#838: “Alcohol-abusing, depressed, long-distance boyfriend…”

Dear Captain,

I’m in a five-month long-distance relationship. My boyfriend visits monthly. His alcohol and drug use have been red flags since we met. His father is a recovering alcoholic. He has been depressed for several months, although he takes anti-depressants.

I have recently realized his drinking is indeed a problem, and I have become worried sick for his well-being as well as potentially setting myself up for heartbreak. I have no concerns about how he treats me.

Over email/telephone, I voiced concerns about his mood and drinking. He volunteered: they are problems; they have been for some time; he thinks about it everyday; and things must change. I was relieved to hear that he talks to his mom about it.

During his visit this weekend, we conversed. He was reluctant to seek professional attention for his problems, although he identified a doctor he thinks he could see about his prescription (refills/changing the dose/trying a new medication). He saw an alcohol counselor in the past, and did not want to do so again.

I told him that part of me does not want to get attached to someone who abuses alcohol. He started crying. He said something about how I may be a reason to stop drinking. I said I wasn’t good enough. He added his health.

I pressed for a plan:

His short-term goal is not to drink until Friday (today is Sunday). He mentioned visiting next Saturday, but I don’t know if that works for me. He mentioned other, longer timeframes for sobriety, so I’m not sure how fixed it is.

I had asked if he had ever not drank before, and he said he didn’t drink in college (although he drank heavily before that), and he didn’t drink for a month last year.

As far as his mood, he said he wants to see how it changes when he stops drinking. He hopes to run more, which improves his mood.

I am already a stressed-out graduate student who now has concerns about potentially getting serious with someone who may be likely to have an ongoing alcohol problem, depression without staying on top of treatment, and who doesn’t seem to be good at managing money, which may be related to all of the above.

How do I support him long-distancely? Do I ask him if he’s been drinking? Where do I draw the line and call it quits? I realize I haven’t said anything nice about him, but that’s because of the 450 word count.

Worried Girlfriend

Dear Worried,

He said something about how I may be a reason to stop drinking.”


“I said I wasn’t (a) good enough (reason).”

Okay, phew.

Letter Writer, you are only a few months into this.

YOU ARE ONLY A FEW MONTHS IN. Only few DATES/visits in, if they happen monthly.

Can you see this as being in the “Should we keep doing this?” decision-making phase of dating, not the “for better or for worse” place?

What if you took all the effort you’re about to invest in this man and invested it in yourself? That time you spend worrying about him and trying to get him through another day of not drinking could be spent on your studies, your dreams, your future, the people around you in the place where you live now. Don’t you have enough on your plate?

There are organizations and resources who are completely devoted to helping people with addiction problems get sober. There are people and places who will help him make it one day at a time. The person who can work on a plan with him for not drinking is called a counselor or a sponsor. It does NOT have to be you.

I know you like him, he’s nice, he’s nice to you…

…But he is so much WORK right now, my dear Letter Writer. You are so smart and cool and collected and you are asking GREAT questions. I can see this guilty caretaker logic working under the surface, like, “I *knew* alcohol might be a red flag from the beginning but I dated him anyway, doesn’t that obligate me/didn’t I have my chance to bail/he’s trying/don’t I owe him a little more time” and I want to tell you “NOPE!” You are NOT obligated, it’s okay to change your mind about what you can handle, and sometimes “red flags” at the beginning turn into “GLARING ISSUES WORTH BREAKING UP OVER.” I think you knew what I would say when you wrote to me, so, here I am, telling you what it’s too late to tell my younger self: Ending this relationship now is most likely a really good idea for you.

Your script, should you choose to accept it, could be: “I’m so sorry, but I’m not the right person to work on this with you, and it’s time we ended this.

Love and strength to you and to him.






136 thoughts on “#838: “Alcohol-abusing, depressed, long-distance boyfriend…”

  1. Where do I draw the line and call it quits?

    Here. Draw it here. I’m not even going to quote Captain Picard; this is too important. You don’t need to be his sponsor. Choose you and call it quits.

    Jedi hugs if you want ’em.

    1. When you’re asking where to draw the line, that’s kind of sounding like you want to draw a line….?

    2. “You don’t need to be his sponsor.”

      And, if you are speaking literally about an AA sponsor, you should NOT be. The sponsor-sponsee relationship should not have involved dating at any time to work the way it’s supposed to. He needs to be able to tell his sponsor things he shouldn’t *want* you to know.

  2. Please run.

    I was in a long(decade+) relationship with an alcoholic. He had been through rehab, and had not used alcohol since then. BUT – it is said that an alcoholic who is not drinking is still an alcoholic. Friends who have been involved with AA describe sobriety as a state of conscious ACTIONS and constant self awareness. Sobriety is more complex than just not drinking.

    My ex did not “believe” in AA, so he had not done the 12 Steps, except as he was forced to participate/mime along while in rehab. There is a state of being described as being a “dry drunk”. This means this person embodies all the self-centered and entitled attitudes that they manifest while using alcohol – while not drinking.

    I don’t have any close relatives with serious alcohol issues, so I was oblivious to the mechanics of alcoholic behaviour. I don’t drink or use drugs because they make me uncomfortable. I imagine this made me a safe person for my ex, sort of.

    However, the burden of his not drinking but not sober behaviour became extremely draining, escalating into very emotionally abusive behaviour. There were several times when he had done very hurtful things, and then told me that my being (rightfully) upset “made him feel like drinking again” (aka manipulation, emotional blackmail).

    Yes “not all alcoholics” BUT – this guy is not even at the first step of frankly admitting he has an issue that is negatively affecting his life. This + long distance + the manipulation of stopping drinking “for you” = too many red flags. Please side-step this heartbreak.

    You don’t say this guy is the most perfect, brightest, that makes your heart sing. I really loved my ex – the parts of him that were not mean, destructive, manipulative – parts that were not quickly revealed, at first.

    You will meet someone who doesn’t have this barricade of issues, trust me.

    1. “it is said that an alcoholic who is not drinking is still an alcoholic.”

      Only at AA, that is. Neuropsychologists studying addiction do not agree.

      Alcoholism is not a character flaw or a disease that one must constantly keep in remission. “Dry drunk” is a term made up to blame all personality dysfunction on alcohol. What do you call it when someone is a jerk but also sober? You call them a jerk, not a “dry drunk”.

        1. Yes! and I’ve read several articles lately about how most rehabs are based on those 12 steps and do not have a high success rate. There has been better success with therapists and cognitive behavioral therapy.

      1. I might call them a dry drunk if they were a jerk specifically because of behaviour patterns they’d learned while drinking which they had not yet corrected. (Okay. I wouldn’t use the term. But I would understand someone who used the term to be referring to that–not an excuse for the behaviour, but a provision of additional context WRT the behaviour’s origin?)

        I am also uncomfortable with a lot of AA–the all or nothing described seems like it would be very high pressure–but I also know that it has helped some people and maybe we could focus on the advice to LW (which universally seems to be “this doesn’t seem like a good idea”) vs critting AA in this particular thread?

        1. I am also uncomfortable with a lot of AA–the all or nothing described seems like it would be very high pressure–but I also know that it has helped some people and maybe we could focus on the advice to LW (which universally seems to be “this doesn’t seem like a good idea”) vs critting AA in this particular thread?

          INDEED. This thread isn’t about whether a particular recovery program works for the boyfriend, it’s about the Letter Writer.

      2. Thank you for putting this more succinctly than I could! People who have been in AA a long time have been bombarded with rhetoric about what their personalities are supposedly like and I can’t help wondering if it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy sometimes. Also, the program party line seems to have become as mainstream as myths like “Drink 8 glasses of water a day” and “We use only 10% of our brains”. Time for some counter-narratives!

      3. That’s interesting. I guess once you’re fully recovered from an addiction you’re not an addict per se but I know alcoholics (who refer to themselves as such) who know they cannot drink, and they have not done AA.

        I barely drink (a drink every 3 months or so), but I can feel I have the ability to have a real problem. I guess I always have thought that there is the propensity for addiction, active addiction, and an addiction you have recovered from but will always sort of want even if you don’t. I’m not sure if I’m right or what you would call that though.

  3. “The person who can work on a plan with him for not drinking is called a counselor or a sponsor. It does NOT have to be you.”

    As an adult child of an alcoholic and a veteran of way too many relationships with people with addiction issues (and the friend of many people who have similar relationship histories), I will go one further. Not only does it not have to be you who works on the sobriety plan with him – it *shouldn’t* be you. The person an alcoholic should be working with on their plans to achieve sobriety should be someone with training/experience AND someone whose only relationship with them is in this capacity. Not a spouse/romantic partner. Not a best buddy. Not a parent. Not a sibling. Not a child.

    If you stay with someone who is going through this struggle, getting communication on what the plan is and how it’s going is important. But MAKING the plan and MANAGING the plan – that is stuff that you don’t want to mingle with personal relationships. It is bad for the relationship and bad for the sobriety plan. Most importantly, it is bad for the non-addicted person. What you are describing in your relationship? That looks like the beginning of every single story I have ever heard about a relationship with someone with addiction issues that ends with, “And I lost myself in it for YEARS.”

    1. YES! Your partner(s) are not and should not be your therapist(s). Your therapist should be someone you don’t have an emotional attachment to, so that you can feel comfortable that there are no consequences to speaking about things or judging happening – or at least none that might have an impact on your relationship!

      1. People pay therapists to be objective because it’s really hard to be objective about a stranger and close to impossible to be objective about someone you care for. Being objective is a job you have to go to (in most cases) grad school to learn.

        You cannot (and probably should not) be objective about your romantic partner. If you’re in love with someone, you’re biased to see things in their favor.
        I think of New Relationship Energy like a home inspection.
        When you really want a particular house, you’re going to blow off little things as easy to fix, but an active termite infestation or foundation problems are going to give you pause. When you’re settling for a home that isn’t quite right, a light fixture that isn’t working properly will make you back out.
        In both cases you should probably not buy that home. In the first because there are major problems with it, in the second because you shouldn’t make major investments in things you feel kinda meh about.

        NRE keeps you from pulling the plug on a potentially good relationship in it’s early stages over something small and workable, but if something is large enough to break through the cloud of pheromones, it’s worth paying attention to.
        If your NRE isn’t high enough to keep small problems from bugging you, it doesn’t matter if you’re objectively right or wrong. You aren’t invested enough in that relationship to be in it. Cut and Run.

        Either way, if you’re questioning a relationship in it’s early stages, that’s a good sign it’s not the right relationship for you.

      2. Also, you cannot emotionally blackmail a therapist. The lack of emotional attachment is necessary for BOTH parties. For the person in therapy, so they can be honest… and for the therapist, so they cannot be manipulated when they say something the person doesn’t like.

      3. This… plus there’s another factor.

        My parents’ best friends are a couple who (before their retirement) used to be considered the finest internists in New York City. Just mind-bogglingly brilliant doctors. And my dad’s internist was someone completely different. I asked him once why he had chosen someone else for his own physician, and he said bluntly, “I need to be able to fire my doctor.”

        He was right. The relationship between any health care provider and their client is **for the benefit of the client**, and it has to be possible for the client to change it or terminate it at any time, if it isn’t meeting their needs. They can’t afford to have to worry about hurting their provider’s feelings, or what it will do to the friendship/relationship if they do.

