In this brief commentary, Dr. Joseph Nowinski, a clinical psychologist, provides useful tips on how to effectively communicate about a partner’s drinking.
One of the most interesting points made by Dr. Nowinski is the idea of drinking as a continuum rather than as a dichotomy. Instead of viewing drinking as “alcoholic” or “nonalcoholic” (a dichotomy), he suggests that drinking can be viewed as ranging from non-problematic (“Normal social drinking” in his chart) to problematic (“Alcoholism” in his chart).
I like this idea for a few reasons:
1.) it gives us a chance to see that drinking is not simply black or white (problem vs. not a problem) and therefore, that people are not simply “alcoholics” or “non-alcoholics.”
2.) If drinking is more like a continuum it means that we can help sooner to prevent possible problematic drinking turning into “alcoholism.”
3.) There are a variety of ways to help a loved one depending on where he/she is at on the continuum of drinking versus only having a couple of ways to help them (e.g., detox or residential treatment). For example, if someone is entering into the “almost alcoholism” part of the continuum outpatient one-to-one therapy or attending a peer support group like SMART recovery may help them decrease their drinking, whereas someone in the “Alcoholism” part of the continuum may need a more intensive level of care like detox.
As you think about talking with your addicted loved one consider thinking about drinking as a continuum and perhaps ask yourself the following questions: “Where does your loved one fall on the continuum of drinking? Based on where they are at on the continuum which ways of helping might be most successful?”