How do I convince my ex-wife my drinking is no longer a problem?

Readers Question Readers Question: (Name changed for privacy)
Stanton Peele Response by: Dr. Stanton Peele
Posted on August 30th, 2008 - Last updated: November 21st, 2023
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Dear Stanton-

I was enlisted in a 30 day in-patient treatment center last spring. There is some history (my grandfather) of alcohol abuse in the family. I have a 17 year old cousin (my grandfather’s grandson) who has been involved with drugs and alcohol recently. These problems led my aunt & uncle to a treatment center in seek of help. This, in turn, led to a full blown family intervention of me.

I am 28 years old, a bit immature at times for my age, but was employed by a liquor broker for three years as a sales rep. My work environment was bars and nightclubs. This job provided more money than I had ever made. In addition to free, unlimited quantities of hard alcohol, my friends, including my wife, endorsed a partying lifestyle (most have since mellowed out). As a result, my drinking became increasingly abusive.

For the past year I have had no excessive use of alcohol. I have been for the most part abstinent, but occasionally like to get together with a friend to talk over a glass of wine, or, literally, 1 or 2 beers. This behavior makes my wife (we are currently separated) extremely concerned, angry, scared, etc. These fears she has are derived from what she has learned from AA and a few Al-anon meetings. My parents also endorse this all or nothing attitude that has been placed upon them by you know who.

My problem is this, how do I begin to get them to objectively understand the concepts regarding addiction that you discuss in “Diseasing of America”. I have purchased multiple copies of your book and given it to them to read, but they haven’t. I feel like am being forced to give up all alcohol forever in order to continue my relationship with them because an alcohol treatment center admitted me based on a 3 minute question and answer session and then branded me a diseased person for life. HELP!!

Yours truly,


Dear […]:

It’s a tough sell overcoming the all-or-nothing, AA mentality, so you have to use your bean.

Of course, it’s doubly difficult convincing your separated wife of something — do you have children together? If not, how necessary is it for you to convince her? Do you think you can reconcile? Also, the need to convince your parents does tend to support the idea that you’re a bit immature (although I’m reassured to see you are capable of acknowledging your immaturity — that supports your self-report when you say you’re drinking without problems).

But here’s how I’d tackle it:

Ask your parents/wife what do they need to see to make them comfortable that you are not abusing alcohol. That is, what obligations, behaviors, check points do they look to (and which you screwed up on previously) to tell them whether your drinking is abusive or not. Then, make a point of meeting these obligations. If you’re really concerned to impress either your wife or your parents, ask them what they’d like you to sacrifice should you fail to meet the criteria for non-problematic drinking they outline. How about $1,000 extra for your wife? (You may want to have a respected, mutually acceptable judge should an issue arise as to whether you pass muster or not.)

The point here is that selling people on controlled drinking generally isn’t going to convince people. Meeting their demands on their own terms, to the extent you feel this is appropriate for you, is a more direct way to convince people of anything, and about your ability to control your drinking specifically. Now, this will also help to keep you honest, if you at all need that. That’s the good side of what I am wondering about as a slightly infantile need to meet your parents’ and what may be your ex-wife’s standards. On the other hand, the best way human beings have found for keeping behavior in check is the need for approval of people important to them.

Best regards, Stanton

Stanton Peele

Dr. Stanton Peele, recognized as one of the world's leading addiction experts, developed the Life Process Program after decades of research, writing, and treatment about and for people with addictions. Dr. Peele is the author of 14 books. His work has been published in leading professional journals and popular publications around the globe.

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