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How can I stop myself from reacting and find some ways of responding more constructively?

Dear Stanton:

I have been married to a (functioning) alcoholic for 11 years. He started drinking again about 6 years ago. He works hard all day and at the end of each day he'll have at least 6 beers, sometimes more, never less.

Every few weeks he'll drink too much and lose control; at least he does this at home. He knows he drinks too much, but feels he has it under control (because his work hasn't suffered yet, though our relationship is on rocky ground-he doesn't see that) and is not ready to stop.

I'm seeing a therapist and I'm trying to do the self-work everyone suggests. I've gone to one al-anon meeting (so far). However, talking about my problem, and understanding from strangers is not what I need.

I’m trying to understand the nature of the illness. (Is it that?). But in the research and reading I've done, I haven't found any hard, practical ways of talking to him when he's drunk and /or approaching him about it when he's sober. He doesn't want to talk about it.

Everyone (including his mother) tells me I should just leave, but I can't. And he knows it. Even if I do, he's convinced I wouldn't be gone long. He's probably right. But I can't tell you what's keeping me here.

I think I love him. I think he loves me, but it's all overshadowed by worry, fear, resentment, anger.... hope...

I need to find ways of talking to him/dealing with it in a constructive way. Right now, I react emotionally and make myself miserable and make him defensive and, more often, offensive.

How can I stop myself from reacting and find some ways of responding more constructively?

Sincerely
Phyllis


Dear Phyllis:

If you feel you cannot leave your spouse (and you seem to be more clear on that than most), the best demonstrated therapy for actually bringing about change in an alcoholic/addicted spouse has been developed in conjunction with Community Reinforcement Approach (CRA), called Community Reinforcement and Family Training (CRAFT).

Like CRA itself, CRAFT focuses on the fundamental building blocks of your life and your relationship with your spouse. Besides creating as positive a life as possible for yourself, on improving your interchanges with your spouse (including reducing or eliminating his drinking), CRAFT also encourages the addicted spouse to seek outside help. In one study comparing Al-Anon, the Johnson Institute Intervention approach, and CRAFT, CRAFT therapy clients got originally unmotivated drinkers into treatment 64% of the time compared with 30% for Johnson interventions and 13% with Al-Anon participants. (W.R. Miller, R.J. Meyers, and J.S. Tonigan, “Engaging the unmotivated in treatment for alcohol problems: A comparison of three strategies for intervention through family members,” Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 67: 688-697, 1999.)

Here are the components of CRAFT:

  1. Focus on your motivation to change – how has your life changed for the worse due to your husband’s drinking?
  2. Communications skills – can you provide non-antagonistic feedback and encouragement?
  3. Increase your positive interactions with your spouse.
  4. Don’t reinforce drinking – ignoring him when he is using.
  5. Initiate activities that interfere and compete with drinking.
  6. Develop outside activities for yourself.
  7. Plan to escape dangerous situations – like those with the possibility of violence.
  8. Plan to introduce the idea of treatment at the right moment.

Can you feedback to me how workable these are for you?

Stanton