Dear Rabbi Schonbuch,
My husband drinks every night. He starts with a few glasses of wine with dinner and always ends with whisky. Some nights it’s just one or two large ones and other nights it can be half a bottle. I know that we believe that drinking at a Farbrengen or a Kiddush is allowed, but when does it begin to become a problem?
Many people drink alcoholic beverages as a way of relaxing or as a way of socializing and for some individuals this never becomes a problem. For example, those of us who attend Farbgrengens do enjoy a few L’Chaims and have no problem limiting how much we drink. In the cases of some individuals, however, they are unable to limit their intake and develop consistent patterns of behavior that can eventually lead to an even more serious problem – alcoholism.
Many often assume that alcohol abuse and alcoholism is the same thing, however, the reality is that there is a difference between the two. One significant difference is that in most cases a person who is known to abuse alcohol still has some control over when and if they drink, while a person who suffers from alcoholism is often dependent on the use of alcohol.
Alcohol abuse often occurs when individuals begin drinking as a way to deal with the stress of certain situations – losing a job, the death of a close loved one or marital tension. While initially the effects of alcohol may numb the pain or reality of these circumstances, over time it seems to take more and more alcohol to have the same effect. Over time this can lead to a dependence on alcohol known as alcoholism.
When alcohol abuse becomes an issue a person may know that they shouldn’t be drinking at that particular time, however, they allow poor judgment to win out over common sense and continue drinking anyway. In many cases this will lead to failing to keep up with prior commitments, like taking care of children or other family responsibilities, and may even have serious detrimental effects on job performance and the ability to maintain relationships.
It is often hard for individuals who are affected by alcohol abuse to admit they have a problem. That is because it would mean they are admitting to not being in control of the situation – often why they drink in the first place.
Just because your husband has a drink or two on a regular basis with his dinner this does not necessarily mean he has a problem, although attention should be paid to be sure that this practice does not lead to a problem over time. When you mention that his wine drinking is capped off with a shot whiskey or that he tends to drink up to half a bottle or more, I begin to question whether or not this is crossing the line towards addictive, or a least, abusive behavior.
Another distinction between casual drinking and alcohol abuse is when an individual looks for any opportunity to have a drink and use the cover that they are “celebrating” something specific. For many people this may come in the form of acknowledging some minor achievement that does not really warrant celebration like finishing a good book or getting dinner ready on time. Although for average people this may not seem like much, to a person who has issues with alcohol abuse it may be considered a big deal, as a way to give them a reason to drink in a situation that they consider celebratory.
When it comes to a point where people find themselves continually looking for a reason to celebrate in order to have a drink this may be an indication that a problem is starting to develop.
How do you know if your husband is an alcoholic?
The following symptoms should tip you off that you — or someone you know — may need treatment for alcoholism: