Approach husband about concerns when he is sober


Q. My husband is a high-functioning alcoholic. Although he has an excellent job, he is unpleasant to me and my teen sons when he has been drinking. What can I do to convince him that he has a problem?

A. According to Sarah Allen Benton, a licensed mental health counselor and author of “Understanding the High-Functioning Alcoholic,” most alcoholics who continue to provide for their families and fulfill their social obligations are in denial about their drinking problem. They do not consider the emotional impact it has on their families.

Most partners of high-functioning alcoholics report that they have difficulty connecting with their spouse after he or she has been drinking. The alcoholic is not able to provide the romantic or emotional support for his or her partner or effective parenting for his or her children. Over time this can destroy the family.

Approach your husband about your concern at a time when he is sober. Tell him calmly that his drinking is distancing him from you and your children. Don’t become defensive or judgmental. Suggest that he visit the website “Rethinking Drinking,” sponsored by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). The site will assist him in understanding acceptable levels of drinking. Ask that he adhere to “low-levels” of alcohol consumption for two weeks. If he cannot do that, he may be more willing to admit he has a problem.

High-functioning alcoholics often do not realize that despite their financial success, they have given limited emotional support to their families. A few years ago, I had some college friends in for a visit. More than 40 years after our graduation, the talk turned to the problems caused by alcoholic parents. Adults, now in their 50’s and 60’s, still remembered the times that Dad was too drunk to attend a ballgame or concert or embarrassed them in front of a date. It left scars that have yet to heal.

I suggest that you and your sons attend local meetings of Al-Anon (www.al-alnon.alateen.org/). Additionally, check out the book by Sarah Allen Benton mentioned above and share this column with him.

Q. I am basically supporting my 33-year-old daughter. She has a part-time job, no children and no reason not to work full-time. I’m ready to retire, and I see my money dwindling away. How do I finally learn to say “no?”

A. According to a study conducted by Amerprise, a retirement guidance company, 69 percent of those who are anticipating retirement did not include money for adult children in their plan. Yet almost 25 percent of those who are ready to retire cannot afford to do so because they are still supporting their children or grandchildren.

You certainly should not delay your retirement because your daughter does not want to work. According to Dr. Jeffrey Bernstein writing for “Psychology Today,” there are several steps you can take to make adult children more responsible.

• Don’t give money indiscriminately. You should only provide money as a way for your daughter to achieve independence. You may wish to help her return to college, but also insist that she get student loans.

• Encourage her to problem solve. What are her ideas on how to become financially independent?

• Create a workable plan and follow through. If necessary, meet with a mental health professional to discuss your plan and ways to counter objections.

• Be prepared for your daughter to be angry at first. Remember this is not a popularity contest.

• If she has a substance abuse or mental health problem, only give her money if she is in treatment and consistently committed to it.

Cutting financial ties will not be easy. However, it will force your daughter to take on adult responsibility, and it will allow you to feel more secure about your upcoming retirement.

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Nancy Ryburn holds a doctorate degree in psychology from Yeshiva University in New York City. She currently teaches psychology at Southeast Arkansas College. If you have questions, e-mail them to drnryburn@gmail.com. They will not be answered personally, but could appear in a future column. There will be no identifying information and all e-mails remain confidential.