By Esther Mann

Dear Esther,

Years ago, you wrote a column in response to a woman’s letter about her husband who drank a lot on Shabbos at his shul’s Kiddush. I seem to remember that he liked to drink too much in general. I also remember that a number of people wrote in with comments, defending or accusing this husband’s behavior, and it created quite a stir.

I grew up in a home where I never saw anyone drink alcohol. My father made Kiddush and Havdalah on grape juice, and, as a result, I was never interested in the stuff and never understood why it was such a big issue for so many people. I’m totally naïve and clueless on the subject, which brings me to my question.

My wife, Nancy, is a wonderful woman, but she’s always been kind of shy and generally dreaded social obligations. Weddings and bar mitzvahs made her particularly tense, and even being invited out to Shabbos lunches was something she dreaded for days on end. I’m a friendly guy and love to be invited out. If she had her way, we’d decline all invitations. But I insist we go, even though I know it makes her uncomfortable. I’m sensitive to her feelings but don’t want our family to live in isolation. I want to feel as though we are part of the community.

Anyway, I’ve noticed over the past year that many of the women at these Shabbos lunches seem to enjoy drinking. Some will have a glass or two of wine and some might even drink several glasses of wine; a few even seem to be able to gulp down hard liquor. It’s shocking for me to see, but maybe I’m the weirdo and everyone is enjoying something that I’m totally not interested in. I don’t care or judge. I’m kind of an observer.

But what’s happening is that my wife started having a glass or two of wine at these lunches and found it allowed her to be more relaxed and actually enjoy herself. I was happy to see that and encouraged her to indulge. But over the past few months, I’ve noticed she is having wine every night at home. It used to be one glass, and, while I’m not one to look too closely, I’m suddenly realizing that the amount she is drinking has been increasing.

This is all so foreign to me that I just don’t know what to make of it. When I ask Nancy about her nightly drinking, she tells me that it relaxes her and allows her to enjoy her evenings in a stress-free way. I like that she’s relaxed, but I’m wondering if I should be worried. Is it normal and OK for a woman to drink possibly several glasses of wine every day? Is this what goes on in other homes? Should I be trying to discourage her from this new habit or accept it as something quite normal and helpful to her?

I know the family I grew up in was not necessarily typical in terms of alcohol consumption, but I don’t know what is typical, so I thought I’d check in with you for some answers. Should I just overlook this new habit of hers and appreciate that it makes her feel good, or is this a problem that needs to be dealt with?

Unsure

Dear Unsure,

When you are that rare breed who has never touched a bit of alcohol, it certainly must appear very strange to watch people indulge, particularly daily and particularly when the amount imbibed seems to be increasing. You have no frame of reference for what these individuals are experiencing and no way of understanding the positive effects enjoyed or knowing when a line has been crossed and trouble may be brewing.

I, too, have noticed that women seem to be enjoying a glass of wine with their meals these days — more so than I’ve seen in the past. And I have also noticed that the variety and amount of alcohol seems to be increasing and seems to be more obvious.

Many people will tell you that a glass of wine with dinner is not only not bad for you but that it is actually quite healthy. Specifically for people who carry around major stress, and also for those individuals who just need to feel they can take the edge off at the end of a long, tough day, a glass of wine does wonders.

Socially, Nancy is not alone. Many people find that after having some wine, they are freer to kick back, relax, engage in conversation, and enjoy themselves in a way that they don’t necessarily feel capable of without the help of some wine or other alcohol. It enhances their experiences and allows them to mellow.

It sounds like what you’re noticing and are concerned about is the fact that the amount Nancy is drinking is on the upswing. Perhaps it’s gone from one glass per evening to several. If that is the case, you should be alert and possibly concerned. Though we mostly hear about men becoming alcoholics, make no mistake, there are plenty of women who are suffering from this addiction. It doesn’t end well — unless, of course, there is awareness and appropriate steps are taken before it becomes a serious problem.

I sense that you feel as though you are out of your league, clueless regarding what is normal and what isn’t, and unsure what your next step should be. First off, I suggest you keep your eyes wide open. Though you don’t want to be Nancy’s “keeper,” you should watch how many times she refills her glass each evening. Keep an eye on the wine and liquor in your house and take note whether they are diminishing more rapidly than they should be.

If your suspicions are correct, and Nancy is drinking more than one or two glasses of wine per night, have a conversation with her. Inquire as to what’s going on. Explain that though you understand and appreciate the fact that she enjoys the effects of a glass of wine, you’re wondering if there might be trouble beneath it all. Talking about the issue and what is motivating her to be increasing her drinking is an important discussion that you need to have with her now, before it possibly gets worse.

It’s possible that Nancy has been innocently drinking more than she should, and once you’ve pointed it out to her, she will be more mindful about what she is doing and rein it in. However, if you find that Nancy is not willing to talk to you about her drinking or is minimizing what you’ve observed her to be drinking, there is a problem. Serious drinkers are rarely honest and forthcoming about their behavior. They’ll joke, lie, distract, and use any ploy to get a concerned husband like you off their back. Should that be the case, you will have to take a more serious approach. Perhaps she’d be willing to speak with a professional to figure out what is going on and why she is indulging this way.

It’s great that you’ve become aware of Nancy’s drinking. When alcohol is not on your personal radar, it’s easy to have a blind eye regarding what others around you are up to, since it never was an issue for you. But it seems that some inner voice has whispered in your ear that perhaps it’s time to take a closer look. Listen to that voice and see where it leads you. This is no time to be shy!

Esther

Esther Mann, LCSW, is a psychotherapist in Hewlett. Esther works with individuals and couples. Together with Jennifer Mann, she also runs the “Navidaters.” She can be reached at mindbiz44@aol.com or 516-314-2295.

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