Setting Boundaries With Alcoholics Who Display Unacceptable Behavior

The process of learning how to protect yourself through setting boundaries takes time. Alcoholics can have a tendency to belittle those around them. Enabling them to heap unacceptable behavior upon us can become a way of life. We must learn a few emotional tools to use in order to protect ourselves from the many insults that can be hurled our way by the alcoholic in our life that we dearly love.

Learning how to set healthy boundaries with an alcoholic will produce a protective shield around our emotions. The result will be that we will experience much less guilt and shame in our lives.

How to Set Healthy Emotional Boundaries With an Alcoholic

Before we can begin to learn how to set healthy parameters, we should identify with the things that the alcoholic is doing in our lives that we consider to be unacceptable behavior. Emotional boundaries can be set once you are aware of the things that upset you that they do.

What are the things that really bother you the most in relation to their behavior in your life? For instance, swearing in front of the children, nasty name calling, yelling or screaming and constant antagonizing in efforts to start an argument.

A great way to get in touch with your feelings is by keeping a journal. If you do this on a daily basis you will begin to discover what the emotional triggers are that set you off. I like to call these emotional triggers, “buttons.” Alcoholics love to push our buttons.

1) Make a list of all of the things that cause you to get angry that they do. Write down how arguments begin and end.

2) Look at the list and see if you can notice certain things that they intentionally do to try and create difficulties in the home or workplace.

3) If you had buttons on your body that they were pushing in order for you to react in a negative way toward them what would those buttons be?

Once you begin to understand what the buttons are that are causing you to argue or get upset, start responding differently. For instance if your friend, spouse or child is the alcoholic and they often call you degrading names to try and initiate an argument, rather than defending yourself, just say things like:

“I’m sorry you feel that way”
“That’s not true”
“Stop calling me names”
“Stop calling me names in front of the children”

Setting boundaries with alcoholics is like declaring laws that they must follow. If they do not abide by your rules that you’ve designed to protect your emotions then you must reinforce the boundaries. It’s like having the authority of a law enforcement officer.

Imagine if you had a large shield in your hand and you used it to deflect the insults that are being thrown your way. That’s what your doing once you learn how to set healthy boundaries with an alcoholic.

What is it that we are protecting ourselves from by setting boundaries with alcoholics? I think mostly guilt and shame. If we feed into their attempts to upset us, then we get angry and say things that we really don’t mean to say. Afterward, there are feelings of guilt and shame that we must deal with.

If we can learn how to stop the triggers from going off and the buttons from being pushed, we will have a lot more self-control in these difficult situations.

Give yourself permission to plant your feet, stand firm and in a loving way let the alcoholics in your life know that you will not tolerate unacceptable behavior anymore. If they ignore your boundaries the next day that you previously set, then kindly remind them of what you said the day before. Setting parameters is difficult and maintaining your position is critical for protecting your emotional well-being.

64 comments to Setting Boundaries With Alcoholics Who Display Unacceptable Behavior

  • Jim

    I’ve been accepting unacceptable behavior for a long time. It’s like a way of life for me to get stepped on by the alcoholic. She actually treats the dog better than me.






  • kaz

    i have never had boundaries with my boyfriend. he has treated me so bad now for nine years to the extent of saying sexual stuff about my daughter and other woman. i know he doesnt respect me anymore as i have let him get away with so much. he always says that he didnt mean what he said as he was drunk and not to listen to it, but over and over for nine years is going too far now, he must have meant all he has said and i feel devastated over the pain and wasted years. my mind has been so affected by the abuse i feel totally damaged. i never knew about boundaries there were none in my family. i am 49 and feel awful in myself, lost all confidence and no esteem left, he has destroyed me. why do i still want his love?

  • Karla

    So wrecked by my blokes behaviour I can’t write anymore. It’s starting to make me feel suicidal. Dont know how much more I can take.

  • Phyllis

    Kaz,Carla, others–GET Out of these relationships if they are destroying you! I was in an alcoholic relationship for 3.5 years, lived with the guy, finally moved out hoping it would open his eyes–it didn’t even though he was on good behavior for awile until RELAPSE. I finally got the strenth to end it. It is taking time to dis-attach and create a new life but, you have the choice to end it. you need friends and family that are supportive and will let you talk for hours or get a counselor you can talk to. READ/Reasearch on Alcoholism a lot! You will see you do not want this in your life! I had to read up on healing from Trama and PTSD!! But I got through it and you can too! If you have no place to go contact your nearest womens crisis center or victims advocate at your local police station to help you. You deserve a better future!

  • admin

    Phylis, thanks for sharing your story with us. I didn’t really understand what abuse was until I started going to 12-step meetings and someone decided to point blank tell me that I was in an abusive relationship. Soon afterward I ordered a book by Joyce Meyer called Beauty For Ashes: Receiving Emotional Healing (Revised Edition). After reading the book, I realized that I was living with a very abusive person.

