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  Worried Sick About His Drinking?  

Alcoholism("alcohol dependence" in the official diagnostic language) is a serious, chronic, usually progressive mental and physical illness characterized by:

  • Excessive consumption of alcohol and often other drugs
  • Inability reliably to control the quantity of alcohol consumed and the duration of drinking
  • Continued attempts to drink despite increasingly severe negative consequences
  • Loss or impairment of insight with denial, rationalization, blaming others

The non-alcoholic spouse of the drinking alcoholic is often exposed over a long period of time, continuously or intermittently, to the destructive effects of the alcoholic's drinking, thinking and behavior. The result of this prolonged exposure to active alcoholic addiction may be(and often is) a spousal alcohol syndrome characterized by:

  • Chronic activation of the fight-or-flight stress response with resulting physical symptoms and/or exhaustion
  • Confusion, bewilderment, fear, anxiety, depression, anger, despair, shame, guilt and other negative emotions
  • Learned helplessness and demoralization, feelings of hopelessness and helplessness, self-blame
  • Progressive social and psychological isolation, withdrawal from friends and family

The wife of the drinking alcoholic believes herself to be in a troubled relationship with the person who drinks too much. But, at least in the more advanced cases, she is actually in a relationship with the addictive process itself. And because the single and absolute goal of the addiction itself is sheer survival of the addiction, no matter how high the human costs may be, her emotional involvement and influence are hopelessly one-sided. Addiction is a natural, biological and fundamentally inhuman process that responds poorly, if at all, to common sense measures aimed at ordinary human rationality, compassion and concern.

The first step to an effective coping strategy is an accurate understanding of the problems being faced. Because most people are not acquainted with the true nature of alcoholism and other addictions,  they therefore attempt to cope with such problems, either in themselves or in those close to them,  in a manner that is either ineffective or actually injurious to the healthy goals they desperately desire.

The books and websites listed below are good sources of basic information for wives(or husbands) of active alcoholics who are just beginning to learn about what is wrong and what can be done about it.

Perhaps nowhere else in human relationships is Francis Bacon's famous observation that "Knowledge is power" more apt. For those who understand alcoholism and addiction are in a position to do something about one of humanity's oldest and commonest scourges; but those whose understanding of such matters is false or incomplete are destined to remained helpless victims of its blind and terrible destructive energies.

Pat Jones, MS, RN, CS is an experienced psychotherapist with over two decades of experience in women's issues and the dynamics of the alcoholic marriage. She can be reached at (770)442-9100 or via her Email address.

Recommended Reading

For your convenience we have linked the book titles below to the website, from which they may be purchased if you desire. Although we have been pleased with their service and therefore have used them extensively, our site is not affiliated in any way with, nor do we receive any remuneration for purchases made there. The books below are available at any major bookseller, including Barnes and Noble and Borders.

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Original Papers

The Addict's Dilemna

Addiction, Lies and Relationships

Addiction and the Mechanisms of Defense

Alcohol Addiction

Drug Therapy of Alcohol Dependence

Excuses Alcoholics Make

The Female Partner of the Male Alcoholic

Getting Away With Addiction? 

Intervention for Alcohol and Drug Dependence

Obstacles to Recovery from Addiction

Prescription Drug Abuse

Prolegomenon to the Metaphysics of Recovery

What is Recovery?

Why is Recovery So Hard?

Worried Sick About His Drinking?

Your First AA Meeting: An Unofficial Guide for the Perplexed