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Your Turn: “Should I Leave My High-Functioning Alcoholic Boyfriend?”

In a feature I call “Your Turn,” in which you, the readers, get to answer the question, I’m presenting the following letter without commentary from me:

I am writing to you for some advice on my current live-in boyfriend. I am 29 and he is 31. We have been together almost three wonderful years, living together for one year. I am concerned that he is a very, very heavy drinker. I have never experienced negative behavior problems from his drinking — in fact, he appears to relax and be even giddy when he drinks — however, I have seen that he has a definite dependency on alcohol (his hands will physically shake when he stops drinking, and, if we run out of alcohol, he has to go to the store that night to pick up more, regardless of the hour).

Part of me thinks “he can do what he wants to his body,” but most of me feels concerned about having a future with him and what future issues can arise from so much drinking.

I must add that one year before I met him, he received a DUI and was court ordered to AA. According to him, however, the meetings were a “waste” and it was “everyone else” in the meeting that had a messed-up life story and not him. When I try to bring up the issue of dependency and alcoholism, he feels that drinking is only a problem “when it interferes with your life.” Since his DUI he has technically “turned it around” – he has a job, is attending college full-time and has a 4.0 (and is a perfectionist in every other aspect in his life).

It’s hard to tell him that I feel his drinking is a problem while there is no behavior I can point to as an issue since we have been together. Is it pulling the trigger too soon to want to leave him if he won’t stop drinking so excessively? Or is it silly for me to “wait and see” if problems show up from his drinking? — Waiting and Seeing

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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy@dearwendy.com.

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Comments on this entry are closed.

avatar Desiree September 19, 2012, 9:18 am

Ouch. The DUI should have told him that his drinking was a problem. I have known several “high-functioning alcoholics,” and it is very difficult to get them to acknowledge an issue. But you need to think longterm. If he were to get another DUI (very likely, given his continued elevated drinking), that would derail the life you have built together. Are you planning to spend the rest of your life with him? If so, his drinking is going to cause some major health problems down the road. Are you hoping to have children? Because I know from bitter personal experience, a high-functioning alcoholic does not a good parent make. I wish I could give you some advice on intervention techniques, but it sounds like your boyfriend is in deep denial and would just be angry with you. But I think it is worth a try at least. Otherwise, leave. Please trust me, his drinking won’t get any nicer as the years unfold.

avatar ktfran September 19, 2012, 9:36 am

I agree that he has a drinking problem. However, I wouldn’t equate a DUI with a drinking problem. Someone could have a few drinks one night, get in the car, drive and get a DUI. Having a few drinks one night does not make someone an acloholic. Getting in a car after a night of drinking is stupid, don’t get me wrong. And a bad decision.

avatar Desiree September 19, 2012, 10:08 am

That is certainly possible in other cases. For him, it seems more likely that the DUI is an extension/symptom of his problem, not an anomaly.

avatar ktfran September 19, 2012, 10:38 am

I agree with you Desiree. This guy has problems. I guess I just don’t equate DUI – must have a drinking problem. All other signs point to he has a drinking problem. And I’m really not making light of a DUI. It’s scary. Heck, when I’m home for the holiday’s and out with friends, I call my mom at 1 in the morning to pick me up. And luckily, I live in a city where cabs are everywhere.

avatar j2 September 19, 2012, 12:24 pm

LW needs help to deal with this.

My advice is for LW to get herself to Al Anon and learn.

Alcoholics can be persuasive, effective, and interesting, but they remain alcoholics and their decline is almost inevitable. The brighter they are, the better they protect ther addiction.

becboo84 BecBoo84 September 19, 2012, 10:22 am

I have to disagree. If you get a DUI, IMO, you have a drinking problem. You may not be an alcoholic in the traditional sense of the word, but clearly you have a problem with alcohol because, when drinking, you made a potentially fatal mistake, and not just for yourself. You made a mistake the could have ended the life of an innocent bystander. That is, by definition, a serious problem.

avatar ktfran September 19, 2012, 10:33 am

Don’t get me wrong. I think drinking and driving is awful. I personally don’t do it. But have you never known someone who had a couple drinks and decided to drive home? That person has a drinking problem?

I get the seriousness of the issue. I do. But by your calculations, I would say over half of the American population has a drinking problem. I don’t have the numbers to back that up, but having lived in small towns where cabs are scarce, I can go on and on about people who have driven after a few drinks. It doesn’t make it right. It’s just the way it is.

becboo84 BecBoo84 September 19, 2012, 10:55 am

Personally, I find the way we treat DUIs in this country inexcusable, and I agree that you’re right, it is because it’s so prevalent. How can lawmakers possibly strengthen DUI punishments when they themselves probably regularly violate the current laws I, too, spent several years living in a very small, rural community (where my husband was from), and the disregard for drinking and driving that ran rampant there was eye opening, but it was because, unless there was a serious accident, no one, including the police, did anything about it. What was even more shocking to me is that many of these folks lived within a mile or slightly more of the two local bars, so they could have walked!