    Prior to learning that I had been allowing this person to step all over me, I was setting boundaries and learning how to detach. I think I was in major denial because my faith and hope were so strong. After a while when nothing changed I finally stopped living in a world of denial and did things to protect myself from being emotionally, spiritually and physically hurt.

  • Cupcake

    my bf & i have been been living together for 2 yrs i have lived with an alcoholic before & swore i would never live with an alcoholic again. but two mo’s into our relationship i realzed he was an alcoholic. he started going to the bars right after work and drinking all night spending all his tip money, then he would disappear for days, he got arrested for criminal trespassing the list goes on & on. all that time i remained by his side. he was away 6 wks and the thought of him coming home was dreadful during. in the 6 wks he was away i found out he cheated on me & when i confronted him with it he denied it but put blame on me for our relationship falling apart his reason “because i dont get along with his bar-flys friends”. i decided i was not going to go through that again. i was thinking of the fights, the late night drinking, passing out with the stove on, pissing on my couch my bed & on my stairs, the embarrassing acts in the bar, yellin at me in public, talking to girls to make me jealous… i decided that he go home with his mom and he did. now hes mad and won’t talk to me but i can’t go on anymore with the disrespect & unappreciation for all i’ve done for him. i wish him the best and we tried to talk it out but it ended up in a yelling match. He hung up on me & i have not talk to him since. my soul needs healing and that is what i am accomplishing now. thanks for your advice i appreciatet it.

  • JC

    Hey Cupcake, there are some great comments on this article about an alcoholic cheating. You will also find helpful information in this post about alcoholics placing blame on others. I would encourage you to continue learning all that you can about coping with alcoholics.

  • Brandy

    Perhaps I should read further, but what does one do when the set boundaries are crossed? What is a reasonable consequence?

  • Phyllis

    The hardest thing you have to do is stick to your boundries–even if this means the end of the relationship. If you fudge on your boundries, they know they can play their game with you cause you don’t hold your ground ie your word means nothing. Know if your don’t hold your ground it is now on YOU! You are choosing to be used and duped.

  • JC

    Hi Brandy, thanks for your question. Here’s an article that may give a little more insight: Reinforcing Boundaries With An Alcoholic

  • Brandy

    Thank you, JC, for your insightful link. It was very helpful.

  • Nina

    My bf & me have been together for 4 years and I have gone through all the pain, abusive behavior psycologically, pchysically, socially , disrespect, cheating, putting me down, spending all my money and so on without fully undestanding the desease.

    Thank you to this site I have come to a better understanding and started to love myself again. By changing my behavior my relationship has improved as well. I´m not saying There aren´t bad times I still deal with my Alcoholic bf as we are living together and I have seen an effort from his part to move on and try to overcome his desease. He has a job and finally is making money. altough we rarely have sex he has become more loving and now he thinks twice before taking a first sip of beer.
    How do you really know when he is ready to get out or how can I help him?

  • Mike

    Hi Nina.
    I am a man who wants to believe I am a no nonsense person.
    Straight to the point and seeing things as they truly are.
    I am a firefighter who just got married one year ago to an alcoholic.
    I knew nothing about it. I thought it was just a lot of drinking. More than most.
    I know so much now form my personal experiences.
    Nina, here is the truth, and I tell you this as a man who does not sugar coat things.
    Leave this man.
    You can NEVER fix anything about him, EVER.
    He chooses to drink, because it fills a void.
    Don’t buy into the disease things that he will throw at you.
    If it really is a disease, than have him cure it, by having him go to a professional.
    He needs to cure himself before he is of any use to you.
    Do you want to marry a five year-old boy?
    If you do, then marry him.
    Run away from him as if your house is on fire.
    Don’t fall for the tears. Those are tears for himself, as they have been his whole life.
    You will regret it. Don’t be like me, regretting the day you could have made the right choice.

  • Mike

    Don’t forget to keep God close to you.
    If this man really wants to change his life, hand him a bible and have him read it.
    Have him go to church, any church.
    If he is willing to that, than he shows he may want to change, but if he can’t even read a book, than that tells you it all.
    But in all of this, he must do it by himself. Big-boy steps, becaeu he has been a child his whole life.
    Adult life scares him, that is why he hides in alcohol.

  • Hello Nina
    I am a recovering alcoholic…
    I want to share an experience I had two days ago.
    I was walking home from a breakfast w my daughters.
    ( recivery does rebuild relationships)
    and I stopped in my church ( weekday , so no one
    else was there)…,
    I prayed of course and reflected on the past.
    I have alot of regret but finally let go of guilt and shame.
    I was able to ( barely) say the words
    ‘I am forgiven ‘.., and I’m trying to believe that…
    Here’s the cool part ….I look at my ‘dis-ease’
    as a limitation…. I can do many things …but I can
    NEVER drink…
    When I left the church , there is an electronic sign
    that changes constantly…
    The message as I was walking towards it was
    ‘Accept your limitations … And you will go beyond
    them’..,, Amazing 😉
    I realize that not everyone is religious but I have
    been in this cycle long enough to know that
    One had to want to recover… I hope your boyfriend
    gets that gift . It is a gift …
    My point is that you can support him with love .
    That is a key element to the one who is in the
    trap if addiction . But no one can make a person
    sober. If he is willing, that’s one thing ..
    If he is not, I can tell you with certainty that
    Alcoholism is a progressive disease that will
    get worse …. It can be arrested but never be gone.
    I’m sure you have heard that you have to love yourself .
    Love your life, if your boyfriend can be a part of that
    It is your choice…. Your support can help but
    he has to want it…. I wish you peace….

