Further Reading

How should I deal with my husband after he returns from a hospital alcoholism program?

Dr. Peele:

My Husband is addicted to alcohol and is currently an in-patient. This is his first attempt at treatment in 20 years. We have only been married for 3 years. Can you tell me what to expect upon his return home as far as our marriage is concerned? Will he view me as part of a past he would like to forget? I drove him to the hospital. And he was ready. I want to be there for him.


Dear ---:

  1. To start: there is no need for your husband to reject you after alcohol treatment and you shouldn't expect that he will. Your commitment to the relationship is admirable and good and should provide a strong support for your husband.
  2. However, your question raises other questions: What was your relationship like with you husband prior to treatment? Was it solid? Did you drink together with your husband? Were you aware he had a drinking problem? Were you a main victim of his problem drinking? What role (if any) did you play in his decision to seek treatment?
  3. You seem to think he is coming out as a new person, but we don't how much he will be transformed, for better or worse. Let's assume he is detoxed and has a goal of remaining sober. You want to know how you can create continuity between his hospital environment and the real­world environment you share so that he will remain straight.

    This means a number of things. Obviously, if drinking was a part of your social life, you need to rethink how you spend time together. On the other hand, if you still drink within reason, you may want to work out how you can continue to do so without endangering his sobriety. After all, you might be the first person of many he will observe drinking outside the hospital.

  4. Beyond helping your husband to avoid drinking (or in some unusual cases, perhaps to drink less or less harmfully), your relationship will be key in any number of other ways. How does your relationship contribute to/relieve stress for your husband? One important therapy for problem drinking/alcoholism is marital counseling that minimizes conflict and maximizes mutual problem solving. You seem to have played no role in his treatment (for which I blame the treatment, not you). But, obviously, how well the two of you function towards each other, towards family and other people, and towards work and other larger issues is critical for his success. This needs to be worked on, perhaps with marital counseling.
  5. Finally, some hospital programs do insist on a total personal transformation, and a rejection of key elements of people's past lives. There can be good and bad elements in this. As I said, this depends in good part on how the two of you functioned together before treatment, and how you can get your relationship on solid ground afterwards. But there can be some grounds for you to worry that, if he rejects past elements of his life, you can be tarred with some of that brush.

Don't expect rejection without seeing signs of it. But you should be prepared to deal with this issue nondefensively. It may be something you need gently to overcome as you get your relationship and your husband's life on course again. And you should be optimistic and helpful in making changes that are good for his life and for yours. But you should not assume the guilt for decisions beyond your control, for his behavior, and for anything he has learned in treatment (if this is the case) that causes him to reject you without giving you a chance.

Best wishes, SP


Dr. Peele:

I agree that the communication between the hospital and myself has been almost non-existant. I addressed that with them this morning in no uncertain terms. After I drove 150 miles to see him and he told me to leave after 10 minutes I was very confused and upset. But in reality I can see his embarrassment over his condition. He was worse now (taking Librium) than I ever saw him before. His speech is slurred, he can barely walk or even write his name. Sooo, I have a meeting with his therapist at 4pm today to try and understand all I can.

Again thanks for your response.


Dear ---:

I think you are doing the right thing. My view is that you have the right ­­ the obligation ­­ to be informed of your husband's treatment and progress. Some people have been harmed by such treatment.