        I’m a licensed massage therapist, and I have to balance dual relationships in my own profession for very similar reasons. While I am legally allowed to have clients who are also friends (though never lovers or dates) and occasionally I do, I am SUPER-careful in managing those relationships, so that when they’re in my studio they are all client and the entire focus is on their needs; and when they aren’t, I don’t put on my therapist hat. I also usually take it from friendship into friend-and-client, rather than from client into friend-and-client, because I never want a client to feel that they need to think about how it would affect me if they didn’t really want to be friendly but I was encouraging that. The very few times I’ve made a friend out of a somebody who started off as a client, they initiated the off-table interaction, and I made super clear with my words that they had absolute right to set boundaries anywhere they wanted or stop socializing with me at any time, without it ever affecting the therapist/client relationship.

    2. Exactly. I left a comment further down saying much the same thing. I’m an adult child of an alcoholic myself and you simply CAN NOT be your partner’s therapist.

  4. Do not put more work into this guy than he’s putting into himself. Don’t even put in half as much. Recovery should be more like 90% him and 10% his support system. And ‘support system’ includes all the professionals he’s (hypothetically) working with, not just you. If that’s not what you’re seeing, don’t do it. It’s a recipe for heartbreak and exhaustion.

    1. This. He doesn’t sound like somebody who’s willing to make the hard changes that sobriety requires, and you can’t do the work for him.

  5. LW, as a fellow overworked, super-stressed graduate student, my advice is: run.

    Look, I’m married to a really excelled man and right now I barely even have the time and energy for my MARRIAGE. I have so much work on my plate (…I’m procrastinating by reading CA right now, augh, as soon as I finish typing this it’s back to The Spreadsheet) that I barely have energy to put more than maintenance effort into my marriage. Why am I saying this? Because if I, fellow overworked, super-stressed grad student, barely have the chops right now for an established, *healthy* relationship, you DEFINITELY don’t have the energy to sink into one with an alcoholic who refuses to get professional help.

    I cannot second the Captain’s advice harder. Take that energy, put it into yourself. Your schooling. Your dreams. YOUR life.

    1. Yes, spend whatever energy that would be used up listening, bargaining, planning, worrying, hoping, trying to help, fretting, supporting on yourself. This doesn’t mean do these things for yourself (ie fretting, etc.) – but the mental and emotional energy it takes that is being spent elsewhere.

      (Ask yourself how much emotional labor and supportive behaviour is being extended in your direction from dude-with-problems ?)

      No one ever said this to me, and it would have made such a difference when I was in school v.s. being sucked dry by crappy boyfriend du jour.

      Prioritizing yourself, especially your education and your energy levels is nots selfishness. It is important self care.

    2. Seconding the married and in grad school, and some days I can barely manage to kiss my dearly beloved partner of eleven years on the way to crashing into bed at the end of the night, assuming that he hasn’t been in bed for the past two hours and I stayed up late to finish something. Date nights get worked around classes and homework, if and when there are date nights; and the nights when he cooks supper are the nights I get to actually talk to him for half an hour before returning to homework (he cooks a lot with this in mind).
      LW, I’m so glad you found someone you care about. Loving people can be wonderful and and happy-making. But . . . this guy, at this time, sounds like a bad fit for where you are and what you need.

  6. Do people not know that antidepressants don’t work if you take alcohol with them? ALCOHOL CANCELS OUT ANTIDEPRESSANTS. If you’re drinking on antidepressants, you might as well save your money and stop taking the drugs. That’s why I know that if I want to drink wine with friends for an evening, I have to resign myself to a couple days of shitty mood and lessened concentration afterwards.

    If you want to give Dude a different perspective on professional treatment try giving him this article.

    But after that? Make all your decisions based on the fact that if he does change, it will be a very long, slow process full of relapses and what you see is what you should assume you’ll get. Ask yourself if you want to stay with him if he stays exactly like this, because he’ll probably return to this state no matter how hard he tries to get out of it. If he improves it’s a lucky break, not a sure thing.

    1. (Coda that the doctor in that article may be a trailblazer but he’s not the ONLY one. His approach has been used by major treatment organizations in every Canadian city I’ve done mental health work in. The buzzwords to search for are “evidence-based” and “harm reduction” methods, instead of “abstinence” methods.)

      1. Yeah, in my history (over 20 years) of antidepressants of every stripe in several different provinces, every doctor has been super clear to not drink while on them. Not just because alcohol’s a depressant, but because it interacts strongly with the medications.

        Heck, I have a collage from all the different warning labels I wind up with in a month on my prescription bottles (don’t ask) and over 50% of them are DO NOT CONSUME ALCOHOL WITH THIS.

        1. A lot of my friends take anti-depressants, and almost everyone has a story about how they learned the DO NOT MIX WITH ALCOHOL label was serious. Results were rarely more worrying than “and then I fell asleep standing up mid-sentence and my friend had to carry me home”, but there are definitely Effects with the vast majority of brands and types of brain pills.

    2. Alcohol doesn’t always cancel out antidepressants. It depends on the person. I can drink without the ADs failing, and that’s awesome. I’m sorry you have a bad experience, but that doesn’t mean everyone else does.

      But back on topic – change is good. Change is awesome! But only if the change is something the partner wants to do. If he doesn’t want to do AA for whatever reason (religion, group work, etc.) there are other programs that DON’t have those components, but it’s not your job to find them for him. You shouldn’t be worries about maintaining a new relationship while you have all this other stuff going on in your life. I believe you when you say he has other great qualities, but everyone has great qualities. The worst people in the world have good qualities. That doesn’t mean the good cancels out the bad.

      I’m wording this badly, but basically just ask yourself what advice you’d give to your (best friend, sibling, parent) who was in a relationship like this, and then take that advice.

      1. “I believe you when you say he has other great qualities, but everyone has great qualities. The worst people in the world have good qualities. That doesn’t mean the good cancels out the bad.”

        This. So many times this. I want to print this on a t-shirt.

      2. Although I illustrated my point with a personal example, I am actually speaking from a vast body of research literature and consultation with doctors. My ADs fail very quickly and spectacularly, but other peoples’ responses will be different, since everyone’s brain chemistry is different. But still: it is a very widely-observed effect.

      3. I consider myself an alcoholic, because my first impulse when I’m having difficulty coping is to reach for the alcohol. I deal with this by asking myself if I can wait half an hour, or have a glass of water first, or making sure I don’t drink alone (sometimes this means internet messaging with someone on the other side of the world, but it works for me, and that’s what’s important). I use my OCD to keep track of how much I drink, and I make sure I put my glass down after taking a sip, because if it’s in my hand, I’ll take another sip and then another and then another and that’s how I used to drink an entire bottle of spirits over the course of a couple of hours.

        Having said that, my psych recently doubled my daily dose of sertraline, and I’ve halved my drinking, and during a period of pretty high stress, too. Because I just can’t be bothered getting up from the computer – that waiting half an hour technique means I’ve started doing internal calculations of “is it worth interrupting what I’m doing right now?” I had a pear cider yesterday, a couple of glasses of wine on girls-night-in with a friend earlier in the week, and a cocktail last weekend. No nightcaps. Anti-depressants that work for the person taking them are magic.

    3. My anti-depressants still seem to work when I drink, but note that I very, VERY rarely drink these days, and I’m on a very low dose.

      Also, your comment sparked a tangential conversation between my new boyfriend and his buddy, which basically went, “Wait, drinking makes that WORSE?” “Dude, you didn’t KNOW? Alcohol’s a DEPRESSANT.” “…well, now I have another reason to stay dry.” (Since he’s struggled with pretty deep depression too.)

      So thanks for giving my boyfriend renewed determination to stay sober!

    4. There are several classes of antidepressants. Some of then require you to abstain from alcohol; with others there are no such contraindications.

      Yes, depressed people should avoid drinking too much, because alcohol is a depressant, but a little alcohol from time to time isn’t going to “cancel out” the meds.

      I maintained a modest level of drinking whilst taking antidepressants, because I enjoy the occasional whisky, and doing things that you enjoy helps with depression. The drugs worked just fine.

      But don’t take my word for it, or the word of any person on the internet. Have a frank and honest discussion with your doctor about it.

      1. Additionally, not every “don’t drink with X” is for the same reason. When I was prescribed the antidepressant that I took for 2 years, I saw the very long list of do-nots, including alcohol, NSAIDs, and a pile of other things, and talked over the specifics with my pharmacist. In this case the concern was about exacerbating drowsiness and blood-thinning effects, not any notion of drug cancellation. Some instructions are about how to make the drug more effective, some are about trying to avoid certain side-effects… and the general info seldom tells you which is which, or how serious the issue is. A pharmacist can.

    5. I can only speak from what I’ve seen but no, that’s not quite how it works. Alcohol depresses the nervous system but it doesn’t cause depression, and while it can interact with antidepressants, it doesn’t just cancel them out. My husband is both a licensed mental health counselor and depression sufferer, and has a couple beers a week with no effect on his medication.

  7. Okay, this guy is apparently on anti-depressants (most of which come with counter-indications for alcohol use here in Australia[1]) and has alcohol and drug issues. My first question: does his prescribing physician know about this?

    My second question: would he actually listen to his prescribing physician if they told him the drugs he’s taking for his depression are not supposed to be used in concert with alcohol?

    I suspect the answer to both of the previous questions is “no”. Which should also be the answer to your question about “should I stay in this relationship and try to help him?”

    Basically, if this guy isn’t willing to put in some personal effort in changing his behaviour in order to save himself, there’s no amount of effort you can supply which is going to do the trick. Given you don’t have the effort to spare at present, by your own account, you’re probably both better off if you cut your losses in the relationship, and move on.

    [1] Heck, most anti-depressants here come with the standard “can cause drowsiness, do not drive or operate heavy machinery” warning. Somehow I doubt the formulations change that much across the pond.

    1. “would he actually listen to his prescribing physician if they told him the drugs he’s taking for his depression are not supposed to be used in concert with alcohol?”

      He may listen, and feel extremely guilty and like a terrible person, and STILL end up drinking. Part of depression can be feeling like you are a terrible failure for any misstep, and that it’s not even worth it to take care of yourself because hey, you’re a terrible person, you don’t really deserve to treat your depression, because when you try you’re gonna end up failing anyway.

      I do not disagree with anybody pointing out that alcohol often exacerbates symptoms of depression. I just know that, for me, a big part of my depression has been KNOWING what behaviors I need to change and still not having the strength to do them. To be suffering from depression AND substance abuse–both of which are heavily stigmatized in our culture–has got to compound that.

      All this to say: NOT the LW’s job to take care of him!

    2. “Basically, if this guy isn’t willing to put in some personal effort in changing his behaviour in order to save himself, there’s no amount of effort you can supply which is going to do the trick.”


  8. LW, some tough talk. What’s happened with your studies that this guy’s drama is attracting you? I so admire the scholarship and focus that gets people through grad school. Why are you changing channels for this soap opera?
    You two need to get a room.
    Your room has your program advisor
    His room gives him the quiet space to see his life as it is. If he chooses it, his next room has strangers with phone numbers, bad coffee in styrofoam cups and metal chairs that never warm up. His sponsor will hold him accountable in that room, and as he’s told to not get into any relationships during his first year, they’ll have room to work. Those strangers will tell him to “keep coming back” when the going gets rough, and it will. That route has flaws, but it’s worked for plenty of folks.

    Another way to present this-he won’t get better if you’re in the wings. Won’t. The kind of loving support we feel compelled to offer someone, is the opposite of what will help an active addict. If he does kick the double dose of depression he’s brewing from drinking on top of the meds, one day it’ll occur to him that he was able to harm your life by distracting you from your studies- and that will hurt him.

    If you really care about him, put on your own oxygen mask first and show him what a great life looks like- by you living yours.

    1. Aargh, yeah, the “here is some major romantic life drama that provides some useful distraction from my bloody research” is a familiar postgraduate student pattern! Check AT LEAST three times that you’re not doing that, LW!

  9. PS: There’s a couple ways to read, “I have no concerns about how he treats me,” but neither one are good when one is in the arena with a long-time, multigenerational addict. Not if you want to remain healthy. This guy’s unhealthy and he’s never seen healthy modeled for him. Consider finding an “open” Al-Anon meeting in your area. This is for you. My experience is that you will hear some things to think about.

  10. Ah, LW. I have worked with alcoholics for a large part of my career (and I know this isn’t equivalent to first-hand personal experience). There’s two things that jump out at me from your letter.

    1. Another person is a terrible reason to stop drinking if it’s a romantic, non-familial relationship. You are probably not always going to be in his life. If he hinges his sobriety to you, he also loads you up with the potential of destroying it. That is not fair, and won’t truly help him recover. I would actually consider this a potential red flag for abuse, because it puts you in a position where it would be so hard to leave later.

    2. If you are a dependent alcoholic DO NOT QUIT COLD TURKEY WITHOUT MEDICAL SUPERVISION. You don’t say exactly what his relationship with alcohol is, but if he for example experiences withdrawals or if he drinks many units daily it is extremely dangerous to stop cold turkey. Alcohol withdrawal can be fatal. I see it in TV and movies all the time and it terrifies me that the message is out there that you should just stop completely without any assessment of whether your body can handle that. So dangerous. I despair if his previous alcohol counsellor never told him this. But this is why he needs to see a new alcohol counsellor at least *once*. It’s not just about feelings-talking you sober, it’s about safety. It’s not your responsibility at all LW, but if you want to I’d suggest telling him this and pointing him to some online resources for basic info. I’m on my mobile so it’s hard to give links – just google ‘alcohol + harm reduction’ and you should get good stuff.

    Also, even if he doesn’t want alcohol counselling, most services offer family and friends groups, resources or individual sessions and this could provide you with some information on what you could expect if you decided to stay with him. Which I wouldn’t, because of my first point, but it’s your call and you should be as informed as possible.

    Good luck to both of you, whatever you decide. And remember – deciding to stay with him now isn’t deciding to stay with him FOREVER. It’s until you change your mind, which you can do at any time. Don’t feel like if you choose to stay you’ve committed to seeing this through – and you will never, ever be responsible for his sobriety.

    1. Seconded. The details are murky, but a friend of my partner’s died of liver failure than may have been caused by going cold turkey as a hardcore alcoholic. The BF here needs professional help tailored to his particular conditions, and you, LW, are not the person who can provide that for him.

    2. “And remember – deciding to stay with him now isn’t deciding to stay with him FOREVER. It’s until you change your mind, which you can do at any time.”

      Can we make this even bolder? Each day you’re with someone, you’re making a choice to stay with them. They’re also making the choice to stay with you. The fact that you’ve been dating them XX months, XX years, whatever, doesn’t mean the choice is made for you. You haven’t signed a contract saying you have to stay someone for XX amount of time, and put up with A, B, C no matter what. If his actions and words make you unhappy, that’s enough reason to choose not to stay with your partner.

      1. Even if you have signed a contract (=legal marriage) you can still make the choice to leave!

    3. oh this. I’d searched “alcohol poisoning” and found the Mayo Clinic site talked of the heart just failing, morning after. How this didn’t happen to me, my friends, my family, I do not know.

    4. A couple of years ago doctors here were advising that people not go cold turkey because there simply weren’t enough spaces in rehab programs to provide care if something went wrong.

  11. “I said I wasn’t good enough”

    Okay. After you’ve informed him that “This isn’t going to work”, please PLEEEEAAASE, for the love of baby puppies, address your major malfunction. I know far less about addiction than I do about crippling lack of self-esteem. Please don’t anchor yourself to this guy because “If not him, then who else could.. ?”. I am so incredibly lucky that I ended up with a wonderful, caring, patient person rather than an abuser, or someone otherwise bad for me, because my self-loathing would have kept me trapped in the quicksand of “I’m not good enough to deserve better”.

    You are good enough. Good enough to deserve someone who makes you laugh until you can’t draw breath, good enough to share your life with someone who makes every cell in your body vibrate with joy. You’re good enough to have someone who sings you silly songs, brings drinks and snacks when you’re so mired in work that you don’t know what day it is, who you can tell anything to, who will hold your hand when you cry watching ‘Up'(!), and who enhances and enriches every part of your existence .

    You’re more than *good enough” to deserve love from someone who helps you be the best that you can be.

    1. I think this statement is less about her self esteem and more about him using her as a reason to get sober. I read that line as “I am not a good enough reason for you to get sober. Your reasons should be about you.” Based on CA’s response, I think she read that line the same way.

      I agree with everything you say. I think she is good enough and deserves great things in life, but I just don’t think that sentence was her saying she is not in agreement with you either.

      1. I agree that it was probably meant as you say, however the wording reminds me of how my own self-loathing would make me choose my words. Perhaps I am reading too much into it, but words shape the world and sometimes the message we show by accident is a peek at something below our conscious mind.

        I’m not entirely sure that made sense, but my concussion says it’s the best I’ve got right now.

      2. That was my take, too: not low self-esteem but realism. No person except yourself is ever going to be a good enough reason to stop drinking.

        This is not the correct use of this product. Applying romantic love to mental health or substance abuse issues is like putting ham slices on a flat tire: the tire stays flat and the ham goes bad.

        And that’s before we get into the hidden half of that, which is “so if I get sober because you’re my partner, that means you get to live with the possibility that if you leave I’ll start drinking again.”

        Yeah, no.

        LW, I’m going to be slightly – only slightly – contrarian, here. You say you didn’t have room to talk about the good stuff because of wordiness, so this has to be evaluated by what you know about the good stuff. If at all possible, evaluated with the help of a counsellor – if your school has drop-in peer counselling, that would probably be fine. Just someone who will let you talk it out and reflect back to you, to help you organise it in your head. Your letter suggests you’re pretty good at that anyway, so.

        So, yeah. Take this advice for what it’s worth. If you read it and the pit of your stomach feels cold and scared considering it, please pretend I never said a word, seriously.

        There are absolutely two big honking red flags – but there are some small green flags, too. Your smart, realistic view of the situation. His desire to get healthier, his awareness of the problem, and what seems like some insight into what may help. His acceptance when you said you were not a good reason to quit drinking.

        It’s not enough to make him a good romantic prospect right now. It’s absolutely not enough to risk your degree for. Do not risk your degree for ANYONE.

        And, if it helps, right now HE needs a serious relationship like he needs brain surgery with a tire iron. He’s depressed. He may have a problem with alcohol, or he may have an issue where he’s self-medicating with it, but while those are differently big problems, they’re both big problems. If he’s seriously going to work on them, he’s going to be really self-centered for awhile. Rightly, but not in a way that works well with romance. (Do not say this to him as an argument for breaking up. It’s broadly true, from my experience, but breaking up with people for their own good just … never goes well.)

        IF you really really like this guy, IF he would be a Really Awesomely Big Deal if the red flags came down the flagpole – then maybe – MAYBE – instead of just breaking up with him you should break up with him and say “I’d like to try this again in a year/when I finish this degree, if we both still want to then, and meanwhile what I can offer is that I can be your friend if you’re willing and able to be mine.”

        If he agrees, and sticks to that agreement, doesn’t push for more AND doesn’t back away from you when YOU need support or listening as a friend AND is accepting when you set boundaries like “I have to work flat-out this week and I can’t focus on anything else until it’s all handed in” AND meanwhile he does the work he says he wants to do to get his life in order – then, maybe, later, this could be really really good.

        Meanwhile – no, don’t monitor his drinking. Listen, within reasonable bounds, when he wants to talk, and expect him to do the same for you, but just as you don’t need him checking regularly to make sure you’re caught up on the readings, he doesn’t need you checking regularly to make sure he’s handling his issues right. If he asks you to, say, text him every couple of days to say “hey, get your runners on and hit the pavement!”, or even “hey, remember to pick up your meds!” ok, that’s one thing, that’s being on Team Him, but don’t become the support staff.

        Good luck!

        1. “Applying romantic love to mental health or substance abuse issues is like putting ham slices on a flat tire: the tire stays flat and the ham goes bad.” LOVE THIS. T-shirt material for sure.

        2. Yeah, I was also thinking that. Script: “Hey, get yourself sorted out, and maybe six or twelve months after that, give me a call and we’ll see what’s up. Take care of yourself.”

          LW, a lot of the advice here seems to assume that your boyfriend is an alcoholic who is drinking extremely heavily, to the extent that he may need medical support in cutting down. My experience with people in my generation is more with people at the “heavy drinking, bad idea, bad behaviour, but not physically dependent and capable of cutting back to normal drinking without going completely sober or needing specialised addiction services”. If that’s more where your boyfriend is, I STILL don’t think you guys staying together is necessarily a very good idea. If you guys had been together years, then it would be one thing to support him through the process of dealing with depression and a drinking problem. But that would probably mean “supporting” as in “getting your own therapy, and redrawing all the rules of your relationship because if you’ve been in a relationship with a heavy drinker, you probably have a lot of very bad dynamics and misery and probably some self-esteem issues of your own, because being close with someone who chooses alcohol over spending time with you is proper miserable”.

          If you’re still in the early stages of the relationship, it’s just not worth it. If your boyfriend needs to sort out his drinking and his mental health, he just doesn’t really have time to invest in developing a relationship with you. He’s either going to prioritise the relationship, and not do the healing/self-care, or he’s going to prioritise the self-care and you’ll come second. Option 1 means he carries on drinking and your relationship develops in the shape of a relationship with a depressed heavy drinker. Option 2 means he stops drinking, and your relationship develops in the shape of the gaps between him getting his life sorted out. NEITHER of these options says fun fun fun.

          If he’s a great guy, he’ll be even better in eighteen months when he’s got his head together. He’ll have done it by himself, and if he’s done it properly, he’ll realise that you were right to let him do it by himself. And the two of you will have so, so, so much more fun starting from that point.

          He’s got some shitty work to do. You don’t have to get down in the shit with him.

        3. After almost a year of dating Spouse, it became clear to me that this was the person I wanted to start a family with. I thought a lot about what that would mean and left a great job with random crazy hours for a good job with scheduled crazy hours, started seeing a therapist and tweaked meds with my psychiatrist.

          Not because I was broken, not because Spouse asked me to, but to better fit the future i wanted with them. Or with someone else if things didn’t work out.
          Because up till then my future had been fuzzy and my present was working for me, but being with Spouse brought what I wanted into focus, so I changed to meet that new desire.

          From the outside it looks like changing for another person, but really you’re changing for yourself, the other person is just a catalyst.
          The definition of catalyst is:
          A substance that increases the rate of a chemical reaction without itself undergoing any permanent chemical change.

