My Boyfriend Has a Drinking Problem

Question: I’ve been in a relationship with a wonderful man for several years now. He treats me well and has great qualities. The only problem is that he has depression and drinks too much. Every night he drinks at least a six-pack of beer, sometimes more. He takes medication for his depression. Even though he knows that the medication isn’t supposed to be mixed with alcohol, he still drinks. He doesn’t have any hobbies and all his friends are partiers. I’ve tried to help by encouraging him to find a hobby, make better friends (ones who don’t drink), and pleading with him to get professional help. He admits that he has a drinking problem and finally made an appointment to see a counselor. That’s good but sometimes I want to break up with him because this is all too much. Both of us admit that I deserve better. What should I do?


Answer: Alcoholism and depression frequently go hand-in-hand. People who are depressed may drink to help them feel better. Ironically though, because alcohol is a depressant, it often ends up having the exact opposite effect and the drinking only exacerbates the depression. This is particularly true both because alcohol can interfere with antidepressant medication and make it less likely that people will engage in healthy behaviors designed to alleviate the depression. In other words, drinking to “cure” depression frequently leads to a vicious cycle that only makes things worse.

It sounds like you’re on the right track in suggesting that your boyfriend find a hobby (other than drinking), make sober friends and receive treatment. You clearly see what needs to be done but one of the difficulties with addiction is that these are not your choices to make. Your boyfriend must realize that he has a drinking problem and then actively work toward solving it on his own. You cannot do it for him. Going to a therapist is a good first step for him but it is only the beginning. He will have to commit to becoming sober and truly healing and that is very, very tough.

Recovery is not an easy process because it involves not only major lifestyle changes but also work on the emotional issues that led to the drinking problem in the first place. Going to counseling always means that you will face some type of pain. People usually cope with that pain by doing things they know will make them feel better. However, when you are in recovery, the usual coping mechanisms (the drug of choice, drinking buddies) are not allowed so you not only have to feel the pain that led you to become an addict but now you also have the grief of losing your traditional comforts. That’s a lot to handle.

I cannot tell you what to do about staying with him. What I can tell you is this: being in a relationship with someone in recovery is not easy but it can be rewarding. There is frequently light at the end of the tunnel. Being in a relationship with an addict is ten times more difficult. It usually involves a roller coaster of emotions from sadness and fear to hope and the roller coaster will not stop unless one of you gets off by either leaving or recovering. Perhaps you can set up some boundaries for yourself – behavior that you will not tolerate – and then stand firm. If you believe that you deserve better, make sure you get it.

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