And, unless the person chugged the two drinks and/or was very lightweight, that wouldn’t qualify as a DUI, at least not in the state of IL where the legal limit is .08. I have no idea what it is in other states.

avatar GatorGirl September 19, 2012, 10:37 am

If you go to dinner and have two glasses of wine and say a big salad and get pulled over on the way home- you don’t automatically have a problem with alcohol. You most likely have a problem with judgement.

becboo84 BecBoo84 September 19, 2012, 10:56 am

You also most likely wouldn’t be getting a DUI after two glasses of wine while out to dinner.

avatar Amber September 19, 2012, 11:15 am

In Canada you would – legal limit was lowered to .05.

becboo84 BecBoo84 September 19, 2012, 11:16 am

Well… I guess I’m going with the assumption that the LW is American and that most subscribers to this site are American, although I know that is not the case for everyone. And good for Canada!

avatar GatorGirl September 19, 2012, 11:22 am

Depends on who you are and how fast you metabolize. I went to this website and it calculated a .074% BAC (with a 100 lb female and 2 glasses of wine in an hour). Which is pretty damn close to the limit. If you had a wine with a higher alcohol content you could definitely hit the .08 mark. Sure a lot of cops would let you off if you were at .081 but a lot wouldn’t too.

http://bloodalcoholcalculator.org

avatar GatorGirl September 19, 2012, 11:26 am

I used the calculators at http://bloodalcoholcalculator.org/ and a 100 lb female who consumes 2 glasses of wine in 1 hour would be at .074% BAC. That is pretty dang close to the limit. If you have a higher alcohol content wine you could easily be over .08 if you are a 100 lb female (as I am).

It is possible.

avatar GatorGirl September 19, 2012, 11:55 am

I’ve tried to reply 3 times already and it won’t post my comment. Let’s see if ths works…

avatar GatorGirl September 19, 2012, 11:58 am

ok. There we go. I used a website I found with a quick google search for “blood alcohol calculator”. (I’m not going to post it because I think that’s why my comment wasn’t coming up.) If I drank 2 glasses of wine in 1 hour, being a 100 lb female., my blood alcohol level would be .074. If I’d selected a slightly higher alcohol content wine I would definitely be over .08. I don’t normally feel like I’m incapable of driving after two glasses of wine, but if I got pulled over I would be so close to the level (and potentially over). It is possible.

avatar GatorGirl September 19, 2012, 11:27 am

Using http://bloodalcoholcalculator.org a 100lb female who consumed 2 glasses of wine in 1 hour would be at .074% BAC. A higher alcohol wine would easily put you over the .08 limit.

avatar Amber September 19, 2012, 11:13 am

A DUI is definitely a poor decision making problem, but definitely not necessarily a “drinking” problem.

avatar Lindsay September 19, 2012, 10:41 am

I’d say the likelihood of him getting another is fairly high. Not only has he shown that he’s dumb enough to do it once, but I assume he’s intoxicated a good percentage of the time, which probably increases the chances. And since he functions so well, he probably thinks that he’s fine when he’s not. Just because he’s only gotten one, doesn’t mean he isn’t driving drunk — just means he hasn’t gotten caught again.

Separately, I don’t think DUI equals “drinking” problem, necessarily. If a person rarely drinks and then has two drinks, drives and get a DUI, they are extremely stupid, but they don’t have a dependence on alcohol. Sometimes it’s a drinking problem, and sometimes I think it’s a stupidity problem.

becboo84 BecBoo84 September 19, 2012, 11:01 am

I have no idea where this two drinks=DUI line of thinking is coming from. I’m sure the attached link isn’t the most scientific method, but it should give folks a general estimate: http://dui.drivinglaws.org/calc.php.

iwannatalktosampson Iwannatalktosampson September 19, 2012, 11:25 am

I calculated it for me and I would be around .04 at the most I will drink if I have to drive – which is about 2 glasses of wine over 2 hours at dinner. If I am drinking in public that’s pretty normal. Honestly most of the time I drink it’s at home while cooking. I think the problem comes in – and why you can’t predict – is that it also depends on what you’ve had to eat that day and a host of other factors like if the bar is actually serving standard drink sizes.

I can feel drastically different after two glasses of wine depending on the day. Sometimes I can’t feel the effects at all – not even the tingly lips which for me is the first thing that lets me know I’m tipsy. Other times I feel really tipsy. So I refuse to feel safe with the estimates. Maybe I’m just paranoid but I definitely won’t drive if I fall into the second category I described where I feel pretty tipsy. I would just never want to risk a DUI. So I hope people don’t take those estimates too seriously. Go by how you feel. If you feel tipsy – you’re probably over the limit. If you feel that relaxed calm – you’re probably fine.

Just a personal thought – I wish the legal limits were higher and the punishment more severe for DUI’s.

becboo84 BecBoo84 September 19, 2012, 11:31 am

I actually think .08 is too high because I never drink. If I have two drinks, I am definitely buzzed and in no condition to drive, even though I wouldn’t technically qualify for a DUI based on the .08 standard.

iwannatalktosampson Iwannatalktosampson September 19, 2012, 11:36 am

That’s why I think everyone should go by how they feel. You know if you’re tipsy or not. I mean I know we could never enforce that – but still. .08 for you probably feels drastically different than it does for me. Right now I drink more than I have in years past – and it’s about 2 glasses of wine twice a week. I wouldn’t say I have a tolerance – but I don’t not have a tolerance if that makes sense.

But like I said two glasses can feel drastically different to me depending on the day. Lots of days I don’t eat lunch and it feels like a lot on those days. Other days I can have two and feel sober.

becboo84 BecBoo84 September 19, 2012, 11:39 am

I totally get what you’re saying. Obviously, if people didn’t drive when they felt tipsy/drunk/etc, a lot of DUIs would be eliminated!

iwannatalktosampson Iwannatalktosampson September 19, 2012, 11:48 am

Yeah…but I wouldn’t trust people to be honest – no one would admit that they drove while drunk – but the world would be a much better place if we could just know that people wouldn’t drink when they felt altered. Then we wouldn’t have to do all this weird alcohol mathematics. We could just ask people if they are tipsy/drunk and then if they were DUI. If not they could carry on with their night.

avatar lynn September 19, 2012, 12:00 pm

Two non-light beers at dinner, of someone my size, puts me at the legal limit. DUI’s are not to be taken lightly, but people make mistakes.

I have a friend who was hit head on by a drunk driver, and she admits that she regularly drives when she probably shouldn’t. I know people who lives have been turned upside down by a drunk driver… and they still do it. People are so quick to shake their fingers and judge those who receive DUI’s and DWI’s when they should look in the mirror and ask themselves, “Have I ever driven when I probably shouldn’t have?” … and then there are those who are so judging of people with DUI’s, but when their kid or loved one gets one… they sing a completely different tune, because surely there is some mistake, surely the officer pulled them over for a BS reason.

You know, the state of Texas has a high DWI rate yet they have some of the toughest DWI laws in the country… so why are the numbers so high? I think some of it has to do with the fact that it wasn’t thaaaaat long ago when drinking and driving (not drunk driving) was still legal. My parents remember it.

DUI’s are concerning and are terrible… but not everyone who gets one has a problem. Problems with judgement? Yeah. Drinking? Not necessarily. Are they all bad people? Absolutely not. Are some bad people? Probably.

It’s all sticky.

avatar Lindsay September 19, 2012, 1:03 pm

I have a lot of friends who rarely drink and will feel drunk after two drinks. I don’t give them a Breathalyzer, but I assume that if they call themselves drunk, they could get a DUI if they drove. I wasn’t saying two drinks was the norm, but it was just my example of a time when getting a DUI doesn’t mean excessive drinking or alcoholism.

avatar kerrycontrary September 19, 2012, 9:19 am

Should you leave your alcoholic boyfriend: Yes.

landygirl landygirl September 19, 2012, 11:34 am

Nothing more needs to be said.

avatar Alecia September 19, 2012, 9:24 am

He’s using the classic technique of pointing the finger at everyone but himself. And it will only get worse as the years pass. Whatever issue he uses as a reason for his drinking will only fester unless he gets the help he needs. If he doesn’t like AA, I’m sure his insurance provides some type of private counseling. There’s no excuse for not getting help. Either he wants a semi-drunk life or a fully sober one- you can’t have both.
If he doesn’t want to clean up his act I think you should leave. No questions asked. Life’s too short to deal with people who can’t account for their issues.

becboo84 BecBoo84 September 19, 2012, 10:23 am

Also, if he’s a full time student, I’m sure his university has free counseling services and is probably quite adapt at dealing with alcohol related issues.

avatar tbrucemom September 19, 2012, 9:25 am

What you’ve described is definitely a functional alcoholic. The part I don’t quite understand is his hands shaking when he isn’t drinking. I’m not sure how that works if he’s going to college full time, holding down a job, etc. Do his hands shake during class and while he’s at work? That would be awkward. I have a friend who’s a functioning alcoholic and he’s such a great guy and I know his wife is very happy with him so I’m thinking it can work as long as it’s doesn’t interfere with his job and school, he NEVER drives after drinking and obviously he doesn’t become abusive, either verbally or physically, while he’s drinking.

avatar bethany September 19, 2012, 9:36 am

He probably drinks before/during class or work.

katie katie September 19, 2012, 9:56 am

yea, people like that are “drunk” all the time- but to them its normal. its like if you were to drink X amount of drinks everyday, pretty soon that would be “normal” to your body. its not drunk as others think of drunk, falling over and laughing or whatever…

avatar Micah September 19, 2012, 10:08 am

RE: his hands shaking when he’s not drinking – I’m actually taking a course in drugs and their effects on the body right now, so I just consulted my textbook. The shaking, my guess, would be the first signs of withdrawal symptoms, which don’t always occur immediately once the alcohol leaves the system. So if he’s a very heavy drinker, he could probably go most of the day without experiencing these symptoms, but once he starts getting to twelve or more hours without alcohol, that’s when the shaking starts.

I also have witnessed this personally. I grew up with an alcoholic parent (who is now many years sober) but when the blow-up event that made her decide to quit drinking, it wasn’t until a day or so later that she started shaking and trembling.

That being said, it’s very difficult living with a high-functioning alcoholic. I did for a very long time, just under different circumstances. They often won’t see it as a problem until it’s too late and something happens that makes them snap out of it. Luckily in my situation, it was nothing life-threatening or illegal, but you can never know what’s going to set off that bomb. And just because it’s not interfering in his life in a legal or harmful way, it’s interfering with his relationship with you, and that is reason enough for him to seek help. A person doesn’t need to be breaking the law or getting into bar fights to be an alcoholic. The fact that he drinks so much that you are bothered by it is enough. It may seem like there’s no cause to MOA, but it may be for the best. He’s putting his body under an incredible amount of physical stress, first of all, that can lead to health problems down the road. And even though he doesn’t get violent or rowdy when he’s drinking, alcohol makes everyone unpredictable. Personally, I wouldn’t wait around to see just how his problem develops into something threatening.