          The catalyst doesn’t work to make the change, it doesn’t spend hours analyzing the chemicals around it to figure out how to get them to react in a certain way, it doesn’t research how to change itself to get the chemicals to change. Simply by being what it is, it accelerates something that was already starting to happen.

  12. ‘There are organizations and resources who are completely devoted to helping people with addiction problems get sober. There are people and places who will help him make it one day at a time. The person who can work on a plan with him for not drinking is called a counselor or a sponsor. It does NOT have to be you.’

    YES. My alcoholic ex basically turned me into his sponsor. It started out with him trying to get sober and me trying to be supportive and ended up with him being so abusive and manipulative that I had to leave town and am still dealing with it emotionally years on. By being the person he went to when he wanted to be sober, he came to hate and resent me when he wanted to drink. He bullied me into never going out or drinking myself (including/especially without him) because it was bad for his recovery, and had me pretty much on call in case he needed something, and then berated me for being so boring and not having friends or a life. If I did anything ‘wrong’ or that he didn’t like, then he would accuse me of threatening his recovery as it would make him relapse/feel like relapsing. If he did anything that hurt me, it was his illness and he wasn’t to be held responsible. Etc etc etc. Even if I knew more about alcohol recovery, I should never have been his sponsor. LW, the only way I think you can stay with this person and be emotionally safe, is if they go and get proper help (e.g. joining AA) and do some work on themselves.

  13. I’ve been in a long-term relationship with a guy who has a drinking problem, and if I could go back now and tell my past self what to do, I would definitely tell myself to leave MUCH SOONER.

    I’ve become co-dependent and depressed and wasted so much precious time. I finally broke up with him (after trying literally everything to help), I have been single for a few months now, and I feel so much better (I’ve also started therapy a couple of months ago).
    I can finally enjoy going out with friends again. I can sleep much better without waking up constantly and being worried sick. I can work on my own issues instead of constantly trying to “fix” someone else’s problem. At some point he told me I would “make” him want to drink because I always got “so pissed off” when he was drunk – the spiral of guilt and anger that followed is something I would not want anyone to feel, really, as well as seeing someone you love do a complete Jekyll/Hyde turn whenever there’s alcohol involved.

    I often feel like a selfish asshole too, for sure…that’s the codependency still talking. I know this nagging voice will stop someday, too.

    I really wish I would have left earlier. My suggestion: Leave now. You will thank yourself later.

  14. I have to wonder if LW experienced alcoholism or addiction in her family growing up? I frequent another comment section for another online advice columnist, and one of the regulars recently posted a very thought provoking comment. She’d grown up with alcoholic and addicted relatives and posted something to the effect that she felt she had trouble determining where the line between addict and casual social drinker/marijuana user was because of that. So, to simplify matters, she simply wouldn’t allow any drugs or alcohol in her house. Period. It wasn’t that she was judging people who drank or toked, simply that this was how she felt she could best deal with her ambivalence.
    Reading her post made me suddenly understand one aspect of my mother, who also grew up with an alcoholic parent. As a young adult I was very much irritated by her all or nothing teetotaller opinion of alcohol and felt insulted that she just assumed I’d become alcoholic if I even so much as tasted a drink, but now it makes sense after reading that post. (For the record, none of us seem to have inherited the drinking gene do it seems to have died out with our maternal grandfather)
    So, that’s why I wonder if LW had to deal with this behaviour in childhood and was made to feel responsible for taking care of an adult who behaved this way. That could explain why she even felt she had to ask if she was responsible for helping him through this when she really doesn’t even know him all that well.

    1. That’s kind of interesting to read. DH is a teetotaler because he’s scared of winding up an alcoholic like his father, but otherwise has no issues with alcohol–we used to go to the bar weekly with friends. It makes sense, and I wonder how he’d deal with our child wanting to drink.

      1. My husband’s the same way (although in his case it’s not his parents who are/were alcoholics, it’s extended family members). He has no problem with me drinking, but I also don’t drink to the point of losing control. I didn’t think about how he’ll react when our kiddo is of age. Thanks for the food for thought.

        1. If he doesn’t get nervous about you drinking, it probably bodes well. One of my parents is a sober, recovering alcoholic and the other drinks in moderation. The sober one was open about alcoholism and addiction, but never judgmental about anyone who drank, whether to excess or not. My brother and I have a healthy relationship with alcohol – we’ll drink at parties, but rarely if ever get drunk, and are more than able to stop after a drink or two.
          In case my anecdote is at all helpful 🙂

    2. I have kind of the equal but opposite reaction– until I was in my twenties, I felt like drinking to excess was totally normal, and had so rather than overreacting to casual drinkers I tended to underreact to problematic drinkers. When I learned that some college acquaintance was seeking help or had gotten sober, my response was invariably mild surprise because it had never occurred to me that that level of drinking wasn’t just what people did, even though I myself was not a habitual drinker.

      That said, being around drunk people does make me somewhat uncomfortable and I get kind of tense and hypervigilant at parties when other people are drinking and happy, and it took an embarrassingly long time for me to connect that to my alcoholic parents who I couldn’t count on to take care of me when I was little, or even not to do sometimes zanily problematic things like pin me to the floor during Thanksgiving dinner until I cried “uncle” (this was not a fun game, at least not for one of the participants, i.e. me). As a result, I prefer to socialize with tame and mostly-sober crowds.

    3. Both Spouse’s and my family have a history of alcohol and substance abuse. Spouse handled this by drinking very rarely, and never experimenting with any substances. I had a drinking problem before we met, but do drink small amounts socially.

      His rules from when our first was on the way, were no drinking in our home around the children, and if we are at a function where adults are drinking around children (cookout, holiday party) we both stay sober. I respect the need to protect our kids from what we went through, even though I would rather them see me drink small amounts occasionally to model responsible drinking.

  15. I think it is OK not to know how to respond, this is a painful realisation for you, it is natural to be confused about how you want to proceed. You have identified that you don’t have experience supporting a loved one with alcohol problems and your life is full on and you are long distance. Your work here is not so much to make a plan for him/with him but to decide what your part in his life is going to be right now.

    Any plan for treatment has to come from him and it looks as though he underestimates how easy it night be to changes his habits. You don’t say how much he is using alcohol but recovering from addiction involves waking up to a lot of realities about himself and his world. You are right, you cannot facilitate that. Even if you had the time and felt 100% passionate about it, you are not the right person to do it. Seems like you know that but are struggling to square that with some of the unrealistic romantic ideals about what love is.

    Leaving is not a verdict on his worth or his chances of recovery and you are not responsible for cultivating his hope in himself.

    I don’t know if this perspective will help; love comes in many forms and sometimes it is to inspire someone to start their own journey. Sometimes success is not ‘and we lived happily ever after’ but it is ‘I did what was kind to myself and to him because I wanted to give him the best chance to be free to recover.’ Sometimes it is ‘I ended things because while I wished him well, I couldn’t do that journey with him.’ Sometimes it is ‘I ended it because the addiction ruined the good things we hoped for, which was painful but I had to go for my sanity.’ The man I loved who used alcohol and drugs (along with untreated mental illness and hidden financial debts) was a man I loved so deeply and not one of my noble efforts to love him into recovery worked. I wish our story had been different but I also grew up after our break up because I saw that success in love can be the wisdom to step back when a happy ending is not possible.

    You can love someone and step back. Love can be an act of love and respect for where they are at. The choice is not between heartless break up vs loyal long term girlfriend.

    1. I figure one party being happy after a break-up is a happier ending than both being miserable.

    2. >Leaving is not a verdict on his worth or his chances of recovery<

      I think this is so important to repeat.

  16. One of the reasons that well-meaning intimates should not be the primary source of sobriety support is, frankly, all the really important things our loving, well-intentioned hearts don’t know about addiction.

    For example: alcohol cessation in a regular drinker can be fatal unless medically supervised. That’s what medical detox centers are for, not well-meaning, long-distance romantic partners.

    If someone you were casually dating finally disclosed to you they had recurrent cancer, would you place yourself in the position of ( long-distance) managing their chemotherapy, radiation and surgical treatments? Would your relationship be about conversations like; “Please just go to chemo until Friday?”

    It’s too much stuff to take on after a few dates.

    Treat this as if he were a guy who didn’t tell you he has a serious , progressive illness which has rarely gone into remission, and by the way, he has no real commitment to seeking effective treatment.

    Now you know, and it’s entirely reasonable to decide not to take this on.

    Notice if you feel drawn to take this on, btw. The caretaker/rescuer urge is a a thing about yourself, if you have it, that it’s vital to get a handle on, for your own well-being and long-term success.

    1. alcohol cessation in a regular drinker can be fatal unless medically supervised.

      Alcohol cessation can be fatal if you are a habitual extremely heavy drinker. It’s not something that applies to the vast majority of “regular” drinkers, or even the majority of heavy drinkers. There are an awful lot of stages of problematic heavy drinking before you get anywhere near the stage where you need medical supervision to stop drinking.

  17. Um. Okay, second-hand experience here, not applicable to everyone:

    DH is 30 years sober, has sponsored a number of newly sober people; his adult son who has 18 months sober just stayed with us for a few weeks – lots of 12-stepping and daily meetings. One of the many things DH has said to son as well as to sponsees is that even with support a recovering alcoholic just is. not. ready. for a relationship until they have sobriety time under their belts – according to him, at least 12 months. DH also says it can take weeks to months just to get past the physical withdrawal from alcohol; the brain has to carve out new pathways for thinking/working *without* alcohol. He and I have talked a lot about the hard work of getting through the 12 steps – IF that’s the path chosen; I’ve observed firsthand that it takes daily self-work, it’s never finished. We’ve talked about working on the underlying problems which constitute addict behaviours; about dry drunks – one of his frequent sayings is, “you can take a drunken horse-thief and sober him up, but he’s still a horse-thief.”

    What I’m trying to say is while your life is always your choice please be careful. Put you first. If he’s not able to take or leave drinking he needs to admit he has a problem and may not be able to deal with it alone. That’s a BIG job and it’s useful to have context, experience and training to take it on. Honestly, love isn’t always enough. And one’s lover just plain shouldn’t be one’s therapist. Also? If he finds the right path ASAP and bingo it works first go… he’s fortunate. My take is that most people try again and again until they can hang in long enough to stay sober *for themselves*.

    Wow sorry for the depressing ramble. Good fortune and good wishes with your choice LW. Jedi hugs and happy fluffy thoughts your way.

  18. Dear WG,

    So, you’re at a crossroads where you are trying to decide whether or not to make more of a commitment to someone who has some substantial problems. Said problems are indeed readily identifiable as relationship red flags.

    I’d advise you not to choose to “run” simply because a bunch of strangers on the Internet said “Run!” I know you wrote asking for advice and that your letter contains indications that you are tending towards ending things. If I’m wrong about this ignore me, but I got a vibe from your letter suggesting that you want someone to tell you what to do, and that you *might* be prone to doing what someone else tells you without thinking it through for yourself. The issue here relates less to the quality of any advice and more to the role of your own agency in making choices. Rather, I would say, acquaint yourself with all the information you can obtain and then really think it through. The important thing is that this has to be your decision and that you know why you are making it, for reasons that are right for you.