  • Faustina

    EXCUSE ME! Do alcoholics even care that boundaries exist?!

  • Pez

    Most a big NO! Mine busted through every one I set—I think, just for the fun of it!!

  • Mike

    For those who are married, it is hard to leave, because we made commitments.
    For those involved with only boyfriends/girlfriends, you need to leave and get into a healthy relationship.
    I was blind-sided by how much alcoholism was a monster.
    I don’t think it registered what alcoholism was.
    If you are not married and life sucks with the alcoholic, you MUST leave.
    If you choose to stay, and wonder how life could have gone so bad…look in the mirror.
    Maybe the sex was too good to leave (losers always do well in that category, because it is survival for them)?
    Maybe he/she was good looking? Had the gift of gab?
    Regardless, it is the same story with the same ending. 99.999999% of the time.
    You are not the exception, sorry to say.
    Listen to those here and learn from them.

  • Connie

    I have been with my alcoholic over 30 years. 20 of the years he was drinking & using meth. He almost killed me several times on meth. The S.W.A.T. team cam out a couple of times & lots of drama. I wanted to leave sooooo bad & emotionally could not. I got a counselor & went to Alanon meetings & learned to do my own life. I finally told me I wanted a divorce & he pulled a gun on me & I was so tired at the time I was totally calm & said go ahead & shoot, I am dead already anyway. He then pushed me & I fell down backward hitting my head on some steel & winding up with a bloody head in the hospital. He has been sober ever since. Its been a few months. We see a marriage counselor & I am learning minute by minute how to take care of me. I wish the alcoholic was my problem. If that were the case, if I got rid of him I would be okay. That has not been my reality. Instead I would just find another abuser. So I am learning to change. I couldn’t believe I stayed with him. It has been a mystery for me. Remember the disease is progressive. It gets worse, never better. If you possibly can leave do so “now” it will get worse I promise & whether you stay or leave, get a counselor & go to Alanon to change you so you don’t pick another one. By the way, I have been clean & sober myself for over 35 years.

  • Celeste

    I would love to set up boundaries with my binge-drinking boyfriend, but I do not know how. We do not live together, and I have made it clear to him that I do not want to be around him when he is drunk. I do not want to see him when he is like that. I do not want to talk to him when he is like that. But, it is hard for me to immediately tell when he is drunk. We’ve learned, not surprisingly, that he is not capable of obeying this boundary when he is drunk, because he loses the ability to care about himself or me, so its on me to enforce the rule. I often can’t tell that he is drunk until he’s been around me for a while, or we’ve been on the phone for a while. At this point, I don’t want to confront him. This happens way too often.

    I also worry that this boundary feeds into denial.

    There are obviously much deeper issues here that need to be addressed.

  • Julie21

    Celeste when you do discover he is drunk or under the influence can you leave if you are at his home or at a public place? Or if he is at your place ask him to leave then. Tell him you realize he is drinking and you would like him to leave. That is how to set the boundary and stick to it. I realize it is difficult if you are in a public place where maybe you drove together but there are ways to handle that too even if it means calling a taxi or a friend to pick you up. If he refuses to leave your home you may actually have to threaten to call the police and then do so if he won’t leave, especially if he becomes violent. I realize these are not easy things to do because i have been there…done that. But you need to be strong or this will go on for years, trust me; I know.

  • Diane

    I was married three times, all alcoholics. These aforementioned messages are all accurate. I have a professional degree and should know better. I do know better now. Yet, I am currently in a three year relationship with one. Don’t make the same mistakes I did. I am still attracted to the same type of men. Not married but dragging my kids into the same relationship. One day my kids will grow up and leave and I will have to explain what I cannot explain to myself. GET OUT THEY WONT EVER STOP


  • Elisabeth

    Diane – it sounds like you are addicted to alcoholics. Have you tried therapy and/or AlAnon to help you understand why and hopefully change your taste in men?

  • Leslie Roo

    Hello, I have recently been with my ex since may of 2013. He started out kind and gentle and wonderful. After we moved in together he changed he became verbally abusive and extremely different. I call it dr.jekyll and Mr. Hyde. He said he was a recovering addict free from drugs and alcohol for 2.7 years. I thought great I will give this person a chance no judgements… I did and after living with him for a short time he got worse or rather his behavior got worse. He lied about communicating with women when he told me he wanted to marry me. He loved attention from other women and hide his sexual past which included both men and women. He also threw god in the mix and told me he was a believer and that today he lived the 12 steps and never lied…that in itself was a lie. He hide everything from me that fact that he was self medicating also with alcohol and then hiding that and blaming me for our crazy realtionship. Well after I saw three counselors and coda, alanon, naranon I have been told it was not me. They are in love with the disease and will use every ounce of your strength until its gone and they own you, whether it be through guilt or physical abuse which was in my case. They are skilled at manipulating people. In my case, he manipulated his therapist and now they have been sleeping together off an on since before I met him. After he pulled me off a ladder and I fell I finally left and drove 21000 miles from Chicago to California to start new. Thank god I did not marry is man or have children with me or have him bleed my funds dry, like he did his. He did however, drain my coincidence (back then) and made me aware that we are NOT responsible for making someone else happy nor are we responsible for their behavior and choice especially IF they are 43 year old males. Anyway I pray for those who are living with addicts who hide that they are still drinking or using because it will mess with their loved ones minds and soul. After reading everyone’s comments MIke said it best leave now becuase if you are reading this and you are wondering about saving yourself from mental and physical trama and abuse DO IT NOW. Have faith and think there is something better out there than the hell that they brought on us because they are selfish. Do everything you can to build yourself up. Trust me IF I can do it anyone can. I have no job and am living in the basement of my brothers house. I am seeing a therapist to build my confidence and am concentrating on buidling my life back drama free. I am safe and am thankful that I can get up and walk out of this abuse….TRUST ME it was tough but I did it because NO one should suffer becuase of someone else’s actions. We have free will and a choice use it! 2014 is upon us and it will be better if you give yourself a chance to live. Trust in yourself and most of all respect and love yourself you have one life here to live so live it without someone else’s addiction.

  • Julie21

    Leslie I am so glad you got out. God bless and have a Merry Chirstmas and happy holidays. I am out but still fighting a lot since we had children together and i am trying to keep them safe as he was an abuser too. But emotionally i am still working on a lot and changing my line of thinking and focusing on my own behavior helps lots. Thanks for taking the time to share your story.

  • HockeyGuy

    My situation isn’t typical (at least I don’t think it is).

    My girlfriend of 2 years is a functioning alcoholic, and she doesn’t deny that she has a problem. She just started seeing a counselor, which I’m thankful for. However she still openly has alcohol (wine) in her home, and when we’re together at either my home or hers, she steps out of the room every hour or so to sneak a glass. She always returns with fresh breath from mouthwash.

    When she drinks I can always tell; her speech slurs a little, and she’ll mis-step easily when walking. She also becomes either more argumentative (which causes me to go silent so as not to engage her) or emotional, often crying over events/losses from the past. I’ve found that we can’t discuss even the most trivial of things if there is any disagreement whatsoever when she’s drinking. She becomes a different person from the one I know and love.

    There have been warning signs; she was arrested for DUI and has been fired from two high-paying corporate jobs in the past 15 months. She talks of others being the reason for her dismissal, but I think that her submission of inaccurate after-hours at-home work was likely the reason for losing these jobs. She never drinks during the daytime.

    However there is another completely different side to her.

    She is a wonderful, caring, loving, understanding and generous woman. Despite having two adult children of her own from her prior marriage, she has embraced my two teenage children as she would her own, and has been a positive influence in their lives; much more than their own biological mother has. Both of them adore her, and I feel fortunate to have found someone who loves me and my children and also has the same family-oriented sensibilities as do I. I never could have dreamed of finding someone like her.

    But then there’s the drinking. Am I naive to think that she can’t stop and that her drinking will progress? Would it be a mistake to plan a future with her?

    She’s said that in the past she’d never had a drinking problem. But then her marriage of 30 years ended, one of her parents passed away, her adult children moved out, and she was suddenly living alone. She was alone and it wasn’t easy. We met each other 3 years after her divorce, and initially I didn’t think much of her drinking. But then after awhile it began to occur to me that as far as I knew, she hadn’t gone a day without having a drink since I’d met her, and that was months prior.

    I’ve started to set boundaries, such as asking her to be sober when we speak on the phone. I told her that if not, I would end the conversation.

    I still have to determine the best way to cope with her sneaking drinks while we’re together. I’ve not told her that I detect the scent of mouthwash when she’s drinking. I’ve told her that I “always know” when she’s had a drink (because I can–it’s very noticeable to me, even after she’s only had one drink).

    Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

  • Pez

    Dear HG: Do not plan a future with her unless she PROVES she wants to, can be, and maintain sobriety!! They say, for at least one year! You will only get hurt in the long run if she doesn’t and can’t and won’t. Alcoholism is a progressive disease/addiction. Do not marry her unless she proves herself. Many times, I hate to say, I’ve seen those marry the A and it just gets worse as they relax and think they’ve got you. She may then cease to work and you will be supporting a drunk and enabling her to continue. My XAB acknowledge he had a problem too!! But strung me along for 4 plus years until the heartbreaking ending of our relationship. I refused to marry him–thank God.

