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My Wife Has a Problem with Alcohol. What’s the Difference between Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism?

by Richard

Richard here. 56 years old. Been married for close on 30 years. My wife has a definite drinking problem and I’m doing some research to try and understand her problem, and the terms alcohol abuse and alcoholism keep cropping up. So I’m trying to figure out what the differences are and if that affects the way in which I handle things?

She’s always loved a drink, but generally over the years it’s gone through cycles. There would be times where she’d drink a lot and others not much at all. There have been some embarrassing situations and quite a few fights because of the way she gets when she’s drunk, but generally I’ve never thought of it as too big of a deal. She’s been a good mother and I think our kids have turned out okay, so all turned out pretty well on that front.

A couple of years ago, our youngest finally moved out, and since then I’ve noticed a change in her. She’s drinking more, her behaviour and moods have become fairly erratic, and when I try talk to her about it she just says there’s nothing to talk about and she’s just sad that the kids have all now left home.

Some nights I find her passed out drunk in the family room and then have to put her to bed – and when I try talk to her about it the next day, she doesn’t remember anything. I don’t even always see her drinking (I think she often hides it) – but I can smell the alcohol on her and see it in her eyes, so I know she has.

Maybe she’s also depressed? I just don’t know. Is she an alcoholic. What do I do?




Hi Richard

I know what you’re going through now can’t be easy, but you’ve definitely taken the right approach by trying to understand the problem rather than just ignoring it and pretending it doesn’t exist (like too many people unfortunately do).

There’s a fine line between consistent alcohol abuse and alcoholism. Technically speaking alcohol abuse becomes alcoholism once a loss of control takes place and there is a physical or psychological dependence.

But I don’t place too much stock on technical definitions because they can get in the way of dealing with the issue – as you’ve recognised in your wife’s case, a problem with alcohol. As soon as alcohol begins to affect a person’s normal daily affairs or mental/emotional state, you know that the problem is serious enough that they need help. Unless of course they recognise that and then stop – but that very rarely happens.

The ten warning signs of alcoholism and the early signs of alcoholism are probably worth a read to help further your understanding.

When confronting a problem like alcohol abuse or alcoholism in someone we care about – the biggest obstacle we face is their likely denial to the problem. Things like alcoholism and drug addiction carry a certain social stigma with all sorts of negative connotations - despite the fact that addiction is now widely accepted as disease – so many who suffer from addiction live with shame about their problem, which plays a huge role in their denying it and prevents them getting the help they need.

So what you need to realise is that there is nothing you can do per say about your wife’s problem. She’s the only one that can beat it. What you can do however it try get her the help she needs via professional treatment. But if she’s in denial, it might be difficult to get her to agree to that. Then you will have to consider doing an intervention which can be a very powerful and effective way to help break through someone’s denial and get them the help they need.

You should also look at getting yourself to Al Anon meetings in your area. They are for people who are in exactly in your position and so you’ll be able to meet and learn from others going through what you are.

Take Care

Comments for My Wife Has a Problem with Alcohol. What’s the Difference between Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism?

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Aug 02, 2009
Be careful about an intervention
by: Frank

If you end up doing an intervention, make sure you're properly equipped before going ahead with it. Because it can go horribly wrong and you may end up alienating the person you've done it on. Call in the professionals to help you and make sure you understand the risks before going ahead.

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