    Some information in relation to this decision is that, as has been mentioned, a relationship where one person plays the role of therapist or counsellor to the other is definitely a no-no. A person recovering from alcohol and other problems can benefit from other people’s support, but that kind of thing is not what is meant by support, including checking up on whether they’ve been drinking. This is not how a relationship between adults should be. Other information is that, as JoanofAnon emphasized, it is dangerous to quit alcohol abuse without medical supervision. This man definitely needs better information in relation to his desire to do that.

    Some information which came from you is that you are already stressed out and you were already attuned to noticing red flags.

    It is also a given that your precious time and energy belong to yourself and your own well-being, and never to fixing someone else’s problems. Going to a deeper level now, I suggest that you examine what patterns you might have which cause you to be attracted to people with problems and to operate according to a dynamic of fixing another person. (“I pressed for a plan”, you said, which sounds as if you’re trying to control him. He and only he is in control of his plans for quitting drinking). Some useful background reading, to be taken with many grains of salt, would be “Women Who Love Too Much” by Robin Norwood or “Co-dependent No More” by Melody Beattie. A lesser-known work along these lines which is valuable for its practical self-care suggestions is Loving Him Without Losing You by Beverly Engel. The caveat about reading books like these and the suggestion re. the grains of salt is that it’s important not to start identifying as broken and damaged. Rather, the focus should be on acknowledging past hurt and grieving, but then on healing and moving on. The Engel book provides useful tools for this. If you read anything connected with AA or other twelve step programs, take it with oceans full of salt. The Big Book of AA was written by a man who probably was selfish and self-centred himself, but the whole tract is based on the presumption that everyone with a drinking problem is exactly like him, which can’t automatically be assumed to be the case. Nor can a lot of the beliefs and assumptions of those programs, which are emphatically anecdotal and not evidence-based.

    If I could go back to the crossroads in my own life which resembled the one where you now stand, I would definitely have followed the signpost labelled: “Hold out for the possibility of meeting a man who has all of the positive attributes of this one and none of his problems, and trust that this is possible even if it does not happen instantly”. I think working to build a more solid sense of self helps to increase the likelihood of this.

    On the subject of scripts, if I were breaking up with such a person I wouldn’t mention the alcohol problem but rather focus on myself or generalities about how this isn’t right for me now. I don’t know, the idea of disclosing red flags when breaking up just doesn’t seem right to me.

    All the very best to you!

    1. If you write an advice column, I would read that advice column. Very well said.

        1. Ooh, I would be very interested in something like that! Do you have anything in a shareable form at the moment? Or a way of saying please contact me when you do?

          1. I’m not on the forum at the moment, so a message would be better if you don’t mind. I’m jmegan (dot) again (at) gmail (dot) com. Looking forward to seeing it when it’s ready!

          2. I would also love to be contacted when this column is up!!! I am ailicre (at) gmail (dot) com.

    2. Agreed!!! I have to second this part of what you said: “If I could go back to the crossroads in my own life which resembled the one where you now stand, I would definitely have followed the signpost labelled: “Hold out for the possibility of meeting a man who has all of the positive attributes of this one and none of his problems, and trust that this is possible even if it does not happen instantly”. I think working to build a more solid sense of self helps to increase the likelihood of this.”

      My situation was different than the once referenced in the original letter, but years ago I had started dating a man who was very fun to be around, smart, nice, etc but there was just something off about him. He was difficult to get a hold of, he was cagey about certain topics, and every conversation with him had me waving a red flag without ever really knowing why. I decided to follow my gut and stopped seeing him, telling him exactly what I’ve said here and wishing him well. Fast forward about a year. I had just started dating the man I am now married to. I went on a girls weekend and when I got back there were twelve (12!!!) collect call messages on my machine from the cagey guy from the state prison. I called the prison, asked the officers there to have him stop calling me, and then sent him a strongly worded email. His girlfriend of 7 years wrote me back. I felt for her, but was never so happy that I listened to my gut. And…as my relationship with my new guy progressed and I knew that he was the right guy for me, I was happy that I chose me and being happily single for a while instead of choosing the first guy and being stuck in that drama filled nightmare inducing relationship. Believe me, making that decision to follow my gut wasn’t an easy one, but it was healthier for me.

      1. Thx for sharing this and I’d like to point out, as an aside, *this* is why no one HAS to have a reason to break up with someone. If course, in your case, your gut was telling you to, and that IS a reason – but not one you have to share.

  19. LW – if you can’t think of anything nice to say about this man in 450 words, that means his good qualities are being completely drowned out by his real problems. He needs to come to terms with his drinking, which you can’t make him do, and he needs a lot of help, which you can’t provide. It sucks that this is such a sad and exhausting situation, and I know you care about him and want to help him, but I’m with all the other commenters – the best thing you can do is stop trying to fix him and focus on yourself.

    1. that’s an interesting interpretation of ‘450 words’ – It mostly means LW has 450 words to present the problem, and that’s not enough to give a fair and balanced account of why LW is in love with this guy. It’s just enough to present the problem.

  20. If you choose to end things, it would probably be a good idea to brace for blow back from him about his alcohol consumption. One of my exes stopped smoking to be with me–I’m deathly allergic–and the instant I broke up with him, he started smoking again. Only this time, every cigarette was my fault and ‘if [I’d] stayed, [he] would have been strong enough to have quit permanently’.

    Your boyfriend knows that alcohol and his health concerns of yours in your relationship, and even if you don’t quote them was a reason for breaking up, he may try to use them as a way to guilt you into staying.

    1. I’ve quit smoking several times. This most recent time, the impetus was my son, but it was still my choice. For your ex to blame you… that’s an asshole move and also total crap. (You probably know this, but sometimes it helps to have someone else say it too.)

      ARGH. I’m trying not to rant about this.

      1. Yeah, that’s total BS.

        I still want cigarettes many years after quitting, the craving never goes away for some people, but it’s not anyone else’s job to keep me from lighting up.

  21. So basically, he’s not really willing to do anything to address the problem long-term (no drinks till Friday, *arches eyebrow*, really?) but he wants to give YOU stewardship of his sobriety and emotional health. Sure, that’s sounds like a reasonable recipe for a healthy and loving relationship. He’s not willing to give anything up. He’s not willing to do any work. But he’s more than willing to assign the work to you!

    Imagine your boyfriend is a dragon sitting on a pile of gold coins. You, the brave damsel, approach him and tell him that the hoard is giving him gold sickness and he needs to cash some of those coins in and get rid of it to get better. He moans and groans and eventually agrees to DISCUSS maybe giving some of his hoard up. You hold up the coin that’s stamped, “Time Spent Going to Counseling.” He says, “Oh, no, couldn’t possibly cash that in. I’ve tried it before. Doesn’t work for me. Put it back in the pile.”

    You hold up the coin that’s stamped, “Time Spent in a 12 step program.” He says, “Oh, no, couldn’t possibly cash that in. I’m not really much of a joiner. Doesn’t work for me. Put it back in the pile.”

    And so it goes, you hold up coin after coin, suggesting solutions to his problem, and he’s not willing to invest anything in making himself better. In the end, the only coin he is willing to cash in, is the one stamped, “Talk to doctor about prescriptions,” the coin that requires the least effort to cash in and he will probably be able to manipulation the discussion with the doctor so that he doesn’t have to change his behavior at all. So he gets to sit in this big pile of “treasure” that is making him sick. He doesn’t really change his behavior. He doesn’t have to make himself uncomfortable. But as you’re trying to walk away, he wraps a heavy golden chain around your ankle and says, “NOW then, you’re my reason to stay healthy. I’m putting that responsibility on YOU. And you can never leave this dysfunctional dragon den, because you don’t want to be responsible for me getting worse, do you?”

    This is probably a heavy-handed and over dramatic analogy, but honestly, it’s amazing to me that all of the solutions he refuses, are 1) the most sensible and prone-to-success and 2) involve putting in an emotional effort and changing behavior. He doesn’t WANT to sober up yet, LW. He wants to continue as he is because this situation is comfortable for now. He doesn’t want a solution that involves hard work and no more of the thing that is helping him numb himself.

    You are SO early on in this relationship. You haven’t met the real him yet. You don’t know what his personality is like without substances in his system. You don’t know whether you’re really compatible. It’s time to walk away. You have enough stress in your life now. Good stress, the stress of a functional adult. Handle that stress and let him handle his own.

    1. Also, the only reason he wants to make you responsible for fixing his drinking problem is because YOU brought it up.

      He’s not interested. At all.

      Honestly, I would rather be single for the rest of my life than this wrapped up in someone else’s seemingly unsolvable problems.

    2. The no drinks til the end of the week goal LW mentioned is actually used in therapy to help keep sobriety from seeming unattainable. For some addicts, thinking “I need to stay sober a whole year/FOREVER” can be detrimental, an impossible goal. So in other words focusing on “I just need to stay sober tonight/tomorrow/this week” and then building on that makes it feel more achievable.

      1. I get that, but it felt like he was placating her and trying to put more pressure on her, “I’ll stay sober until I see you” when he’s trying to schedule a visit she’s not entirely comfortable with.

  22. LW — I don’t drink. At all. I’m not against drinking but I don’t drink. For a while, for some reason, that fact meant that newly sober dudes were lining up at my door to date me. I was a safe space or something.

    A thing I realized after two of these dudes in a row is this: these newly sober people needed to work entirely on their sobriety. It was a hard thing and took all their energy. They had nothing left over to start a brand-new relationship…. unless, of course, I would to do all the damned emotional work for them. I tried to do that work once, because Reasons, and it was a flaming shit-show. I tried to not do that work the next time and it was still a flaming shit show.

    LW, please don’t do what I did either time. Tap out. You are clearly a singular and exceptional person (because, wow, look at how awesomely you’re drawing boundaries I was like 37 before I did that!) and deserve a partner who has the energy and ability to appreciate that.

  23. I’m sure your boyfriend is a good and fine person. But he’s got things to deal with and you cannot fix him. You cannot fix his problems. You cannot be his caretaker, his mother, or his AA sponsor. It’s not fair to him and it’s definitely not fair to you.

    CA is right. Take this time and energy and invest it in yourself. Your family, friendships, studies, your interests, your home, your job, your life.

    And now LW, my apologies, but I am going to go on a slightly derailing rant here. Bear with me.

    It seems that when people are in relationships where things aren’t good, there’s a lot of berating from people in the peanut gallery about how terrible we are for wanting to leave or for leaving. WHAT WOULD YOU DO IF YOU WERE IN A 25-YEAR MARRIAGE? one jackass demanded of me in a comment thread about breaking up with someone. Well, um, it’s not a marriage, we’re dating, and we’re dating to see if it is possible for things to go further. They aren’t. (Right now, I’m NOT seeing that here, which is a relief, but I’ve caught hell for leaving bad relationships from bystanders and it is infuriating.)


    I’m saying that relationships shouldn’t be this much work this early on. That dating is the way you learn if you are happy with someone, if you are compatible, if you share the same values. Relationships take “work” in that you should listen to each other respectfully, speak to each other respectfully, respect each other’s wishes, and think of the other person’s needs and desires. But if it’s lopsided–if one person is doing all of the emotional work–then something is wrong. In a 25-year-marriage where things were good and now you’ve hit a bad patch, you work on it. In a relationship where this stuff is marbleized, you don’t work on it because working on it means grinding yourself into dust.

    It sucks because sure, you can be with someone you generally like and who’s a good person but there’s an issue that messes things up. That’s okay. It’s okay to walk away. That’s why you’re dating–your figuring out if he’s right for you. He’s not.

    1. Excellent derailing rant. I agree 100%. Dating is not a contract, it’s a negotiation to see how two people fit into each others’ lives. If it’s not a good fit for either of them, it shouldn’t be a huge deal. You’re trying on a relationship, not buying it. Everyone’s lives fit together differently, and what works for one relationship may not work for another.

      I think of a person’s life like a picture puzzle. Parts of the person’s life (personality, history, work/school, etc.) are pieces of the puzzle. Relationships (friends, romantic, job-related, etc.) are more pieces. There’s an overall picture, and it has to fit together well. Some pieces are perfectly lovely pieces, but they just don’t fit. The piece and its place can be modified if both parties wish, but some pieces (like a relationship with an alcoholic) require such large modifications (in this case, either removing the alcoholism or removing other pieces from the LWs puzzle) that they’d be very difficult and/or detrimental to try. (This isn’t a fully fleshed-out metaphor, and it could probably use some tweaking. I think it gets my point across, though.)

      LW, his piece doesn’t fit into your life. He’s unwilling to make the modifications that would make that possible. You are unwilling to cut out important pieces of your life puzzle (like graduate school!) to accommodate him, and that’s ok. That’s pretty healthy, actually, considering how many pieces would need to be cut out and what you’ve done to get those pieces. There’s no shame in this. You have to be your first priority (which is so much easier said than done, especially with the way women are socialized).

      As others have pointed out, you’re three months in. You’ve worked really hard to get to where you are (and damn, do I admire you! That’s a LOT of school you’ve already done to get there!). To me, it doesn’t make sense to cut out so many pieces of your life puzzle to accommodate him. You may feel differently, and that’s ok… you have to do what works for YOU.

  24. Dear LW:

    What I read into your letter is that you don’t want to run the life and treatment of your boyfriend, but you worry that maybe you’re obliged to.

    You’re not. You. Are. Not.

    Please draw the line now.

    Jedi hugs if you want them

  25. Darling LW –

    As someone who has co-dependant tendencies that have always labeled as “overly-caring” or some other womanly euphemism … you gotta think real hard about why you want to continue a relationship with this dude. Don’t be looking for a reason to break up, look for a reason to stay together – i.e. “what does he contribute to the relationship” rather than “has he done something bad enough to break it off”. Not saying you are co-dependant – your “I’m not a good enough reason to stop drinking” is probably a good sign in that regard – but I know that that term was created to describe some people in relationships with alcoholics specifically and you might find looking into it helpful in considering your relationship with him. (It may not be a great term, idk, but it has helped me in recognizing when behaviors move from actually caring about another person to avoiding my own problems by caring way too much about this other person who I have decided is broken and I need to fix)

  26. Would you still want to be in this relationship if you know he was always going to drink just as much as he does now? If you genuinely would, then enjoy your time together, take him on his own terms, and trust that as an adult, he will manage his relationship with alcohol and his moods on his own. You’re not responsible for whether or how he seeks treatment, and you can’t fix him.

    If you wouldn’t, then I think that’s an answer. “Maybe he’ll stop drinking soon!” is not a good bet.

  27. LW, here is my story.

    Several years ago, I started dating a man who had a moderate drinking problem. I did have some questions about his drinking, but nothing serious, and anyway he only got drunk at parties. He was smart, funny, employed, good in bed, had a good relationship with his family, always tipped well at restaurants, and was just an all-around great guy except for the drinking problem.

    We got married, bought a house, and had two children, and during that time he went from drinking a little bit every day and only getting drunk at parties, to drinking a lot every day and never really getting drunk because we never went to parties any more. After our second child was born, things started getting really bad, and we ended up divorcing. The divorce itself was reasonably amicable, but the drinking has taken over his life – and by extension, my life, as it relates to our shared parenting responsibilities.

    Since moving out of my house in the summer of 2013, he has moved from one house to another eight times. He suffers from depression, which causes him to miss work, which means he’s always short of money. He has, on more than one occasion, forgotten about or slept through plans he made with the children.

    I do believe that he is a good person who is trying his best to be a good father. And I have a ton of sympathy for both the alcoholism and the depression. But unfortunately his “best” just doesn’t meet the bar of good parenting right now, and it hasn’t met the bar of a good partner for a very long time.

    Obviously my situation is not going to be exactly like yours, and your boyfriend may not turn out like this at all. But one thing I have learned about alcoholism, is that there’s a very good chance that he will. If I could go back in time and talk to my younger self, I would tell her to think very carefully about getting involved with him. Because as much as he is a good person, and fun to be with, the alcoholism *will* progress, and Older Me will be spending a huge part of her life managing its impact on herself, and on two young children.

    Many alcoholics are genuinely decent people. They can be funny and smart and lovable for all kinds of reasons. But if you’re dealing with someone for whom alcohol has taken over their life, you can be reasonably certain that it will take over your life as well. Please hold on to the part of yourself that does not want to get involved with someone who abuses alcohol, and the part that knows you already have enough on your plate without trying to support someone else through a drinking problem.

  28. As a general rule of thumb, if you are seeing the kind of red flags that tend to signal MASSIVE future relationship problems while you are still counting your relationship length in months, it’s best to call it quits.

    1. Yes, early on is when you’re still hopped up on NRE and endorphins, so if you’re seeing red flags, they’re probably more like red wall hangings. Battleship sized wall hangings.

  29. If your boyfriend had written in, I would have strongly suggested therapy – since it sounds like he’s just getting antidepressants from his doctor right now? As my own therapist has put it, medication can clean up your house but it can’t repair a broken foundation. Meds can be amazing but they will absolutely not do the hard work of recovery for you.

    Since *you* wrote in, not him, I want to echo what the Captain and other folks have said. You don’t date someone’s potential best self, you date who they are right now, and it’s totally okay if you don’t want to put up with that. It doesn’t make you a bad person. Take care of you!

  30. You’re long-distance, you’ve been together five months (he visits monthly, so you’ve been in the same room…five?…times), and you have had red flags about his alcohol and drug use since the beginning of your relationship. No one has moved, no leases are shared, no finances are entangled.

    You are in the ideal place right now to disengage, break up with him, and move on with your life while he moves on, or doesn’t, with his. This might also be a good place to employ the sheelzebub principle: If nothing changes, and absolutely everything stays as it is now, how much longer would you stay?

    (and for what it’s worth all of my “RUN” senses are saying “RUN” right now, too)

  31. Worth mentioning to him, maybe, that alcohol is a depressant (I’ve no medical background, but that’s what I’ve been told) so it won’t help with the depression.

    Apart from that, he doesn’t sound like he’s in a place to have a relationship. If he thinks, as someone with experience of alcoholism, that he has a problem with his drinking he probably does. And alcoholics who are drinking are not good partners, because they prioritise the alcohol more and more.

    My dh is an alcoholic. probably was when I met him (we had a long distance relationship too) but I didn’t know anything about alcoholism so I didn’t twig he had a problem until we were married for several years. I absolutely love him. I love the children we made together. If I could time travel back knowing how his problem would develop, I would not date him, I would not marry him – even knowing that he would eventually get sober and we would eventually be happy again.

    That’s me, not you. If you’re not sure I’d suggest going to a couple of Al-anon meetings – you would get more of an idea about what having a relationship with an alcoholic is like..

    As to your questions:
    “How do I support him long-distancely?” – I don’t think, as regards the drinking, you can really. (And it’s a tricky question because there’s always the danger of support becoming codependency where you feel you’re helping, but are really enabling.)

    “Do I ask him if he’s been drinking?” – The majority of alcoholics lie about their drinking. They have to, because it’s the only way to square the circle – to stop people interfering or knowing what they’re doing. I personally wouldn’t (though I have, many times) ask this question because it invites a lie.

    ” Where do I draw the line and call it quits? ” – No-one can tell you this. I think a lot of people come to Al-Anon looking for the answer to this one. My experience was that the line moved – you accustom yourself, then something worse happens and you don’t quite leave, and then you get accustomed again, then something worse happens…. The line was always on the horizon: ‘I would leave if he did X’, ‘I’ll leave if he does X again’, ‘I can cope with X, but I’ll leave if he does Y.’

    I know, upthread, there’s been some discussion of whether AA.is worthwhile – and I may absolutely be misremembering here – but I’ve a feeling their Big Blue book gives some trenchant advice to the partners of alcoholics:: ‘Save yourself.’
    I always thought that was the best advice.

    Hope something there helps.

    1. Alcohol is a depressant. I have people on both sides of my family who have/had untreated depression, and they drank and smoked cigarettes as a form of self-medication. (I’d find studies about it, but I have class soon.) I’ve felt the pull myself; having a drink or two makes you feel better, at least temporarily, and that’s better than feeling miserable constantly.

      (My depression is treated, and I do drink occasionally, but I understand where they’re coming from. Doesn’t make it acceptable/ok, but at least it’s kind of understandable.)

      1. Alcohol is a depressant, but that doesn’t mean it causes depression. It means it slows down the nervous system, depresses its function. It’s kind of a misleading term because it has different meanings in different contexts.

        Nicotine, on the other hand, is an SRI. It’s not the safest or healthiest SRI, but whatever you’re feeling, it will make you feel a little better for a little while, and that’s why.

        /terminology tangent

  32. Oh honey. As someone who has gotten sober myself. Who has dated someone in the process of their getting sober. And who has dated non-sober people with drinking problems, while being sober. Your letter throws up miles of red flags. Baskets of them.

    When I knew I had a drinking problem, and I wasn’t willing or ready to do anything about it yet, I talked a good game. I even had myself fooled at times. I cried. I looked for reasons. I tried to make other people my reasons. And I blamed them when they couldn’t live up to my cruelly unrealistic hopes of being enough-of-whatever to help me not use. And I denied I was doing any of that. Because it didn’t look that way to me.

    Oh god, I was a trainwreck. One who managed to keep my job and didn’t live out a lot of the external consequences of drinking and using (such as job loss, DUIs, and various records). But my private life was a shitshow. I was in therapy. I hated my family. I had piles of excuses why the therapists and doctors sucked and I was angry with them. And anyone who got to know me for longer than a couple months (ahem, such as 5 to 6 months) clued in and ghosted. If I was a ‘functioning alcoholic’ I was functioning in a terrible hell I never want to live in again.

    And when I got sober, the shitshow got worse for a 6-10 month period, before it tapered off and I rebalanced again. If someone has any intention of not drinking who is a daily drinker, who knows they have a problem, they probably are not expecting how very fucking hard the first year of sobriety can be. I had to re-learn, well everything. How to get up in the morning and get ready for work without drinking and using. How to have a phone conversation with my family without first getting high. How to do my dishes and my laundry without drinking, yes really. How to go on job interviews without doing a little something first to kill the anxiety. How to talk to boys without being in that perfect zone of tipsy enough to be daring but not so drunk I was horrendous. I didn’t know how to do anything for myself without being incapacitated to one degree or another. And keep in mind, I had no DUIs, I had no records, I was employed and employable. But getting sober is no effing joke. And I didn’t do it alone. I couldn’t possibly have done it without a community.