  • HockeyGuy

    Thanks Pez. It really helps to have another perspective, as I’ve never had any experience with an alcoholic before. I’ve heard a saying that goes, “Alcoholics are inspired liars,” which I try to keep in mind.

  • Julie21

    HG, take it from someone who was married for 21 years to an alcoholic. It does not start out as bad as it gets. By the time we divorced we were so emotionally separated it was like living with a stranger who just came and went as he pleased. No cares about his children or his wife. Definitely not a partnership. But iw as always supposed to be there for him. He was never there for me, not even in the beginning and things just progressed and were out of my control. Once i realized this i had to leave for my own sanity. Don’t let this happen to you. Take Pez’s advice. Unless she can get and stay sober don’t stay in the relationship. If she is already hiding her drinking there is definitely a problem.

  • Pez

    No problem HG, One benefit of going through this is you can help others who are still in the mix! It usually all goes the same way with A’s. Don’t think you will be different!! That’s a big mistake. Those who thought their situation was different end up the same way eventually. One thing I wish I would have gotten into my head that people said it to me was, “ACTIONS SPEAK LOUDER THAN WORDS” believe it with all your heart!! Fight fantisful thinking!!

  • Lynn

    I was with my boyfriend for 3 years. He was an alcoholic and also a pill popper. When he wasn’t drinking he was popping pills. I didn’t know about the pills until much later into our relationship. in November he overdosed on Methadone. I found him in the barely breathing and by the time the EMT’s got here he was gone. They couldn’t get a pulse back on him. I never once thought I would ever find him dead.

  • jacci

    i was wondering how you can tell what drug someone is using along with beer and vicodine (for arthristis) by bf of only 8 months drinks at least 6 beers 5 days a week and also takes the vicodine but lately he has been really nervous and his face is twitchy, he constantly talks, repeating the same thing over and over again and yes he puts me down all the time i can’t do anything right, i never drink but he has been smoking these little cigars i believe its to cover up something

  • Mike

    Hockey Guy
    From experience, if you are just boyfriend and girlfriend, you need to find another girlfriend.
    You aren’t the exception. Everyone thinks they are the exception.
    Sorry, but don’t fall for the trap we are all trying to help you with.
    It is hard to take, but your future life is already picked for you if you marry an alcoholic.
    In fact, I will tell you, play by play, whet is going to happen to you.
    Forst thing that will happen? Lying. If you want an honest relationship, you found it in the wrong place.
    Don’t be her therapist or counselor. She needs to deal with that before any relationship.
    You see hope, things are going well, then BOOM.
    The cycle al starts over again.
    You really wanted to read a story of hope and beating it, didn’t you?
    I thought the same because I was smarter than most, but it wasn’t in my power.
    Look, if she wanted to stop it would have happened a long time ago,
    It’s a choice and don’t buy any other lie.

    It os right in front f you for you to see. You can;t have it more plain.
    That is what you future holds for you.
    Is that what you want? Don’t sell yourself short.
    No matter how much you love your house, if it’s on fire, you need to leave or die.

    This site should be here to console, but to also have others learn from our mistakes.
    We are from your future. Listen to us.
    Remember, we all thought we were different too.

  • Julie21

    Well said, MIke.

  • Jc

    How do I break up with my alcoholic boyfriend gently. He has come to trust and rely on me and I am afraid of what might happen when I leave him like so many before me have.?

  • h08mart

    JC I am in the same shape. I’ve been living with an alcoholic for two years. I’m fed up. Whats a couple of good days compared to several in hell. My BF’s mom died 1 1/2 years ago. He’s on disability for seizures (wonder why?). I think I know what will happen to both of them. They will be forced to take responsibility for themselves and their actions until they meet another sweet caring person to fill our shoes. If only we could tattoo a warning on their forehead.

  • h08mart

    I would just like to verify what I’m seeing: He goes a couple of days and don’t drink but then he does for a couple of days. He shows signs of intoxication after one or two drinks (vodka out of the bottle), he drinks until he goes to sleep wakes up and starts again, drinks till the bottle is empty, he hides the bottle from me, he is arrogant towards me, curses at me and finds fault to the point of going into a rage with everyone, he does not do anything on the days he drinks, animals don’t get fed, he don’t bathe or wash his hair. If I don’t sit food in front of him he don’t eat when he’s drinking. However, if he wants to do something he don’t drink until he does it. He can go extended periods of time without drinking if he wants to. Specially about a week before he has to go for a check up at the doctor’s office. What kind of alcoholic do you call this? He appears to be a selective alcoholic. He had a fatty liver biopsy 10 years ago. What does that mean? Does he already have liver disease? Sometimes he don’t make any sense even when he’s not drinking. He tells me the same thing over and over. I’m miserable and confused.

