Competing with Drugs and Alcohol

Venus Nicolino holds a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology. Her column addresses Love, Life and Relationships.

Dear Dr V,

I don’t know if he’s changed or I’m just noticing it, but it seems to me like my boyfriend might have a problem with pot and alcohol. I don’t smoke pot and only drink socially, but it seems to me like whenever he has a drink it inevitably leads to multiple drinks and him getting drunk. He’s also pressuring me more and more to smoke pot, both in public at parties and in private.

It’s getting to the point where I feel embarrassed in advance whenever we go out. We’re three years out of college (and have been together for four) and I feel like while I’ve changed a bit since then, he’s the same. We still hang out with same group of people from school, and they’re all pretty much partiers like my boyfriend, so I feel like the odd one out.

Despite all this I do care about him — it’s also frustrating for me because I know the booze and the pot are drowning out the good things about him. We’ve been together a long time; for awhile I thought we might get married. Is there anything I can do? Is this a salvageable relationship or should I move on?

Dear Reader,

I’m sorry to say my prognosis for your relationship is not a bright one. It sounds like your boyfriend has an addictive personality and is on his way, if he’s not already, to being completely governed by these addictions. What it means for you in the future, barring some kind of miraculous recovery on his part, is at best an unsatisfying, unhealthy and unhappy relationship. At worst, it means making your own descent into the hell of abusive and co-dependent behavior that the partner of an alcoholic or addict often experiences.

But perhaps you could use this moment as a catalyst for you to really examine and ponder where you are in your life and where you’d like to be going. I mean what I’m about to say in the best way possible: you’re still very young. You mentioned that you’re just three years out of college, and that you’ve been with your boyfriend for four. You also said you feel like you’ve changed. It is possible, even without the complications brought on by your boyfriend’s self-destructive behavior, that you two would now be growing apart anyway. For many people, their 20s are a time of exponential growth and change.  In many ways, for our culture, it’s become the final stage of adolescence, where the heart and mind at last mature into true adulthood.

This being said, what I’m getting from how you phrased your question is that you have already changed and matured quite a bit since the beginning of your relationship, while your boyfriend has remained essentially the same. Perhaps these behaviors were always there, and it’s only now that you’re out in the “real world,” instead of the insular and often hedonistic atmosphere being away at college can provide. Also, your exposure to people outside of your shared group of friends (I assume you’re out in the workforce somewhere) could also highlight the differences of which you were previously unaware.

However, I do realize there are deep emotional connections between you two, and these cannot be ignored in trying to discern what the best way forward is for you. I can also tell from your letter that you do love this man, and it saddened me to read, “I know the booze and the pot are drowning out the good things about him.” That right there sums up the tragedy of alcoholism and addiction succinctly. In a way, it’s almost as if your boyfriend is having an affair with these substances, where you have to compete with the booze and the drugs for the spot closest to his heart. You may have already heard this from other people, but I have to tell you that it is impossible for you to “save” your boyfriend. There is no way to make someone with an addiction “see the light.” By all means, you can and should express your feelings and concerns to your boyfriend. You can even suggest he find help, letting him know you’ll be there to support him through his recovery (if you feel this is something you are capable of and willing to do). Unfortunately, unless there is a strong drive to grow and get better that originates inside the addict, there is sadly nothing that can be done.

And this is what I think the sticking point is for you: what your boyfriend’s response will be after you voice your concerns to him. If he’s open to discuss it further, if he’s open to even considering the possibility that he has a problem with drugs and alcohol, then the decision to stay or go may not be so cut and dry for you. By no means will it be an easy road for either of you, but if in your heart of hearts you care for this man, love this man, and still see him as the person you would want to marry, then perhaps the hard work and sacrifices required will prove worth it.

However, if after bringing it up you are met with denial, anger or some other response that does not ring true, it could be time to seriously reconsider what kind of a future you will have with this man. What will daily life be like living with someone who is essentially engaged in a slow-motion suicide who is unwilling or unable to stop? What kind of person do you see yourself turning into down the road, what will you do with your life? If you see yourself having children at some point, is this the kind of father you would want to raise them?

As I said, you are at a very singular moment in your life. You sound like a smart, sensitive and intuitive person. There are many paths open to you right now, many opportunities that may not present themselves again, and certainly not in such abundance. At such a unique time in your life, I think it would be unfortunate if you were to be burdened unnecessarily with a painful, potentially life-altering burden that you don’t deserve to bear.

With Empathy,

Dr. V

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Note: All information in the Ask Dr. V column is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnosis and treatment, please feel free to email Dr. V, or consult your doctor.

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