Do You and Your Spouse Argue Over Drinking? How to Avoid Armageddon

In this brief commentary, Dr. Joseph Nowinski, a clinical psychologist, provides useful tips on how to effectively communicate about a partner’s drinking. One of the most interesting points made by Dr. Nowinski is the idea of drinking as a continuum rather than as a dichotomy. Instead of viewing drinking as “alcoholic” or “nonalcoholic” (a dichotomy), he suggests that drinking can be viewed as ranging from non-problematic (“Normal social drinking” in his chart) to problematic (“Alcoholism” in his chart).

I like this idea for a few reasons:

1.) it gives us a chance to see that drinking is not simply black or white (problem vs. not a problem) and therefore, that people are not simply “alcoholics” or “non-alcoholics.”

2.) If drinking is more like a continuum it means that we can help sooner to prevent possible problematic drinking turning into “alcoholism.”

3.) There are a variety of ways to help a loved one depending on where he/she is at on the continuum of drinking versus only having a couple of ways to help them (e.g., detox or residential treatment). For example, if someone is entering into the “almost alcoholism” part of the continuum outpatient one-to-one therapy or attending a peer support group like SMART recovery may help them decrease their drinking, whereas someone in the “Alcoholism” part of the continuum may need a more intensive level of care like detox.

As you think about talking with your addicted loved one consider thinking about drinking as a continuum and perhaps ask yourself the following questions:  “Where does your loved one fall on the continuum of drinking? Based on where they are at on the continuum which ways of helping might be most successful?”

Do You and Your Spouse Argue Over Drinking? How to Avoid Armageddon