  • CW

    JC, I was going to say something similar along the lines of h08mart; if so many have left him before, then he is probably, on some level, used to this, and will seek out his next caretaker-partner in short order. I am in a similar conundrum, so I have yet to swallow the pill I recommend you take, which is to bite the bullet and break up with him if you are fed up. he may trust and rely on you, but he has used up your trust, presumably, in not taking charge of his behaviors or, more importantly, his illness. In my case, my boyfriend is sweet as pie and is a self-described harmless drunk. Its taken me a long time to get to a point of frustration, since he never actively causes harm to others when he is drunk (multiple times a week, most often when we are apart and he is alone at his house), and goes to great length to even protect me / hide it from me. My frustrations come from how his powerlessness over his illness has resigned him to live a life far from the potential he could. He never holds a regular job, and chooses to live an ascetic life, where he consumes next to nothing and imposes on no-one, where he lives in a cheap so he can keep avoiding the responsibilities which alcohol renders impossible for him to hold. He wont get a car or drive, for fear of getting a DUI. He’s fatalistically said that he would understand if I left him, since that is what so many of his other girlfriends have done. When I ask, why is it acceptable for alcohol to have such a hold on you, he just shrugs and says, maybe one day he’ll have the will to stop. Not now. Its tough; he’s been the nicest man I have ever been with, after having been with someone who was controlling and too angry for my tastes. He’s made an art of “managing” his drinking, but I fear that his sense of control is only an illusion and the disease will only progress. I have been with him for almost two years. He was a grad student for the first year, and has been on the job market for the second, making do with under-the-table-work and unemployment this entire time. Prior to my knowing him, he was truly itinerant, working restaurant and light labor jobs, couch-surfing, living in his car, living off the grid. It seemed when I met him, that in his early-40’s, he was trying to settle down and get a career. He was passionate about his grad-work, but you can be a succesful student and a drunk. You can’t be a drunk and be a mover and shaker in the workforce, that is for sure.

  • Joel

    This is nothing new. My wife has broken my nose twice. She says she doesn’t remember either time or being unfaithful. She is now recovering, and it took the threat of divorce to do it. I have been given one lecture after another(even after sobriety) that my anger, disappointment and frustration are worse than anything she ever did in front of our two children. I was working 70 hours a week and raising them on my own while she continued to run her life as she darn well pleased. The divorce proceedings stopped only when she threatened to bankrupt me in court, target innocent friends, and to ensure the kids would hate me for “dragging her through this”. I made a mistake by reconciling.

  • Pez

    OMG Joel, THIS IS WHO SHE IS! She has shown you who she is–believe her! still angry, manipulative, controlling, etc…… I would consult a lawyer in private to learn how to protect yourself from this woman and see what chances you have in a divorce so to prepare yourself. She will continue to be angry with you for forcing her to quit. You will have to get out eventually. Document everything and keep in a safe place. Protect your valuables and important documents in a safe deposit box. Start getting prepared.

  • Celeste

    I left a comment on this thread in November about being in a relationship with a binge-drinking boyfriend whom I don’t live with. Our independence has been a double-edged sword because, while I don’t have to deal day in and day out with his behavior, it lets me be in denial. We maintain that state of denial with a faux-boundary; I ask that he not do his drinking around me. Yet, it still affects me. Surprise, surprise. And, of course, every once in a while, that faux-boundary gets busted, and I experience him drunk, and I can’t be in denial in that moment. He is never violent or angry or even reckless, but he’s still drunk, and it still suuucks. He is also unemployed (lives off unemployment and lives as cheaply as he can). Last night, he came over drunk; I didn’t know he was drunk until he was in my house. I was unable to turn him away (its just so hard to do that), but I was angry, and was able this morning to be very clear about this. That was a first. I didn’t threaten anything; sometimes, I think its more powerful to just honestly say, “I don’t know” and bring to the fore how sad and confused you are with your loved-one’s self-destructive behavior. It must have penetrated, a little, because he confessed that he had an internally rough past few days when were were apart (I am a musician and was working all weekend). I know that he got drunk on one of those nights, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he was drunk much of the time. Here’s the thing; he said, “I am running scared,” and he did look scared. This is the most self-aware thing I have ever heard him say. When he isn’t drinking and running from something, he is a thoughtful and reflective person. Here’s my question. When he said, “I am running scared,” is this a cry for help? If it is, what can I do to help? This feels like a critical moment. I can either leave him, because I am sick of this, or I can stand by his side. I can stage an intervention. I don’t know. What have you done when given this opening?

  • My girlfriend is now attending rehab 4 nights a week, which is good. However she stated that they told her that she could cut it down to 3 nights a week, but if she had cravings, she should instead attend an AA meeting. Well last night was the first night she decided not to go to her rehab, and sure enough, she called me and I knew in about 5 seconds that she had drank wine. She then proceeded to tell me that she had just returned from rehab, that she’d decided to go after all, but I knew it was a lie.

