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But when he or she does begin to assume the role that had been abdicated, other stresses appear. ''There is the classic example,'' said Dr. Neil S. Goldman, chief of the alcoholism in-patient unit at St. Vincent's Hospital and Medical Center. ''For years the wife has really been running the family. The husband stops drinking, and that puts pressure on the wife to take a secondary role. And it works both ways.''
Those involved with alcoholics and their families often refer to Alanon as an organization that is to the families what Alcoholics Anonymous is to the alcoholics: a place to talk out problems and develop new ways of seeing themselves, the drinker and drinking. ''My husband was married to a woman who did not join Alanon and did nothing to change herself,'' said Emily, the wife of a recovered alcoholic, ''while he was changing and his whole life was changing. Eventually they separated.''
Psychotherapy may also be called upon to help prevent sobriety from shattering a marriage that has survived years of alcoholism. Celia Dulfano, a family therapist who is a member of the National Council on Alcoholism's Committee on the Family, says that alcoholism in one partner can become so much a part of the relationship that when it is absent the relationship must be altered.
''They have to change the way they relate to each other,'' she said. ''That may complicate the recovery, and that's why there are somany divorces in these cases.'' She added that alcoholism may ''mask'' othe r problems. ''They must deal with each other without using the alc oholism as a scapegoat.''
Social drinking friends of a problem drinker may wonder whether to serve liquor when he is around. The drinker's family may pour it all down the sink, a solution that does not endear them to socialdrinking friends who come for dinner. And what to do when invitations to cocktail parties arrive?
''We advise in the beginning that such gatherings be avoided,'' said Mrs. Dulfano, ''where the main purpose is drinking.'' In that context she compared alcoholism to another illness: ''Some people with diabetes have difficulty in the beginning with sweets, so they avoid going for an espresso at one of those Italian places where you see so many beautiful cakes.''
Probably one partner should not go to a party while the other stays home, at least in the beginning, she said, and other specialists agree. ''When he or she comes home with the smell on the breath and acting a little happy,'' Mrs. Dulfano said, ''the other may be envious that he or she cannot have that feeling. It might make them want to drink. But later when they feel stronger -.''
Until ''later'' arrives, what may be a period of growth for one partner may be one of frustration for the other. ''A man may want to come home and have a drink, because he can handle it,'' said Dr. Goldman. ''But he may feel guilty because his wife cannot drink, and he may not want to drink alone. He may also have a feeling that his drinking is being judged.''
Dr. Goldman said that such a person has three choices: ''Change his behavior and stop drinking, which adds stress for him; undermine the spouse's position and subtly try to have him or her resume drinking; or find other outlets with which he can maintain his release valve.''
During the 20 years of James's sobriety, he and his wife, Ellen, have managed to work things out pretty well. He is even known to mix a drink for her occasionally of an evening. ''I have no interest in drinking,'' he said. ''But I realized one day that she would have to resume a normal life.'' As for his wife, ''One's life doesn't have to change completely,'' she said. Olive EvansContinue reading the main story