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"Should I Quit Drinking TOO?" What to do if Your Partner is an Alcoholic

This question hit me like a ton of bricks in my early recovery. I knew that technically, I wasn't an alcoholic. I was just drinking because my friends worked at a bar, went to a bar, drank at the bar. And so did my partner.

It's important to have "shared interests" if you want to maintain a relationship. If your partner plays video games, you may feel compelled to join in a multiplayer. If your partner likes to hike up a mountain twice a week, you may decide to invest in a good pair of hiking boots. And when your partner drinks like they're training for the drunklympics... You see where I'm going with this...

So I became a hobbyist-drinker. Former straightXedge kid, took up alcohol as a special interest. I learned about all the different kinds of booze. I memorized what the bottles looked like. I developed a taste for Fernet Branca, and my local bartenders memorized my go-to drink orders. If I walk back into my home bar back in LA, I'll still be met with a chorus of "CORY!!!" and all the hugs I can stand. I love those people, and I miss them. Of course I do. I spent nearly every day with them for 4 years. That made it all-the-more-difficult to stop drinking when I decided it was time to make a change. I told myself "I can quit whenever I want to" - and I wasn't lying. I went periods without drinking frequently, it just happened to be whenever my alcoholic partner was NOT around. For some reason, in my scrambled-egg, codependency brain, drinking with the alcoholic seemed like the perfect way to convince him to stop... "Maybe if he sees how annoying it is to take care of ME when I'm drunk, he'll stop" "Maybe if I get too drunk, he'll be forced to take me home and stop drinking for the night" "Maybe if he sees other guys hitting on me it'll sober him up and ruin his night" Not kidding. This is where your brain goes when YOU take on the responsibility of covertly "solving" someone else's drinking problem.

So let's talk about the decision to stop drinking, and whether it's right for you.

Here are some questions to ask yourself, if you're considering cutting back on drinking out of solidarity for a loved one who struggles with alcohol abuse.

  • What solutions do I think will come from drinking with them?

  • Am I enjoying my time when I'm drinking?

  • What are my reasons for drinking - are those good reasons?

  • If I were the one struggling, would my partner's drinking make it harder for me for me to quit?

Oftentimes, we have beliefs around drinking that we may not be fully conscious of, and these beliefs can make it harder for us to understand why we should, or should not, take a break for our partner's sake. Many 12 Step programs will say that it's no one else's responsibility to quit in solidarity or to maintain an alcoholic's recovery. This may be objectively true, but when it comes to close romantic partnerships, we do have a role of influence and support that we can optimize by thinking critically about our decisions and how it affects our partner. Don't misunderstand: in no case should OUR drinking decisions be the make-or-break factor in our partner's recovery from alcohol abuse. They are still responsible for their recovery, even if we choose to continue drinking in the same capacity we have been. But for those of you on the fence, the questions above, and a bit of careful introspection into how you really feel about your own drinking behavior should help you to decide if it's time to cut back. Because we are in such a close and influential role, the decisions we make for ourselves can have a powerful impact on our loved ones. Stone cold sobriety is not required for partners to support recovery, but being deliberate and careful with the messages we send around alcohol can contribute to changing our family's culture around alcohol, and normalizing sober socializing. Consider making a point to skip the beer with dinner, ditch celebratory cocktails, and opt for healthier options when you can. Small changes like this can empower your alcoholic loved one to feel safe to pursue sobriety proudly when they're ready , knowing that they'll be embraced in such a big and scary change. If you're ready to set the example of recovery for your loved one who is struggling, click the link below to join us for Our Role in Recovery - a workshop for partners and families to learn how to lovingly encourage recovery, by making meaningful changes. Click here to Register for Our Role in Recovery

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