    She has admitted to being an alcoholic and there are positive signs, but there are negatives as well, such as last night and the lying. I’ve told her that I can ALWAYS detect when she’s had a drink, yet she still cannot help herself.

    My ex-wife was bipolar, which is something I was unaware of by the time we married. Knowing of my girlfriend’s alcoholism beforehand means that I need to choose to stay off the rollercoaster this time, but it’s not easy to throw away 2 years of an otherwise wonderful relationship.

  • Neither my husband nor I knew that he was an alcoholic until after we married. We had a glass of wine at home in the evenings. Not until a couple of times when he got frustrated (he had a tenancy to assume, avoid and go down rabbit trails) at discussions, that he left the home angry, got drunk, didn’t return my calls or texts, etc. The second time after promising that he’d not scare me like that, he did it again and that time rolled the vehicle. He came home with a stranger who helped unload his things into our garage. I asked the stranger who he was and he told me that my husband was in an accident. Then turning to my husband, he actually had nothing to say to me and as he told me later- that he thought that it was MY job to bring up the conversation of him rolling and destroying the car! I left for a few days and came back with a friend who helped with intervention. My husband was afraid he had lost me and is now going to AA as often as I asked, plus more. He is taking responsibility for his need for AA without my help which I’m proud of him for that. He no longer drinks although he admits that he wants to just walk away when things get crazy. Craziness happens because he does all of the physiological ways of denial which just scrambles any conversation. When he calms down, he will admit, on his own, of his bad behavior. He says his anger just takes over. At the beginning of our marriage, he thought it was ok to act anyway he wanted when angry. He’s come a long way and is less likely to accept that way of thinking. He’s never hurt me and I can’t see that he will, especially since he stays sober. I am a logical person (some say I should have been an attorney…yuk…sorry to the GOOD attorneys out there), so I’m drawn to righting his wrong thinking in conversations. I feel like I’m going crazy doing that. He ALWAYS will be sorry later and I require him to set out specifically what he’s sorry for and he actually gets it. He’s not accepting this because he thinks he’s going to lose me (I haven’t promised that I won’t), but he does because he says he loves me. But I have to learn to not engage in his communication control. He doesn’t very often do the blame game. I feel that I should have MUCH hope in his abilities and his acknowledgement of his faults. My question is- is it too much to expect that some day he will not give himself any or few “outs” (defensiveness, rabbit trailing, smoke-screens, etc)and see better ways to communicate where he doesn’t act like everything is about him?

  • Emma Mulgrew

    Hello everyone, I’ve read your mails and I wish I had insight befor I fell in love with my alchi, husband of 3.5 years. I relate to Mike’s comments ,,( I KNEW BEFOR I GOT MARRIED)and to h08mart. we first met and he told me he’d didnt drink and we fell in love. 2 months later we went on a holiday and he had 2 glasses of wine “ecause he was on holiday”. For the next 3 Months he was on wine then straight vodka, hiding, denying, earning no money, lying and ended up inhospital because he thought he was having a heart attack but still lying about the booze. They got him off drink and this was the first time i found out why he didnt drink. 3 years later we got married , now married 3 years he has started again. Still in denial, saying I’m not drunk he slurs and trips up, hides 6 2litre bottles of cider in his room, not working and wants to move to spain ASAP with the money my mum left whe she died just 6 months ago,! He hS nagged me and abused me about it and says I dontlove him unless I look after him and move to spain. He has not worked much (self emploed medium) paid no rent or bills since octo er when the benefits stopped. We went to spain then and he hasn’t stopped since. He emotionally blackmails me about killing him, back sore, needs the sun, can.t workheree, we need to go to spainnow and buy a houxe, we have no jobs there and he doesn’t speak spanish. He.s been putting me down, shouting, lying, forgetting, confused, lacks con e tration, selfish, does nothi g at home and pays for nothing except drink. been paying all bills giving himpo ketmoney 300, buying all food and paid off one credit card. Also 2holidays to spa7n. He says iam selfish, unloving and cruel! He lies every day and hides booze, currebntly 3 x 2ltr cider and the pub ecery dayandi pay for it all, last time this happened his family put him into hospitwl and then into a hostel. How can I do it differntly? Iwant to be kind but he.s pushed me to the edge now. We’ve had rows and he’s nasty, also showing signs of paranoia, confusion, lying and forgetting and denying, slurring, aggression, breaking stuff but not me, spending my inheritance and ignoring my grief, I tried to talk to him but drinking. Akes him selfish. Showing signs of depression, loss of appetite, poor sleeping, a lot of time alone, or hiding in a pub and making up ridiculous stories aboutwhy he.s 2 hours later. WHAT DO I DO ? I’M trying boundaris andnot confronting but he wants more money and he angrily wants to buy a house in spain or he.ll take half my money and go anyway,! SELFISH AND CRUEL, CANI NELP, SAVE, STOP HIM? You may all sayno, but I do love him, I suffer from depression but sought help. I cared for my dying mother and he said I am selfish for not being here forhim. Maybe it.s true. I want to die. I havd tried but helped myself be ill. If I kill my self he.ll get money. I only have 1 glass of wine at meals. I take insulin and blood pressure and sleeping pills and valium and i could end my life easily. HELP ME PLSE. SOMEBODY . I can, t live with this. Xxxx

