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Dealing with Addiction

My partner and I have lived together for eight years. From the time we first met, we’ve always enjoyed a glass of wine or two with dinner and kept our partying for the weekends with minimal drug use. What can we say, we like our drinks. But the past couple of years has gotten me worried; now we find ourselves polishing off a bottle or two each night. My partner is calling in sick more often, raising suspicions from his co-workers and causing me extra stress. I’ve tried to bring it up with him, but he’s very defensive and says our drinking is normal and not excessive, and to stop worrying. I’d love to be able to have a couple of drinks and be satisfied. Any advice? I feel like I’m drowning here.”

Dear William,
Drinking is such a common part of our daily lives, it’s everywhere we go/look/shop/read/eat. Alcohol is socialized and sanctioned from a young age and it can be challenging to break unhealthy drinking patterns given how commonplace it is in our lives. The reality is that alcohol, despite it initially offering a light emotional lift, is a chemical depressant that can have a delayed effect of making us blue and, you guessed it, longing for more booze.

A question that can be helpful with any addictive tendency is this: what would I have to feel if I didn’t X? [X=drink this drink, snort this drug, buy this thing, f— this person, etc.] Addiction is usually about mood-shifts; we use substances as a way of shifting us out of certain feelings that feel uncomfortable or frightening into a more heightened and disconnected state.

Your longing to be able to consume one or two drinks and stop there makes perfect sense. We live in a culture that bombards us with messages that alcohol is unlike other drugs in that we should all be able to have some in moderation. While, with time, you might be able to master this level of self-control, the reality is that some of us are unlikely to be able to get some alcohol into our system without that setting off a cascade of chemical and psychological processes that result in over-consumption.

A nice first step would be to experiment with delaying your actual consumption or “urge surfing”—this means waiting 10 minutes between your desire to drink and actually pouring yourself a glass. This will give you a chance to see what feelings are present that typically would get literally washed down inside. You will need to learn ways of identifying, experiencing and soothing your emotions so that you feel less threatened by them. To assist you on your mission, seek out an addictions therapist or support group. Most people who recover from addiction successfully have benefited from a supportive community that bolsters them when familiar habits resurface.

Your situation is particularly tricky as you don’t just have to face your own dependency but you will also have to face the culture of drinking that has infiltrated your home and relationship. While I hear your strong desire to get your partner onto a healthier path, it’s vital that you start with your own personal growth. Be the best model you can and show your partner that it’s possible to adapt to a life that doesn’t hinge on swallowing all your feelings.