Good luck, LW. This is a very tough situation, and I wish you all the best. He may be a fantastic person sober, but ultimately you have to make the decision that is best for you and not just wait and hope that he’ll wake up one day and change.

avatar Mara September 19, 2012, 10:37 am

Hi, I just wanted to reply to your comment of why his hands are shaking when he doesn’t drink. His hands shake because he is going through withdrawal. I am a nurse on a ICU step down unit and take care of a lot of detox patients, so I see these types of patients a lot. Alcohol withdrawal is a very serious medical condition and can result in a seizure if not done properly. I would be very concerned if the boyfriend decided to detox on his own and not with the help of medical professionals. I can already imagine the life you will have with him as he gets older and when his alcohol consumption catches up to him. Pancreatitis, Hepatitis, cirrhosis of the liver, and neurological deficits are the major complications I see resulting from a life time of alcohol consumption. Be prepared to see him detox in the hospital.

avatar Mara September 19, 2012, 10:39 am

If you want a physiology lesson, I can explain the process later if you want to know.

avatar AndreaMarie September 19, 2012, 2:11 pm

I thought the same thing. Once he’s out of college one would assume he hopes to land a professional career. There’s no time for drinking there. If he needs alcohol to function he’s going to have a hard time keeping down a job. You come back from lunch (or any point during the day) smelling like booze you will be walked out the door. If he doesn’t get this in check they are going to have far bigger problems down the road.

Fabelle Fabelle September 19, 2012, 9:26 am

I have to wonder if he hid how heavy the drinking was when you first began dating? I could see him explaining the DUI & coming off as someone who still has a healthy relationship with alcohol. If he’s this high-functioning, I can see how he’d be able to mask his issue until you guys moved in together. I can also understand the internal debate you have going on with yourself. If there’s no crazy issue for you to point at, then what is your incentive to leave?

From what you describe, this is a long relationship he’s had with alcohol. I’m not familiar with this firsthand (I’m sure the other commenters will be better able to address your letter) but if his hands shake when he’s not drinking & alcohol actually seems to relax him, then his body is treating it as a necessary substance.

He’s 31. If he’s still in denial about his problem, then I don’t see him getting better–which you’re right, will lead to health problems. This is a major issue, even though he’s not sleeping in the gutter every night or getting fight-y with you. It’s not “pulling the trigger too soon” to want to leave him.

avatar Tax Geek September 19, 2012, 9:37 am

Don’t know what your final decision would be. But:

“he can do what he wants to his body” – True, but are you willing to deal with the consequences long-term?

And if he is getting alcohol when he runs out, is he risking another DUI? Or worse, putting himself and innocent strangers at risk? Are you willing to deal with that?

avatar TECH September 19, 2012, 9:39 am

This is a tough situation. Right now, you say his behavior is good even though he’s drinking heavily. I would counter that will not last forever. You are both bound to run into some negative consquences, whether it be another DUI, an injury, a serious health problem, termination from his job, etc. This kind of situation does not end well.
Millions of women have stayed in relationships with “high functioning” alcoholics, but it hasn’t been an easy road for them.
The question you need to answer is: Do you want to get married or have children with this man? If the answer is yes, I would hope you don’t want your potential children exposed to an alcoholic environment. If you wants kids, you need to put your foot down that he gets treatment for his illness. If he’s unwilling, I would get out. You deserve better, and if you want kids, they deserve better too.

katie katie September 19, 2012, 9:58 am

oh speaking of serious health problem- alcoholics usually die young, and of liver failure. so theres that…

katie katie September 19, 2012, 10:16 am

and thinking about it, i know one person who died from liver failure at around 50 (im guessing, maybe 40′s) and i know of another person who died mid-twenties/early thirties from liver failure. both alcoholics. the liver can only take so much, and its impossible to predict how much they can take.

i wonder what would happen if you took him to a doctor to get his liver checked out? how long has he lived like this?

katie katie September 19, 2012, 10:56 am

nope- i know three people. and the third was very young as well, like mid twenties/thirties ish. AND a doctor even told her she was going to die from liver failure if she didnt stop, and she couldnt stop.

avatar bethany September 19, 2012, 9:41 am

I think what it ultimately comes down to, is that your boyfriend isn’t going to stop drinking. You can’t make him, and it sounds like he doesn’t think he has a problem. So this is who he is. You need to decide if you want to live with that for the rest of your life. Think long term- If you want to get married and have kids, you can NEVER trust him to drive your kids anywhere. Is that a life you want? You need to look at the big picture and imagine your future with an alcoholic. If you’re ok with what you see, then stay with him. Chances are, you’re not ok with it, though. If that’s the case, it’s time to MOA.

FireStar FireStar September 19, 2012, 9:43 am

People can be high-functioning drug-addicts – but not 24/7. And apparently that includes your boyfriend since he goes into withdrawal symptoms unless he has a steady stream of alcohol at hand. How functioning of a person is he then? How functioning was he when he was arrested and, presumably taken into custody? And as for alcohol being fine unless it interferes with your life – what would he call a DUI? Didn’t that interfere with his life?
Where you are at now is the beginning of the road into hell. That really is the only place addiction lead. It may be a slow road – it may be a quick descent. A DUI is not a minor infraction. Drunk drivers KILL people. That, but for the grace of God, could have happened to him the night he got his DUI. He could have faced significant jail time and a lifetime of living with the reality that he killed someone because he needed a drink. If he no longer gets behind a wheel when he has been drinking – great. But how do you know that will continue? Alcohol impairs judgement. If he leaves the house at all hours to get alcohol – what happens when when he runs out as he has been drinking? Does he drive then? Or do you go for him? And not unimportantly – you are already concerned about his drinking. His drinking is affecting your relationship if you are writing in to advice columnists on how to handle it. By his own definition – it is now a problem. I’m not sure what you are waiting to see. Him dead in a car wreck? The family of the person he kills while getting another DUI crying in court? The look on his face when the hospital tells him he needs a new liver? There is nothing good to see coming up worth waiting for.