  • Ruth

    Oh dear Emma, you are a beautiful and caring woman. Look at the mirror. You are strong, caring and no one can take that from you. You have the power to turn this situation into something positive for yourself. First you must learn that you do hold the key. Love is an interesting word. It carries so much weight, but it’s our thoughts and mind that carries the weight. Boundaries are for ourselves and no one else. You do have boundaries because you haven’t allowed your husbands wishes to come true. You must decide if you will put up with anymore negative actions from him. If you are there, you need to ween yourself from him. Surround yourself with positive activities. You may here you’re selfish, but what you are doing is developing a life without him. You may seek counsel also. Venting and analizing the situation may do you good internally. Good luck and cheers!!

  • leslie

    30 years. Two children 11 and 13…..I can’t do it anymore. My children are loosing respect for him. I’ve but lost all respect for myself. Everything that has happened to us is my fault. I’m tired of the nasty drunken comments, the excuses for drinking…picking an argument. My whole life is tied up in do I break the chain?

  • Connie

    Leslie, walk away with your children & don’t look back. I have been doing this for 31 years & my son is 35 years old. I have been in extensive therapy for almost 2 years now for being shot at, lied to, never mind how many times he’s cheated on me & then I went to Alanon & started ignoring his behavior basically & then he tells me he is in love with a 20 years old hooker & bought her a car instead of paying the taxes on the house. I have been making sure bills are paid & any responsibility has been mine. If I had it to do over again, I would leave the minute he picked up that first drink after having been sober for 11 years. We were friends then. I am clean & sober myself 37 years TODAY! Please take your children & with all the spiritual, emotional effort you can muster get away. This is an insidious disease. I am praying for you.

  • Michelle

    I’m married with a young daughter who is 14, to a alcoholic emotionally abusive man. Been married 16 years and it’s been real bad the last 7/8 years we are more like roommates raising our daughter is the only thing we have in common. He is retired and my daughter adores her daddy but our marriage is hell. I still am working full time outside of the home so to our daughter he is mr mom. I’ve ponder leaving him many times but always rationalize that I must stay for our daughters sake. This is my second marriage and I have 2 grown kids from my previous marriage that were greatly affected by my first divorce and I don’t want to do this to my youngest daughter. It’s just downright torture and I’m so miserable most days thinking of how stuck I am… only hope is that she will be 18 in 4 more years then we can go our separate ways……how do you break up a marriage without hurting your children tremendously……I can’t do it… I suffer ???

  • 5pm

    3 yrs since most of your posts above. Interesting to hear updates. Did you leave or stay? Did setting boundaries help?

    Unfortunately, alcoholics surround us. My father’s friend is a 5pm till bedtime drinker who gets angry most every time she drinks, which is every night. If I want to be around my father she is there, at least after 5. I let her walk on me for years, started detaching awhile ago which upsets her. Recently, had enough, set a personal boundary and walked out, left the area, she followed me, meltdown, crying, wanting to be friends, saying I don’t try. Drama. I said, I don’t want drama, she said, life is full of drama. Anyway, worst I have felt in a long long time (see below). My Dad is caught in the middle, he knows she is alcoholic, he is too, but he is not giving her up, so if I want to be around him, she’s part of the deal. I’m stuck. I already have pruned my time w him to 2 holidays and 3 weekends a year. I would like to spend more time with him, but happy when not around them. I dread these visits, especially after 5pm, but need to have a relationship with my father. (He is a happy drunk). I need a refresher on boundaries as I haven’t used them for awhile. So that is how I found this. I do attend Al-Anon, but thought I would share my story, and would appreciate thoughtful input.

    I do have experiences w boundaries, my other story:

    Was living a nightmare. Not an alcoholic but extremely abusive/angry spouse. Afraid to leave because I feared she would keep the kids from me (she did). Rabbit trail never ending arguments, obscenities, screaming, Jekyll and Hyde personality. Unpredictable drama. Family walking on eggshells, most friends did not know our secret. She could put on a happy face when needed. Tried: counseling, be nice, argue back, silence, more counseling, ignore, stay at work. Finally, set a few boundaries. One in particular, a safe space boundary. I asked/told her not to come into one room if yelling. Surprisingly, for the most part, she honored this, but would often stand in threshold belittling and sometimes throw things. If she continued this behavior or entered my safe space, my next boundary was to leave, returning after midnight when I hoped she was asleep. Turns out, She did not like boundaries, she gave me a gift, and surprised me w a divorce. I should have left 20 years prior. Dragged the divorce out for a year, close to financially wiped out. What I got was priceless, happiness (except see above) and 20 (maybe 30) additional years of life. A dozen years later, I am still happily single and have good relationships with all my kids.

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