Alcohol abuse has been big news in Australia lately. If you haven’t noticed, you’ve probably been living under a rock.
The topic of alcohol-fueled violence has been a hot topic on the radio, television, and chat shows across the country. And it’s no surprise considering the number of young people that have been either killed or permanently brain damaged from unprovoked assaults, such as the one-hit ‘coward punch‘ by Shaun McNeil that killed 18-Year-old Daniel Christie.
Alcohol abuse has long been tolerated in Australia, and it seems it’s deeply embedded in our culture. Some commentators are suggesting it’s a ‘rite of passage’ for young people to binge drink with their mates and then get into street fights at the end of the night.
But there is a silent cost to alcohol abuse, and that is the impact on relationships across the country.
Alcohol abuse is damaging relationships
The street violence and alcohol-fueled fights aside, alcohol abuse is having a huge cost on our society through the breakdown of relationships and marriage where alcohol is being abused by one or both partners.
The cost of alcohol abuse to relationships includes:
- an increase in domestic violence, emotional abuse, and physical abuse
- the breakdown of relationships and the increase in divorce rates
- the cost of divorce when couples and families separate and have to live independently
- the huge medical costs on our hospitals and health care system from alcohol-related diseases
- children growing up with alcoholic parents who then develop their own unhealthy relationship with alcohol
- physical, sexual, and emotional abuse that can come from families that abuse alcohol
And the list can go on and on.
How to tell if you have a problem with alcohol in your relationship
According to the NSW government alcohol and drug fact sheet, it is recommended for men and women that:
• If you drink regularly, to stay healthy, drink no more than two standard drinks each day.
• On any single occasion, to stay healthy, drink no more than four standard drinks.
• Young people under 18 years of age should not drink alcohol.
• The safest option for a pregnant or breastfeeding mother is not to drink alcohol.
In my work with individuals and couples, it’s not uncommon for me to hear from my clients that they regularly (and for many that means almost every night of the week) will drink 1-2 bottles of wine.
Now a bottle of wine, typically 750 mls will contain 7.7 standard drinks. So if you’re drinking a bottle of wine a night, you’re already 5 standard drinks over the recommended levels to stay healthy, and 2 bottles of wine makes you 9 standard drinks over the recommended levels to stay healthy. Check out this drinks guide to work out exactly what you’re drinking in terms of standard drinks.
It’s safe to say that someone regularly consuming a bottle or more of wine a night (or the equivalent in beer or spirits) is going to have permanent brain damage in the long term and be at high risk of alcohol-related health problems.
Other signs you’re abusing alcohol in your relationship
Aside from looking at exactly how much alcohol you’re consuming on a daily or weekly basis, some of the other signs you’re abusing alcohol include:
- you wake up in the morning not remembering what you said or did the day or night before
- your children are asking or pleading with you not to drink when they see you open a bottle
- you’re constantly getting into huge fights that don’t get resolved with your partner when you are intoxicated
- you’ve been physically or sexually forceful with your partner
- you call your partner names, criticize them or denigrate them when you’re intoxicated
- going to the pub or drinking with mates has a higher priority than spending time with your partner
- you spend huge amounts every month on alcohol at pubs, bars or for your home
- you can’t remember the last time you didn’t have a hangover on a Sunday morning
- you can go weeks without drinking, but then consume multiple drinks in one sitting and have problems stopping
- you deal with relationship stress by drinking alcohol
Are you getting the picture here?
Binge drinkers are also abusing alcohol
I often find that binge drinkers are the more sneaky types of people, who won’t admit they have a problem with alcohol.
Because binge drinkers can often go days or weeks without a drink, but will then consume multiple drinks in one sitting, they consider themselves not to have a problem with alcohol. But the problem with the binge drinker is once they start drinking, they often can’t stop. It’s not uncommon for me to hear from clients that they can easily go 2-3 weeks without drinking, but will then have 10-20 drinks in one session.
You might be surprised to know that binge drinking is considered anything over the recommended 4 standard drinks on any one occasion.
What to do if you are suffering from alcohol abuse
There are a range of treatment options if you’re concerned that you or your partner have a problem with alcohol.
Inform yourself: Educate yourself about the impact of alcohol on your body and read about how it affects your health. There’s so much free information online now about alcohol use, that there’s no excuse for not knowing. I’m very impressed with the work my colleague Candace Plattor is doing in this area, educating people about alcohol and drugs, and the impact of enabling behaviours of partners, friends, and family on addicts and those with alcohol dependence.
Have a plan before you go out: Talk to your partner about your plans for social events. Work out who’s driving, who’s drinking, and if you’re both drinking, what time are you leaving and how many drinks do you want to consume. Keep each other accountable.
Pace yourself: It’s a simple strategy, but just by having one non-alcoholic beverage between each of your drinks, you will halve the amount of alcohol you consume in one sitting. Also, consider drinking low-alcohol beverages to reduce your overall alcohol intake.
Take a break: Consider taking a break from drinking. Start tracking your own intake and take responsibility for how much alcohol you and your partner are drinking. When you’re in a relationship, you can support each other in reducing your intake with such initiatives as FebFast or Dry July. Or why not start your own alcohol-free breaks- whether it’s no drinking for a few days every week, or having a month off?
Join Alcoholics Anonymous: Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) has been around for decades and has helped countless people all over the world recover from serious alcohol dependence and abuse. They have meetings in most capital cities across the world, and it’s a great place to get information, support, and encouragement. You can also find an individual sponsor at AA, who will support you one-to-one as needed. If you have a family member who is abusing alcohol, consider joining Al-Anon, which is specifically for supporting family members of alcoholics.
Join a cause: I am really impressed with a new initiative called Hello Sunday Morning (HSM), which has been created to help people across the world change their relationship with alcohol and be empowered to make better choices about drinking. You can sign up for free and be part of a worldwide community that’s supporting each other to reduce their consumption of alcohol.
Get professional help: Seeking the assistance of a professional is not the last resort to dealing with your problem drinking. In fact, the earlier you seek the professional support of a drug and alcohol counsellor, detox centre, or drug and alcohol rehab, the better your outcomes for getting back to a healthy life. In Australia, you can call the Drug and Alcohol Information Service on 1800 422 599 (free call) to get free information about alcohol services available for you. These include a range of free and paid services you can access to help you tackle your problem with alcohol.
In the long run, doing something about your intake of alcohol will only have positive benefits on your relationship with your partner, as well as all your other relationships with friends and family.
Do you need relationship help?
Since 2003, Clinton Power has helped thousands of couples and individuals as a counsellor and psychotherapist in private practice in Sydney and online in Australia. Clinton regularly comments in the media on issues of relationships and has appeared on Channel 7, The Sydney Morning Herald, and ABC Radio. Clinton’s eBook, 31 Days to Build a Better Relationship is available through his website or Amazon. Click here to take Clinton’s relationship checkup quiz to find out how well you know your partner.