Budj Budj September 19, 2012, 9:45 am

Often a high-functioning alcoholic is self-medicating other issues like depression or anxiety with the alcohol. There may be something more to this story. I would encourage him to talk to somebody – especially if he is shakingly addicted.

Budj Budj September 19, 2012, 9:47 am

and a lot of times the individual doesn’t have an objective opinion on themselves…so if he says he is fine that isn’t enough…he may not even realize he is doing it / depending on it for those reasons.

katie katie September 19, 2012, 9:52 am

“It’s hard to tell him that I feel his drinking is a problem while there is no behavior I can point to as an issue since we have been together” — there is no behavior you can point too? how about the DUI? what about failing at AA? what about being so dependant on alcohol he will go get it no matter the time of day? how about his physical withdraw symptoms when he doesnt have it?

these are all bahaviors that i would say are an issue. i would never, ever be able to be with someone who was so dependant/obsessed with something. i mean, i get a little mad about all the football that my boyfriend watches now, and he doesnt even follow it *that* closely… i cant imagine planning a life around alcohol. these are behaviors that he can just brush off as “normal”, but if you think they are a problem, they are (and i think the majority of people would agree with you). thats a bar you can set.

something someone said on another alcoholic letter is something i think you need to hear: you will never be in a relatioship with just the two of you. it will always be you, him, and the alcohol. it will always be a silent being, in there in the room with the two of you, a part of everything you two do together or ever hope to do together. so know that, and understand that fully.

and finally, have higher standards! there is nothing wrong with saying, you dont meet my standards of a partner because you are dependant on a substance. people need to have higher standards in general for all the people in their lives.

avatar BML November 25, 2012, 2:30 pm

Katie,

You are right on about three people being in the relationship: you, your partner and booze. And booze will always come before you. I now know this after 20+ years. My spouse has not hit bottom, and probably never will. He’s losing me, our life together, and a future together. After several attempts to leave, I am finally doing so. While that fills me with immense sadness I know that I will never be #1 in this relationship. Reckoning that fact took years.

To your final point Katie, I have indeed decided to set my standards higher because I deserve to be happy and healthy. I deserve to feel safe and loved in my own home. I deserve to not have to wonder if I’ll be greeted by Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde when I arrive home.

For those living with HFA, think long and hard about what your future will look like based on your reality in the present. The mirror does not lie.

SweetsAndBeats SweetsAndBeats September 19, 2012, 9:55 am

The thing is that if someone has a dependency issue but thinks that his “life story” is not messed up enough that he needs to manage his addiction, they will eventually get worse – physically and/or mentally. It sounds like he has a remarkable amount of self control, but this will not last forever. Eventually a stressor will come up, or his situation will change, and his drinking may spiral out of control. Regardless of that possibility, it is guaranteed that he will eventually suffer some serious health effects from drinking so heavily for such a long time. You’re dating a time bomb.

avatar Monica M September 19, 2012, 10:49 am

Your last sentence is all the LW needs. Perfectly stated. “Dating a time bomb.”

avatar TheGirl September 19, 2012, 9:57 am

YES. Yes you should leave your alcoholic boyfriend. If you are looking for a long term relationship, this has no where to go but down. Sure, he’s not in trouble now, but even if he doesn’t get in legal or financial trouble, his liver WILL get in trouble, and you don’t want to be the enabler that allowed that to happen. Tell him you are leaving him and tell him exactly why. Tell him you love him but can’t sit around and watch him destroy his body. Maybe your leaving will be the push that gets him to re-evaluate his life choices, but even if it doesn’t, it’s the right thing to do.

avatar Anna September 19, 2012, 9:58 am

It does sound like your boyfriend has a problem with alcohol, but only you can decide what you can live with. Some people wouldn’t tolerate their SO drinking even a little bit ever. I know a lot of people like that, coming from a conservative religious family. What are your limits? He can never drink again if you stay? He has to cut back? Figure out what you want to happen and communicate your concerns to him. Tell him you’re concerned about his health if he keeps drinking excessively. Maybe he would agree to see a substance abuse counselor and cut back on the booze if he knew how worried you are. It’s really great that he has his shit together even while dealing with this dependency. Isn’t that drive to succeed a good thing to have in a partner? I think so. It means that he’s doing a pretty good job of handling shit right now and if he were willing to work on the alcohol issue, he would be a rockstar and even more motivated to succeed than he is now.

Stop with the “wait and see.” Take action. Talk to him. Only then will you know if he’s willing to clean up his act a little and if you want to stay with him. It could be the best thing you ever do for your boyfriend and your relationship. Good luck!

avatar shanshantastic September 19, 2012, 10:33 am

I agree completely – you have to decide what you are willing to live with, and then talk to him. Just understand that he has to want to change, and accept the possibility that your relationship may not be enough of a reason for him to want that change. Also, once you’ve set your limits, stick to them as painful as it may be.

FireStar FireStar September 19, 2012, 10:41 am

My understanding with addiction is that you have to stop completely (treatment may start with scaling back but the goal is zero consumption for recovery). A lot of addicts tell their partners they will cut down but the drinking just goes underground. If you were the type of person that could drink in moderation – so that it wouldn’t have led to an addiction – you wouldn’t have been an addict in the first place. I imagine there are some people who have developed the strength of will to limit themselves to occasional use – even though they are addicted – but I would guess those people are few and far between. And I imagine they can only accomplish that after being dry for a significant length of time so that their brain chemistry and body can recovery from the addiction. Though truly I’ve never heard of a drug addict in recovery that successfully indulges in occasional use.

iwannatalktosampson Iwannatalktosampson September 19, 2012, 10:58 am

I agree with every single point you made.

