Maggie's story: How alcohol impacted on my mental health without drinking a drop

Maggie | November 2020 | 6 minutes

In this blog, Maggie talks about her experience as the partner of someone who drinks heavily, and the effects that has had on her mental health.

You would think that family, social and work events would be a joy, but I dreaded them. I knew that if alcohol was involved it was going to be a stressful experience. I avoided having alcohol in the house because I knew if it was there it would be drunk. My husband used alcohol as a stress relieving tool for an intense job; a pain management tool for physical injuries; a coping mechanism after diagnosis of depression, anxiety and PTSD and as a tool for self-harm.

I made excuses not to attend social events for fear of embarrassment, and having to explain or make excuses for certain behaviours. I couldn’t understand the need of having to drink at any sign of a problem. I was told, by those around me, it was only a “wee drink, what’s the harm? We all need to de-stress”. Alcohol was being used by my husband to cope with his physical pain and mental distress , whilst causing mental health issues for me.

"My husband used alcohol as a stress relieving tool for an intense job; a pain management tool for physical injuries; a coping mechanism after diagnosis of depression, anxiety and PTSD and as a tool for self-harm."

Why did I feel anxious at the chink of a bottle or the car drawing away knowing that the trip was to the shop? Why did I panic to the point of hysteria when I knew he was in pain and that a bottle (or more on occasions) of vodka would be downed in one gulp, with the intention that he would not wake up? I constantly imagined the fall in front of a car and the many ways he could hurt himself. I worried about the effect on the many medications he was taking for various conditions. I actually hoped the alcohol would have an adverse effect and that would be the trigger to make him stop!

Eventually I realised that I was focusing on and trying to deal with someone else’s mental health issues when the biggest problem was mine. I was isolating myself too because I thought that I was protecting them from the outside world, when I was damaging my own mental health. We had recently moved from a rural area into the city to get the help I envisaged was needed. The fear of such a big place isolated me even more. I gave up work to become a carer, as mental health problems and official diagnosis of PTSD impacted so much that my husband was unable to work. Unemployment actually changed the drinking patterns. No more work events or hotel rooms where drinking could be hidden. But, deteriorating mental health caused more extreme binge drinking.

"I gave up work to become a carer, as mental health problems and official diagnosis of PTSD impacted [my husband] so much that he was unable to work."

I reached out for help and was prescribed antidepressants and started volunteering for Drink Wise, Age Well to try and reduce my own isolation. It forced me out into the city, overcoming my fears. It gave me the opportunity of learning about alcohol issues and it was then that I began to realise the extent of the problem. " He wasn’t drinking every day so he wasn’t addicted to alcohol", or so I thought! But he was drinking to numb the pain, block out the fears and stop the thoughts when things became too hard to handle. The cycle was there: alcohol and mental health.

My own mental health has improved by reducing my isolation and knowledge which in turn has made it possible for me to support my husband better.