    They call it ‘growing up in public’ because it puts you in the position of a child again. I alternated between age 13, age 20, my real age of 35, and age 10, at any given moment, within an hour. I never felt so much like an angry helpless 10 year old as when I was 35 talking on the phone with my crazy family, trying to find a way to manage my thoughts and feelings without drinking them into submission. I had to learn how to re-feel everything. And it was overwhelming. I cried all the damn time. I was vulnerable to everything and everyone. It got better over time and all those parts of my development that had halted at certain ages eventually grew and changed and caught up with adult me. Or I learned to metabolize their effects, either way. I got to a better place, but it took a lot of hard work and a lot of time.

    My point is, a person getting sober is likely to throw the baby out with the bathwater, to be incredibly ungrateful, to pick fights, to make rash decisions, to break up with you, to cry and tell you they need you and cling to you, to alternatively resent you and crave you, and everything in between. It’s a circus. A circus you, at 5 months in with probably no life or family experience around early sobriety, likely have no idea what you’re signing up for.

    I’ve been in a relationship in sobriety with someone getting sober in their first year. I felt so important to him, like a life line, but I was also a punching bag, a sounding board, and a mommy. It was stupid ridiculous, even though I loved him dearly. And at the end of the year, he broke up with me. Because, well of course, he was evolving rapidly beyond the relationship in his journey toward his own wellness. I too was sober but it still sucks to be left behind. Mine is not the only relationship I’ve seen the personality growth of sobriety bring an end to. It’s kind of a cliche in sober circles for a reason. I learned a lot from it and I don’t regret it, but I haven’t signed up to do it again since.

    And I have been in a relationship in sobriety with an active drinker. It’s incredibly fucking difficult not to try to manage his drinking for him. Not to tell him what I think he needs to hear one minute, and what he wants to hear the next. Not to be in a relationship of three – me, him, and the alcohol. It takes huge reserves of attention and energy to keep the focus on the person and ignore the other thing in the room, the thing I have no control over and therefore have to leave in his domain where it belongs. It’s a lot of work. Much more work than I originally signed up for.

    Whatever your boyfriend’s journey is, it’s his. Whether it’s sobriety, moderation, or something else. You have a full, demanding life and a huge future. You deserve better than a relationship of three. Or four – you, him, alcohol, and depression. And if he eventually chooses sobriety, he will undergo a personality change and evolve into a different person than he one you fell in love with. He will have to, or he won’t be growing.

    I strongly suggest walking away. You don’t have to run like he’s a burning building. You can walk away kindly and with optimism that he will find his path to sobriety or moderation or whatever works for him. But leave this relationship of four entities. Let him find his own path, because one way or another, there is a strong probability it ultimately won’t include you anyway.

    1. This!

      I suffer from GAD and depression, and I’m in a relationship at the same time. It’s like my anxious self is a kid I’m watching over. Sometimes my partner needs me, and I have to intentionally tell my anxious self to wait a minute, but being on top of anxious me like that takes serious work.

      I take medication, and I go to therapy weekly. I am a very involved and committed parent to my anxious self, and while I will let my partner know anxious me, I don’t let them take care of anxious me. That’s 100% my job, and if I get lazy at that job, I’m not able to be there with my partner, because anxious me is freaking out.

      Your BF has two “kids”, depression and alcoholism. He’s a crap parent, and you’re seeing him neglect his “kids”, so you want to take care of them for him. I’ve seen this happen with actual kids, and it sucks. The kids won’t listen to you, because you’re not their parent, and he won’t back you up because he actually doesn’t care about his kids.

      You taking care of his kids for him won’t make him care about his kids. Your choices are: ignore his kids when they’re clearly neglected, take care of his shitty kids for him forever, or leave him and his kids to find someone who knows how to be a parent.

      1. Ooh, this resonates. I’m also (usually semi-competently) “parenting” my GAD and depression and trying to keep my anxious and depressed self from being crappy to my spouse.

  33. Seconding or thirding or fiftiething the commenters urging you to expend this energy on YOU. Grad school is hellish and I would never have made it through without concentrating mainly on me, my schedule, and my needs. His alcoholism is his problem to deal with, and not yours to fix – it’s understandable that you want to be with someone who isn’t an alcoholic, but the way to do that is to date non-alcoholics.

    Sending you so many good wishes for grad school and beyond!!!

  34. I see parallels to my story here… So my ex was addicted to smoking weed. Ignoring all warning signs (and believing weed isn’t THAT BAD of a drug), I moved countries to be with him. Quite soon I found myself stuck in a miserable relationship, dealing with issues like his depression, paranoia and jealous/controlling behaviour, as well as generally coming home to a stoned partner every day. We split up, but he pretty much promised me all the things your guy told you: that he’d change, quit smoking, because I was the only good thing in his life etc. At some point I actually had quite a good job offer back home that I didn’t take because I thought he’d changed so much and we might actually have a chance – silly me. A few weeks ago I found out he’d lied to my face all that time, and the only change that he had made was hiding his smoking from me.
    So, personally, I think you should get out of this as soon as possible. Getting rid of an addiction is difficult, but making promises is quite easy…. and you’ve got too much to lose.

  35. LW, I grew up with an alcoholic parent who is now (thankfully) sober. I went to a local al-anon at one point and, even tho the fixation on a (basically Christian) god wasn’t really jiving with me (since I’m an atheist Jewish woman), it still helped me learn a lot. Even if you don’t want to go to an al-anon, which is meant for loved ones of alcoholics, maybe you could read up on some of it. And one of the most important things to learn is that you cannot manage a loves one’s alcoholism. Even if you were a counselor specialized in treating alcoholism or something, YOU cannot be the one to treat your loved one. It’s very hard to accept that, believe me, I know, but you are not able to really make it happen FOR HIM. Detach with love. Even if you still want to long-distance date him, you can still detach with love. Simply offer supportive comments and make it clear when you’re not comfortable with a situation, but don’t try to manage him. He’s not your ward. If you’re comfortable with it, you can let him know, “Hey, if you think it would help, I’d be willing to ask you each day if you’ve drank/remind you to stay sober/whatever.” (Only if he’s ALSO comfortable with it tho. Otherwise it may be more harmful.) But even if you do that, it’s not your job to followup on that with a lecture or anything. A polite reminder, if you can stop at just that, would be fine, I think. But not trying to manage his alcoholism doesn’t mean you don’t care for him. You can detach yourself from that particular job without forsaking him if you really want to.

    I would encourage him to see someone. A counselor, an AA meeting, SOMEONE. Don’t let him dump on you constantly with his feelings about his alcoholism. Once in a while, it’s not a big deal to listen to his concerns, but you cannot be his therapist and that’s what you can tell him. That you care about him and BECAUSE OF THAT think he should see someone because you cannot be both his partner and his therapist; it will only ruin your relationship.

    I agree more with Captain that, this early in a relationship, it might be time to leave. (And remind yourself that if he goes on a bender after that or something, that is NOT YOUR FAULT. Because, as an alcoholic, he would have likely done that at some point regardless because the fact that he’s in an unhealthy enough place to fall apart from that means anything else could make him fall apart too, even if you’re there.) You can be kind and keep in touch, if you like, but put strict boundaries on it for yourself.

    However, again, if you still want to try for a while, you need to put boundaries on yourself for what you’re able to handle and be strict with them. Find a group of people to talk to about it like al-anon. And decide how long you’re willing to rise this out. At what point would this be a deal breaker for you? Is it a specific amount of time, is it a set of actions? Etc. Good luck, LW.

    1. Thank you so much for that link! I’ve felt the same as the writer for decades, but it’s much more beautifully thought out and articulated than I could ever have put it. Saving that to send to all the wonderful women I know, some of whom still think they are “less than” because they aren’t in relationships, put up with terrible dudes rather than be alone, have derailed their own personal growth or success in either the frantic search for a relationship or putting their energy into a bad one, and some who just need reassurance that being their awesome selves all on their own is more than enough.

  36. “I told him that part of me does not want to get attached to someone who abuses alcohol. He started crying. He said something about how I may be a reason to stop drinking. I said I wasn’t good enough. He added his health.”

    Here is everything I know about this. People who choose to make others responsible for their recovery do not take no for an answer. No matter how many times you say it.

  37. He needs a Team Him. You cannot be all of it. It is not humanly possible. I’d say tell him to call you when he’s stopped drinking and has his depression treatment together, but there’s no reason you should wait around for that or give him the impression that you’re going to. Hell, sober and with the right treatment, he might change in ways that mean you don’t want to be in a relationship with him anymore anyway, or that he doesn’t want to be with you, and there’s no shame in that either way.

  38. LW, I didn’t read all of the comments, so I apologise if I say something already covered.

    I work in a small NGO in the Alcohol and Drug sector, and while I don’t claim to be an expert in all related issues, it is my life’s work.

    I don’t want to armchair diagnose because it’s hard enough really getting to the bottom of the issue when you’ve got the substance using person in front of you, let alone hearing it from the long distance partner via a letter addressed to the Captain, however there are some patterns that I generally believe repeat themselves and from the miniscule amount of info I have, your boyfriend fits into them.

    It’s relatively likely that he started using substances (in this case I refer to any drug, including alcohol, that he hasn’t been prescribed) to feel better – to self medicate. You mention he’s on antidepressants, so I feel sort of safe in assuming that he has a depression and/or anxiety diagnosis… which is reason enough for anyone to try to make themselves feel better, honestly.
    Now, even if his antidepressants worked – which, they may not be at this point in time – he’d still have a habit to pick up that bottle, and habits are hard to break by themselves, let alone with underlying issues as well. Brains love to save energy, and habits are one way to do it, which means they will hang on and hang on because that habit was useful and brains hate being wasteful.

    And if he kicked the habit but didn’t resolve the underlying issues, he’d likely fall back on something else to feel better. It may even look healthy, like exercising, but if he does it to the extreme to try and feel better? He’ll still have problems, they’ll just look different.

    I’m telling you this, LW, because it’s important to understand that addiction is a big issue. It’s not doom and gloom – I’ve come across a huge number of people who have successfully kicked addictions to very physically addicting drugs, and they live happy and fulfilled lives. But getting to that point is a huge journey, and LW… that’s something your boyfriend has to take on his own, under his own power. It’s the hardest part of a relative or friend or anyone close to someone with an addiction to accept, and it sounds cliché, but it’s honestly true that unless he puts his own energy and time into recovery, you or anyone else could cajole and support and threaten and educate until you’re blue in the face, to no avail.

    He has to be ready, under his own terms, and he may not be. And even if he is, there’ll be lapses and relapses and that’s not failure, that’s normal progress, but it doesn’t make the mood swings, the money, the worry any easier.

    This isn’t your fight. You have so much to do, and you’ve been brave and strong and caring, but it’s not that you don’t have to – it’s that you can’t. This isn’t something you can fix for someone else. You can support, you can guide, but that is all.

    Does that mean he can’t be in your life? Absolutely not. But if he’s using a substance to problematic levels, and not addressing his mood / mental health issues, to the point where you’re worried sick in such a short time, he may not be ready for a full and dedicated relationship. These issues are difficult to deal with even for partners who have been in a deep and loving relationship for decades. So early in the relationship… this would be a deal-breaker for me, personally.

    There are likely services in your area dedicated to helping friends/family/loved ones of people with addictions. They will likely have some wonderful advice for you, and will give you tools if you don’t want to end the relationship. They should also be able to help you find services in HIS area that he may be willing to visit. (And I understand if he doesn’t want to go back to a particular service – not every service is for every person.)