FireStar FireStar September 19, 2012, 11:23 am

That is extra special given your comment of the week status!

iwannatalktosampson Iwannatalktosampson September 19, 2012, 11:50 am

Swoon.

avatar CSP September 19, 2012, 12:05 pm

I agree, but this is someone that has not been officially diagnosed. The LW needs to have a conversation. He might be ready to change and her threat to leave might be just what he needs to change. I think she should talk to him and give him a chance.

avatar Anna September 19, 2012, 8:38 pm

I think it’s that attitude that keeps a lot of people drinking because society doesn’t even consider it an option for them to find a middle ground. The whole basis of the AA bullshit is that the person is powerless over their own behavior and they have to believe in a god who is going to control their every move from now on. It’s extremism, and every case doesn’t necessitate extremism.

I’ve talked about this before here, but I used to have a problem with alcohol. I was a problematic binge drinker. Once I was at a party drinking, there was no stopping until I was blacked out drunk. My boyfriend was embarrassed and the hangovers were terrible. Finally, he told me how worried he was about my drinking to excess whenever we went out and how it’s obviously not healthy. He told me he was embarrassed to be seen with me when I was wasted and acting a fool. I thought about it and knew he was right, so I decided to majorly cut back and just sip a little. I have now been a responsible drinker for over 3 years, zero blackouts/hangovers. Usually I have one glass of wine after work, sometimes 2 but really don’t get drunk. I changed my behavior on my own because I am not powerless – I am powerful. And I still don’t believe in a fucking god. I think a lot of the people that are dismissed as “worthless addicts” by society and deemed unfixable except by extreme means would benefit by someone believing in their own power to do the right thing.

avatar TheOtherOtherMe September 19, 2012, 10:06 am

Oh honey, you need to get out now. I know it’s hard to hear, this does not get better. Alcoholism is a progressive disease, and just because he may be high-functioning NOW doesn’t mean he will be forever. Speaking from bitter personal experience, he will start needing more and more through the years and he will be less and less able to act “normal.” Also, the health consequences of long-term alcohol abuse are not minor: in addition to cirrhosis of the liver (which WILL happen to him at some point) he could develop chronic pancreatitis, which could kill or seriously debilitate him. If he doesn’t agree to at least see a private counselor, you need to try to stage an intervention and/or just leave him. If he quits drinking in response to the shock of your breakup, do NOT get back together with him unless he a) goes to rehab, b) enters a long-term counseling program for addicts, and c) has been sober for at least one year.

avatar Sheryl September 19, 2012, 10:10 am

I’m not clear if he is really drinking ALL the time. Does he wake up and drink a beer for breakfast? and then proceed to drink 10 more throughout the day?
Also, he is really getting “drunk” everynight, or is does he just religiously have a beer/two/three everynight?

If he is getting wasted every day, yes, he has a problem.
As someone who grew up with German grandparents who had beer every single lunch and dinner, drinking every day isn’t a big deal. He might be really stressed (hence the shaking?) and the drink is just a nerve calmer. I don’t understand how he can be THAT high functioning if he really is completely wasted.

Like i said, every day 1-2 beers per meal is not the same as every day DRUNK (though I wouldn’t choose do to that). I can’t tell what you think is excessive.

katie katie September 19, 2012, 10:20 am

you have to know, “completely wasted” is something the body does when it is not used to alcohol. your parents drank everyday, and were fine- but if someone who never drank anything had the same amount of alcohol, they would “get wasted”. so this guy has to drink whatever amount just to get back to that “normal” amount his body is used to. so no, he is not “wasted” everyday as you or I think about being “wasted”, but he is dependant on the alcohol to get to that “normal” because his body is so used to it.

also, the shaking is a classic withdraw symptom, as someone said above.

avatar Anna September 19, 2012, 10:21 am

I agree with you, Sheryl. I would say I drink a little bit most days but I very rarely get drunk. There is a difference between someone who drinks a little bit each day and someone who gets up, starts drinking, and doesn’t stop until they pass out again each day.

avatar jlyfsh September 19, 2012, 10:26 am

i don’t think you have to get wasted every day to have a dependence on alcohol. if his anxiety is so high he needs a drink to calm down on a consistent basis, that is still a problem. he needs to speak to a doctor and talk about medication or other things he can do to help his anxiety.

and if he has to go out no matter what the hour and replenish the alcohol that is also a problem. if it was midnight and i really wanted a glass of wine and realized we were out i would be a little disappointed but i wouldn’t need to run to the store….

FireStar FireStar September 19, 2012, 10:43 am

Agree!

avatar Sheryl September 19, 2012, 12:27 pm

if 1 drink does calm his nerves (even if its every day), why is that worse than asking a doctor to prescribe you drugs for anxiety? Drugs are not always safer. Especially if he is borderline alcoholic, which I’m not ruling out.

It’s hard to tell from the description… some of these situations described just doesn’t add up. If everything else in his life is just stellar, I don’t buy that his drinking IS actually a problem. If the LW didn’t grow up around casual alcohol, she might see ‘everyday’ as an issue and be looking for one.

