoholic and therefore you need to change.  So it is not just me!!!  It's official!!!

For many then, the desire for a diagnosis is more about leverage for change than the need for an actual medical opinion.  It justifies their concern and takes the guesswork out of it and provides the perfect reason that will motivate the drinker to change.  Or does it?  Maybe, maybe not.


You now have the full weight of medical opinion in the shape of Dr Yablonski who says that your significant other is quite definitely alcohol dependent (wish he had used the word alcoholic!).  Surely now things will change, he can't deny it now - can he??  Well actually yes he can, like a stuck record!!
I'm not an alcoholic because (somebody, anybody) drinks far more than I do ... I don't drink every day ... I can stop when I want to ... etc etc.
Yes but you do (whatever he does) AND Dr Yablonski said ....
Yes I take your point BUT I'm not an alcoholic because (somebody, anybody) drinks far more than I do ... I don't drink every day ... I can stop when I want to ... etc etc.
But can't you see that (whatever else he does/doesn't) AND DR YABLONSKI SAID ....
Yes I know BUT I'm not an alcoholic because (somebody, anybody) drinks far more than I do ... I don't drink every day ... I can stop when I want to ... etc etc.

No wonder you feel frustrated.  Your life has just been reduced to the kindergarten where the intelligent discussions about crucial aspects of your life have been reduced to "Yes you are" "Oh no I'm not" "Oh yes you are" "Oh no I'm not"

So how do you break free of this cycle?


If you want to look at the actual medical criteria for alcohol problems go to the alcohol problems definitions.

Or you can find a discussion on alcoholism here.
Is it a problem?

You probably don't need to be told that confrontations, based on logic, appeal, guilt, accusation and whatever else you have thrown in, don't have the desired effect.  However you feel that they should work ... if only youCanon EOS 400D 015.jpg could find the right words ... get her in the right mood ... maybe when she is hung over ... maybe this time!!!

You have probably heard the term Denial used when talking about alcoholics and problem drinkers.  It tends to be used by people and organisations who believe that alcoholism is a disease and that denial is a symptom of that disease.  They suggest that denial is a mechanism used to protect their drinking, some describe is as outright lying!

However when you look around at other health risk behaviours you find denial there too, eg smoking, drug use, overeating, undereating, underexercising, general unhealthybehaviourism.  Few, if any, of the people engaged in these behaviours would be quick to admit that they are doing anything wrong.  Come to think of it, do any of us rush to admit that we are in the wrong - about anything???

Think for a moment about the last time someone accused you of something.  It may have been something trivial, a mistake or an oversight.  How did you feel and how did you react?  Did you own up or did you fight your corner, make excuses or just down right deny it?  (Alternately you may be a paragon who never makes mistakes and in the extremely rare occasions when it does happen you immediately own up.  If that is the case then this argument is wasted on you, as it is actually meant for us lesser mortals!!!)

What this is arguing is that denial is not something pathological (a symptom of an illness) but instead how most humans react when they are accused or feel under threat. And the more threatening the situation is the more robust the denial will be.

So a frontal attack accusing him of being an alcoholic will probably not be successful on two counts.  First, if denial is indeed a symptom of the disease of alcoholism then it will kick in to protect the drinker.  Second, if it is just a normal defence mechanism it will still be difficult to penetrate. 

So if confrontation won't work what then?

Your significant drinker may have an alcohol problem (or not) she may or may not be an alcoholic or alcohol dependent and that may need a professional to diagnose.  However you don't need a professional to tell YOU if YOU have a problem.  If your social life has disappeared because your husband gets drunk and upsets your friends, or you have no money because your wife spends so much on wine, or you are ashamed to talk about your home circumstances, you don't need a professional to tell you that YOU have a problem.  A diagnosis or denial of alcoholism does not change that.

You probably feel that the diagnosis just gives you hope that you have identified the problem and can fix it. 

One of the most difficult lessons that you need to learn is that it doesn't!

Wow, bet you weren't expecting that, were you?

The drinking is his (or her) problem.  However there are things you can do about it.  You can influence how he drinks, where and when and even IF he drinks.  But in order to do that you need to change your approach and use a system that runs counter to anything you have been using so far.

You have probably been in denial about your ability to change him as much as he has been in denial about his need to change.


Madness has been described as doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome.  It is now time to do something different, to change what is within your power to change and to stop wasting your time and efforts on actions that make you increasingly frustrated and feeling powerless.

In this website we will give you a new perspective and help you to step out of the shadow that alcohol is casting on your life.

Come and join Bottled-up

Please note that when we write these pages we recognise only too well that problem drinking affects both males and females.  So we are not being gender specific or sexist.  If your problem drinker is he or a she the pages are almost certainly just as relevant.  So if it is more relevant you read "she" when it says "he" or vice versa.
All material copyright Lou Lewis and John McMahon © 2013

All photographs by Cassia Lewis
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