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My wife won't stop drinking within an inch of her life — is there anything else we can do?

Dear Stanton,

My wife was self-medicating with alcohol, developed liver problems, went to specialists for treatment. She was also depressed, which was not "picked up" by either our HMO doctor or myself.

Well, my wife was improving and had totally abstained from alcohol until I started traveling again and she was alone. I came home one Friday and she was not feeling well. On Saturday she threw up a blood clot. We called the MD and he said don't worry about it. By Tuesday AM she was in a coma at our residence. I called 911 and had her taken to the ER where they told me she was going to die. Her hemoglobin was 2.3. They stabilized her, repaired the bleeding, and she was on her way. It was not known at that time if or how her brain was damaged.

Well, 15 days after being in CCU they were going to extubate her on Sunday morning. I received a call from our pulmonary MD that she had stopped breathing, her heart stopped, they called a code — did 4 minutes of CPR — pronounced her dead and the MD left the room. My pulmonary MD arrived and as the were taking the wires off of her "corpse" he noticed a pulse in her neck. He re-intubated her and she was back 15 minutes later.

After being told she would not survive, she was brain dead, would never walk etc. she got out of the hospital in another 45 days. Her main challenge now is that her short term memory is extremely bad which leads to my question. Her nuero-psychologist has told me he could find only 16 cases in the US whereby someone that was without oxygen for that period of time actually lived.

This incident happened in September of 1996 so she has had two years of rehab and is doing OK from that standpoint. But she has been depressed as she states that "she is not like she used to be" and realizes that there are deficiencies. She knows that if she drinks alcohol that it will lead to liver failure, although her liver test are all normal now (I used milk thistle and phosphytidyl choline which I feel was the big help in getting her liver rebuilt). She is taking Zoloft for the depression (100mg/day) and Depakpote (250mg — 3 x's per day) for tremors and to help with her mood. She is now self medicating with vodka — primarily in the afternoons when she feels "down." The MD has given her anabuse which kept her clean for about two to three weeks. She now drinks and throws up — probably 3 times per week — again in the afternoons. She states that she feels depressed and that just the one drink of vodka gives her a calming effect. She wants to live. I have taken her to therapy and the therapist has said that her memory is not there to give her therapy.

Again back to the question. What do you feel the approach can be with her suffering from the memory loss? Would any programs or types of treatment work with this short term memory problem? When she drinks, she will not remember it an hour later.

Thank you in advance for your input on this. I love her and want to help!


Dear Doug:

This is an overwhelming case. If ever drinking was counterindicated, your wife is such a case. Yet she drinks on top of anabuse!

I and everyone else would tell her to stop drinking. Yet, the question is (is this part of what you are asking?) if she is going to drink, there has to be a way to safeguard it as much as is humanly possible. Are you saying that she may be capable of drinking only one vodka, if only she could remember she has already had one? If that's the question, then a simple marking system, like an abacus, where she indicates that she has had her afternoon drink, could serve.

This case is to me a not unusual human situation in which people will never do what they are told or is best for them, but some accommodation must nonetheless be made.

My best wishes,