    It would not be cruel or mean or bad or any other negative thing to break off this relationship, LW. You could absolutely give it a break and then check in when the feelings are softened and see if you can be friends, or see if he’s moved far enough along in recovery to start a relationship back up. But being in a relationship with him when he’s not ready isn’t any good for either of you, so please don’t feel bad if you need to end it.

    I wish you all the luck and internet-stranger jedi-hugs, if you want them.

    1. Thank you SO MUCH for sharing your perspective. I appreciate being able to view the bf with compassion while still acknowledging that it’s not the LW’s job to take care of him during his journey into sobriety.

      To add, I also think it’s really important to remember that, really, any significant behavior change occurs over loooooong periods of time (addiction recovery being one major example). We talk about “precontemplation” and “contemplation” as phases of decision-making, implying that it’s a multi-step process to even THINK about MAYBE changing SOME of our habits. My point being: it is a LOT for a casual partner of a few months to take on.

      LW, you sound like you have been awesome and supportive but recognize that this is way bigger of a situation than your relationship warrants. I’m wishing you the best of luck in your boundary-setting, and lots of emotional support from your Team You. I hope your partner finds the support he needs, whatever phase of recovery he’s in, from the appropriate sources.

  39. I know other people’s experiences never REALLY help, insofar as we always do just what we want to, and damn the odds. BUT. As someone who spent three-and-a-half very difficult, damaging, and toxic years in a relationship that started so similarly to what you describe that I wonder whether I wrote this letter, I urge you to RUN. It’s early enough now for you to get out. This isn’t going to be good for you. I’m still recovering from that relationship, three years later, and trying not to project all of the lying and hiding and anxiety associated with my ex-partner’s alcohol problem onto every new potential love interest I meet.

    It is going to be HARD, oh it is going to be hard, but choose a relationship that IS, as opposed to a relationship that has potential (and he may well have limitless potential, but it’s all so much pissing in the wind if it isn’t actualized).

    Much love and luck to you. xo

  40. Many, many wonderful, lovely, caring, beautiful people are stuck in self destructive coping methods. Attempting to have a relationship with anyone who is not capable of being Your Partner regardless of why (drugs, alcohol, immaturity, un-managed health issues, a severe case of The Assholes) is never a good idea. You aren’t actually “being supportive” or “helping” him. You are halping him.

    I do think it’s true that people need Reasons to make big life changes, and many of those reasons are other people. Wanting to have a better life includes having better relationships, and wanting to build healthy relationships with people is an absolutely valid reason to work on self destructive problems (like drinking). But it absolutely should not be ONE person (and that one person is pretty much always a romantic interest – thanks patriarchal romcoms!) that is their ONLY reason for change. What the LW is describing is the beginning of every co-dependent relationship where both people end up resentful, miserable, and feeling completely stuck. I’m pretty sure this post encapsulates what this relationship looks like 3 months – 3 years from now:


    Please do not feel guilty ending this relationship. Please do not feel ashamed for it either. I highly recommend you get yourself some Nayyirah Waheed for some self care.

  41. LW – sometimes it’s the right man, wrong time, wrong life stage.

    I’m not saying stay or leave, that’s up to you.

    It can be a very loving thing to do to say to your boyfriend, “you need to work this out, and I love you, and you need to work this out with qualified support (therapy, minister – whatever). But not me because it can’t be my role in your life to manage this for you or even with you. It’s yours.” And then set the boundaries necessary to make that happen. What happens if you say to yourself and him – I’m the girlfriend, and that’s it.

  42. I would like to add that long distance relationships are hard, particularly if you are from different places, v.s. being in a relationship with someone from your former hometown, where your family or close friends currently live.

    My abusive ex was definitely abusive with his former girlfriend, as well as his staff, clients, neighbours, etc.. However – since the only account of these interactions was his (and a distorted account it was) I was lacking the context. I only knew about his victims from what he told me, and all of his behaviour was rationalized, minimized, justified.

    What you know about your boyfriend’s drinking/depression is what he is telling you, while visiting you, and what you can see during these visits. What do you know about the people around him – his friends, family, co-workers, etc. ? Have you been with him on his home turf long enough to see what the dynamics are ?

    If I had been in the same community as my ex, and had seen and known about his behaviour, I would have steered extremely clear of this person. The only people that I met from his community, when we eventually moved there years later were his henchmen(and women), and he had already spread disinformation about me. Therefore – no one told me anything about how horrible this person was to particular people, in a consistent pattern.

  43. I am in the middle of ending a year long engagement to a man I was friends with for a year before we got involved. There were red flags about his drinking—jokes about drinking all day or how drunk he was the night before, and he lost his military career over a DUI incident. But I thought he had learned his lesson and he could keep it under control.

    He was so amazing at first–funny, so attentive, so easy going, and he was (and is) the most physically beautiful man I’ve ever been with. We would drink together and have fun—sometimes a stray word would strike him wrong and we would have an odd fight, but we always worked it out. We did amazingly fun stuff together, and we found and furnished our dream apartment. There was good stuff there.

    We moved in together and the most painful year of my life, without question, started. Someone doesn’t always have to be violent or scary when they drink to be a deal breaker. Most of the time he was just out of it, slurring his words, and saying “inappropriate affect” things (like “oh cool!” about murders or car crashes) Then there were times he would say hurtful things off the cuff, and be too drunk to remember the next day. The times he started fights out of nowhere and got scary (throwing things at the wall, raising his voice, slamming out of the house).

    I would cry myself to sleep, frozen with fear and anger. I had committed so much to this guy. I was lost and embarrassed. There was no history of alcohol or drug abuse in my family, how had I gotten involved with such a committed addict? He doesn’t get hangovers and he’s a functional alcoholic, so I could always find a thin thread of justification to stay with him, and as time went on, I had so much invested I was loath to leave.

    The incidents piled up. The fistfight with his neighbors that he started and was injured in. The surreal fight where he accused me of making an off color joke about an ex boyfriend who had died in Iraq and threw a full 40 at the wall. The hateful, profanity filled text messages he sent to my sister and my sister in law, when they rubbed him the wrong way—he’s not allowed in their house anymore. The time he drunkenly told me to “Get in the f–king bedroom (to sleep)” and called me a “dumbass”. The hundreds of times he broke his word about how much he would drink, or if he would stay sober. The neglect of his son, and the broken promises to him. The everyday worrying I did about his job, his health, and what I would find when I came home. Would he be angry and drunk or fine?

    We broke it off after I finally had enough, and I told him he could stay with me as long as the drinking stayed under control, until he found a new place.

    Then the drinking didn’t stay under control and I had to ask him to leave as soon as he could, and he blamed me. He told me I was just like “every other woman in his life that didn’t give a shit about him”. Yes, he’s done this to other women. He tried to use the threat of his bad opinion of me to get me to keep enabling him. Sorry, dude. You have turned my heart to ice over the last year and used up every last inch of compassion, caring, understanding and kindness. It feels like someone is pouring acid on my heart to know that I’m losing a best friend, a lover, and one of the coolest, funniest guys I’ve ever known.

    I’m 37 and bookish and tall and not super conventionally good looking and believe me, the fear that this may be the last man I will love or who will love me is real. That can’t stop me. I have to get out for my sanity. And I don’t want you, dear Letter Writer, to be in that spot because I am telling you, it’s like enduring open heart surgery while awake. You feel every cut.

    I can’t recommend strongly enough that if it’s under your power, do NOT get involved with someone who’s actively struggling with either a drinking problem or a full on addiction. You will not win. Crying, threats, raging, the cold shoulder, reason, begging, ignoring…nothing works. Nothing is more important than the addiction.

    1. It feels like someone is pouring acid on my heart to know that I’m losing a best friend, a lover, and one of the coolest, funniest guys I’ve ever known.

      It’s awful, isn’t it. Jedi hugs to you.

  44. I haven’t read even one comment or even Cap’s advice. I’m saying, from someone who fell in love with an alcoholic and married him and watched him destroy himself and our marriage, and attempt to destroy me, LEAVE HIM. You are not a reason to stop drinking. His health is not a reason to stop drinking. The only reason he will ever have to stop drinking is that he wants to stop badly enough to stop drinking. There will be no other reasons. You cannot be his willpower. You cannot be his strength. Only he can do this. Leave him gently, leave him quietly, but do not go down with him. His drinking will destroy everything you care about him. It doesn’t even matter that he’s treating you well now. An alcoholic that keeps drinking loves drinking more than he loves you. And if he says he’ll drink more if you leave him–well, he’s deciding to drink, isn’t he?

  45. Where he is right now, he’s not taking full responsibility for his recovery. Which leaves you worrying about what you should do. (Should I ask him if he’s drinking? Should I push him to see a counselor?) That is NOT your responsibility.

    The only way he’s going to be fit for a relationship is if he takes complete and full responsibility for his recovery from alcoholism. He needs to, in his heart, be completely ready to let go of this addiction, and be willing to do whatever it takes. It could be counseling, or some other solution, but he’s got to have the drive to find the options and figure out what will work for him. Zero percent of this is your job. If he doesn’t have the will and the drive to do it himself, nothing you do or say can change that.

    I’m speaking as somebody who has had unhealthy addictive behaviours myself. The only time things got better for me, was when it was all me.

  46. No need to say what everyone else already said.

    He’ll take action on his own behalf when he’s ready, or not.

    I agree with the pointer to scientist Mark Willenbring that twelve-step programs don’t fix the underlying problem. Dr. Willenbring is helping, but he’s not addressing the underlying problem, either.

    To understand the problem: Dr. Gabor Mate’s book In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts. Addiction (to alcohol, or heroin, or work, or shopping, or sex), in the vast majority of cases, originates from emotional trauma, especially trauma in childhood. The brain gets wired to feel better only when you get the object of your addiction. Depression and anger are more signs of past trauma. And unfortunately substance use can also erode our decisionmaking and impulse control.

    To see further research about adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) that add up to trauma, and connect with the growing community of people who are bringing an awareness of the consequences of trauma to health care and education (among other realms), see http://www.acestoohigh.com.

    To understand the ways to heal: Dr. Bessel van der Kolk’s The Body Keeps the Score, partly a memoir of his work with trauma survivors over forty years, partly the story of how emotional trauma affects the brain and body, and a rundown of the strategies and therapies that work to heal past trauma. Also Donna Jackson Nakazawa’s Childhood Disrupted: How Your Biography Becomes Your Biology and How You Can Heal, which also draws the connection between past trauma and auto-immune disorders (especially among women).

    LW, send him a care package of those books and wish him well.

    And for the commenters and readers who have addiction in your life, your own or that of someone you love, I wish you strength, love and healing.

  47. He is putting WAY too much on your shoulders, especially for being so early in the relationship. Quitting drinking/smoking/any other bad habit is solely on the person who has the habit, NOT their SO, and he should not be putting this kind of pressure on you.

    I’d honestly say to keep your distance until he shows that he can control himself, and proves that he is capable of taking things in hand on his own. Otherwise, you’re probably going to end up babysitting him not just on this, but on many other issues.

    You are seeing red flags. LISTEN TO THEM. Your instincts are trying to warn you.

  48. Way late on this one but I have to agree with the majority – – at this stage of the relationship, you’re saddling yourself with a lot. I’ve broken up with a couple of people when they had a drinking or drugs problem because you know, life’s too short and it’s not my job.

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