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Drinking our retirement days away

Health Point

June 14, 2012
Dear Jeff and Debra:

My wife and I invested wisely throughout our working years so we could retire early, which we did four years ago. I was 55 and my wife was 56. We wrote up a 15-year-plan for our retirement travels.

We are both avid sailors and had mapped out the many places around the globe we would charter and sail at our leisure. We also planned to tour exotic places such as China, Thailand, Kenya, Peru and Egypt. My wife wanted to spend a few months living in a beach house in southern India.

My wife has a degree in anthropology and a sense of adventure to go along with it. But that has changed with her drinking.

She and I always enjoyed a good drink or a fine wine and drank socially fairly often, but alcohol never got in the way of our professional lives.

After retirement, I didn't see any changes at first; but the second year I noticed she was drinking almost daily, pouring her first glass of wine around two in the afternoon.

Things have declined sharply since then.

She hides alcohol and sneaks it so I won't see. She keeps a coffee cup filled with vodka in a kitchen cabinet. Throughout the day she "visits" her drink. She thinks I don't know.

I have snooped through her things and found bottles of booze in shoeboxes and in her underwear drawer. I've also found bottles in the laundry room.

I haven't said anything about my discoveries, but I've taken the bottles and poured them out, thinking she'd say something to me.

She's never said a word. I think she just finds increasingly clever hiding places.

Needless to say, an intoxicated wife is not in any shape to globe trot. She is always talking about future plans, but we don't socialize much with friends anymore. She's too intoxicated by the dinner hour; meeting friends at a restaurant is impossible.

My wife was my best friend, our children's mother and a beautiful human being.

Now, she's a changed woman.

Her health is declining.

Her short term-memory is affected.

Our children have stopped calling in the evenings. They only want to talk to their mother in the morning. They are pressuring me to do something. They say alcohol has never been her friend. I didn't see it, but maybe they are right.

This is something I never imagined. I feel as if the retirement we have worked so hard for is disappearing down a bottle. I don't want to divorce my wife. I want her back. What do I do?

— A Devoted Husband

Dear Devoted:

Your wife could be what we call a "late-stage alcoholic," meaning the disease kicks in later in life.

But from what your children are saying, it's more likely she became alcoholic earlier in life, but responsibilities and daily structure kept her drinking in check.

Once she retired, she didn't have those constraints and the alcoholism was given a green light: drinking early in the day is just fine.

Our bodies change as we age. We cannot fend off the assault of over-drinking as we once did (not that over-drinking is wise at any age).

Our livers metabolize more slowly and alcohol stays in our bodies longer.

It impacts every organ system, including the brain. Heavy drinking turns the young-old into the old-old. Once we move into the category of old-old, we begin losing our health, or mental acuity and, eventually, our ability to live independently.

Alcohol affects women's health and their brains twice the rate it affects men, so the decline is more pronounced. Because denial is a primary symptom of alcoholism, the person suffering from the disease cannot clearly see what they are losing: health, happiness, aspirations, family, friends and dignity.

It is a lonely world living with an alcoholic spouse. You and your wife's dreams are intertwined, so alcohol robs you both of quality of life.

Now is the time to educate yourself on how to help your wife.

Visit the Grosse Pointe public library or a local bookseller and pick up two books: "Love First" and "Aging and Addiction." Don't share these with your wife, but do ask your children to read them. If you're worried your wife might find the books, order them on a reading tablet, if you have one.

Once you learn the best way to help her, talk to a clinical interventionist who specializes in working with older adults for guidance.

I highly recommend age-specific treatment.

A woman who is 60-years-old is going to have difficulty identifying with young pierced and tattooed girls or she may mother younger patients rather than focus on her own treatment. Your wife is facing distinct issues that aren't well addressed by non-age specific programs.

Age-specific programs are not common. A new program for men and women age 60 and older — Legacy — has been developed by Pine Grove specializing in recovery for those in the later stages of life.

For more information visit pinegrovetrea

tment.com or call (888) 574-4673.

A free video workshop on intervention is available at lovefirst.net.

Jeff and Debra Jay are co- authors of "Love First," and Debra Jay is the author of "No More Letting Go: The Spirituality of Taking Action Against Alcoholism and Drug Addiction." Both books are available through the Grosse Pointe Public Library. They are professional interventionists who live in Grosse Pointe Farms and can be contacted at (313) 882-6921 or lovefirst.net.

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Jeff Jay and Debra Jay are the authors of "Love First: A New Approach to Intervention for Alcoholism and Drug Addiction," and Debra Jay is the author of "No More Letting Go: The Spirituality of Taking Action Against Alcoholism and Drug Addiction." Jeff and Debra Jay are professional interventionists who live in Grosse Pointe Farms. They may be contacted with your questions at (313) 882-6921 or at lovefirst.net.
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