And, for the record, if he is drinking at BREAKFAST, there is a problem. Lunch & dinner (max 2 drinks per meal) I might tolerate, similar to how I would tolerate smoking. I wouldn’t like it (and its not good for him), but I probably wouldn’t break up over it.

avatar rachel September 19, 2012, 12:42 pm

Sheryl, you should read Anon’s experience below. It is definitely possible to have a drinking problem and a successful life. That’s why it’s called a “functioning” alcoholic.

avatar jlyfsh September 19, 2012, 12:43 pm

see i have a big problem with people who assume that treating yourself for depression and anxiety issues with alcohol is safer than talking to a therapist and taking medication. if you shake whenever you stop drinking (the LWs words) you have a problem, and it’s probably not anxiety. as others have mentioned more than likely the hand shaking is a sign of withdrawal and not a symptom of anxiety.

and in general it’s not ok to need alcohol to be a happy person. if you need alcohol or any other crutch to function on a daily basis (like the example of one drink to quell anxiety) you have a problem.

JK JK September 19, 2012, 12:46 pm

WJFS

katie katie September 19, 2012, 1:37 pm

the thing is that there isnt a hard and fast rule about what makes someone an alcoholic and what doesnt. drinking with breakfast actually doesnt mean your are automatically an alcoholic. and for others, drinking 2 drinks at 2 meals may very mean they are alcoholics.

i think you dont understand addiction. physical, real, addiction. this guy starts to go through withdraw symptoms if he doesnt drink- do you know how much you have to consume over a pretty long amount of time to get to physical withdraw symptoms? even if he only drinks a few drinks a day, if he has done that for 15 years, that is an issue! also, he has to have drinks- he will go any time of day to get more if he runs out. that is a real addiction. it doesnt matter the amount, it doesnt matter if he passes out everyday- none of those “typical” symptoms have to be there for it to be an issue.

also, i dont think you understand what drinking means to someone who is an alcoholic. for someone who drinks everyday, if they drink the same amount, they will slowly stop being drunk. so, two drinks a day will stop getting them tipsy. so they go to 3 to get drunk. so now, 2 drinks is a “normal” level, and 3 is drunk. then the body gets used to that. then 3 drinks is “normal” and 4 is drunk. and on and on it goes until he has to drink an amount that could easily kill other people just to feel drunk. his body is so used to the constant stream of alcohol, is has learned to function with it as a regular thing. the body is able to do this with many different toxins/substances, and its very, very bad for you. the liver starts to fail, the brain starts to fail, and the end is death.

all of this is to say, just because YOU wouldnt be addicted drinking twice a day doesnt mean others wont either. everyone’s body is different, and this man is addicted- no question.

JK JK September 19, 2012, 1:45 pm

you explained it perfectly, Katie. :)

iwannatalktosampson Iwannatalktosampson September 19, 2012, 10:26 am

I kind of think having 4 beers a day – 2 at lunch and 2 and dinner is excessive. That should be the exception – not the norm. This is only my opinion – but for me I would not be okay with that. I like getting the tipsy buzz because it’s rare – but I would not enjoy doing it and then just going back to work. I find there is a direct correlation between how often I drink and how anxious I am. But again maybe that’s just me. But I know I wouldn’t be okay with my spouse having 4 beers a day everyday either.

avatar GatorGirl September 19, 2012, 10:34 am

1 to 2 beers per meal…I hope you don’t factor lunch, or even breakfast into that! I love beer (and drinks of all sorts) but unless football is involved I just about never drink before my dinner is in front of me.

iwannatalktosampson Iwannatalktosampson September 19, 2012, 10:10 am

My biggest concern if I were in your situation LW, would be all the wasted time spent wasted. Don’t get me wrong I love happy hours, I love tailgating, I love drinking to unwind. But every night? Doesn’t he have other hobbies? I am always weary when someone’s hobby is drinking. It’s fine if you drink while doing some of your other hobbies (keg kickball anyone?) but if drinking is the event of the night – well that’s weird.

Can you imagine a future with someone who is drunk all the time? Maybe he hasn’t had any negative consequences yet because his life right now is conducive to drinking. What if you have kids? What if he gets a job where he’s on call occasionally? Do you trust that he can quit on his own at any point? Because he can’t keep this up forever. And if you don’t think he can quit on his own you need to let him know that for you it’s a problem.

If I were in your shoes I wouldn’t be okay with it. It’s only a matter of time before it all catches up with him – and I wouldn’t want to be around for that. He’s an adult – he’ll do what he wants but you don’t have to be along for the ride.

katie katie September 19, 2012, 10:13 am

oh hey miss comment of the week!!

iwannatalktosampson Iwannatalktosampson September 19, 2012, 10:27 am

Oh hey! Being comment of the week means that for the rest of the week my comments have more validity right? Right?!?!

avatar MJ September 19, 2012, 10:40 am

Yeah, I briefly dated a guy who was an alcoholic, and our social lives revolved around alcohol. If we went out, we had to go to bar (or somewhere with a bar). If we stayed in, he was on his way to getting drunk. We rarely saw other people, because ugh, that was so embarrassing.

It was completely unhealthy for me (and for him), of course, but it was also incredibly boring after awhile.

avatar lynn September 19, 2012, 10:12 am

Oh gosh, that’s tough. I mean if you’re not experiencing anything negative from it, then you should be OK? There are a lot of heavy drinkers out there who are not necessarily alcoholics, they just like to drink a lot.

The fact he received a DUI is concerning. Obviously people make mistakes and it only takes one time to get caught or to seriously injure or kill someone, but on average (from articles I’ve read), a person drives over the legal limit at least 88 times before getting caught. I hope his DUI was a one-time thing, and it’s good to hear that he has turned it around. That is a good sign.

The funny thing about AA… a lot of people go in there thinking exactly what your boyfriend thought. I sort of felt the same, but I kept going because certain things resonated with me. When I got my sponsor, she said, “Look for the similarities, not the differences.” He may not relate to every story, but if you stick around long enough, you start to hear things that remind you of yourself. I’m not the alcoholic who ruined her life and lost everything and was a hot mess all the time, but I noticed if things were going wrong, I would turn to alcohol and would sometimes binge drink. Alcoholism runs in my family, sooo AA seemed like a solid option. Also, trying out different meetings helps too. I found my home group, and it’s very different than the first meeting I tried out.

Honestly though, you can’t decide if he’s an alcoholic, but I don’t agree with him when he says that drinking is only a problem when it interferes with your life. Some people don’t see the damage it does to their relationships until it’s too late. There is a reason why groups like Al-Anon exist.

If I were you, I’d wait it out (unless you’re concerned with his health in the long run). But if he starts behaving poorly and his life (and your life) starts unraveling, give him a treatment option (AA, treatment, counseling, etc. etc.) and if he doesn’t bite… then run. It isn’t fair to you.

avatar shanshantastic September 19, 2012, 10:38 am

The part about AA stuck out for me as well. My father had a big “blow up” moment like some others have mentioned, and he was sentenced to probation and mandatory AA. He went in with the same “I don’t have a problem, these people do” attitude and his sobriety only lasted for a few months before he went back to the heavy drinking. Your sponsor gave you an invaluable piece of wisdom..maybe I should pass it on.

Also, good mention of Al-Anon. LW, regardless of what you decide to do it wouldn’t hurt to find a group near you. You can find a solid support system of people who know what you’re going through, and if you’re like me (Alateen through school) it can help you set limits as far as how much you’re willing to deal with.

avatar lynn September 19, 2012, 11:41 am

I also hear a lot of the, “it hasn’t happened yet.”

“You haven’t lost your job yet, you haven’t lost your husband yet, you haven’t been caught yet.” … I think that tends resonates with people struggling with giving up alcohol.

I know AA doesn’t work for some people, but I think a lot of that depends on attitude, desire and the group one chooses to go to. My first meeting was intimate but very disorganized and some “shady” people came in. My home group now though has a lot of older, well-to-do individuals with lots of years of sobriety, and I seem to connect with them better. A lot of them have taken me under their wing because I’m so much younger than most people they see. But treatment, counseling, etc. has done wonders for people as well. I say whatever works for them, they should go for it.

Al-Anon is pretty helpful. I attend an Al-Anon meeting every week, and I truly wish I had known about the group years ago. The 3 G’s and 3 C’s are help… “Get off of him, get over it and get on with it”… and “You didn’t cause it, you can’t change it, you can’t cure it.” It’s been a nice outlet to have people I can talk to about alcohol issues I’ve had with a close family member.

avatar SweetPeaG September 19, 2012, 10:12 am

I feel a little unqualified to give you the kind of response that you probably need as this is a big and serious issue. I hope that you will take into consideration everyone’s opinions here. But, I also hope that you think about seeking the help of a professional… a therapist, a support group, or other resources that can give you more educated advice.

However, I can give you my opinion on how I would personally feel. How much does your boyfriend know about your feelings as far as his drinking? Do you tiptoe around the subject? You do state that he says drinking is only a problem when it “interferes with your life”. Is that in response to conversations you’ve tried to have with him about this? Or is it just a general statement? I ask this because I think a real conversation NEEDS to be had if it hasn’t happened already. You do need to lay it all on the line… no beating around the bush… he needs your hard truth.

You love him, he loves you and you seem to be happy. That in itself is worth the effort. And, there is a chance he can turn things around (for real… not just… oh, he has a good GPA). But, maybe it is ultimatum time. You are 29. You don’t mention whether or not you want a family. But, sorry to say, this is the age where you need to start making solid future decisions. If your voice of real concern isn’t enough for him to get help and make changes, then it is probably time to go.

I wish you all the luck in the world and I hope we get a happy update in the future, whatever your decision.

avatar applescruffs September 19, 2012, 10:13 am

As a therapist, I have to tell you that AA isn’t my favorite. It’s been a help for a lot of people, but it isn’t the only option out there. We have this idea that only former addicts can counsel other addicts. If that’s true, my entire profession is out the window, because I’ve never heard voices telling me I can fly but I counsel people who do. The point is, there are a lot of options besides AA to explore.

I’m not going to tell you to MOA immediately. I will tell you that I grew up with a high functioning alcoholic dad, and he’s just now, in his 60s, getting to the point where he realizes he needs help, and the drinking has been masking a low level depression his whole life. I’ve just gotten to the point, in my late 20s, where I can admit to friends and family that he has a problem – my best friends from childhood had no idea until I told them last year. Alcoholic families are masters of secrets. My boyfriend’s mother was an alcoholic, but not a high functioning one, for the last 10 years. She was a menace to her neighbors because she drove drunk through the neighborhood, she was in and out of rehab, and three weeks ago she died of liver failure. She didn’t want to change, and it killed her. You need to know what your life could look like if you commit to this man. But if the relationship is good in every other way, I think it’s worth working with him on this issue, for a while. He can check his insurance to find a provider to treat the drinking and what is probably an underlying issue. Find someone who is a CACIII. People can change, and they do. Every day. But I would also recommend seriously thinking before you talk to him about your time frame, and what your dealbreakers are. You need to know, before you decide to help him, how much you can take. Your needs matter in all this, too.

QaraKoz Qara Koz September 19, 2012, 11:36 am

“Alcoholic families are masters of secrets.”

THIS. So true of most alcoholics that I know of. For most of my teen years I didn’t treat alcoholism as a serious condition because I could always think of other people who drank a lot but managed to ‘have normal lives’.