Sunday , June 23 2024

Too often, too much: wives on problems of living with alcoholic husbands

Nguyen Thi Hoa of Hanoi’s Bac Tu Liem District has to ride her motorbike to a beer place her husband frequents to pick him up in an inebriated state.

For over 10 years the 40-year-old has gotten used to her husband going out to drink late at night and not being able to return home by himself.

When she first fell in love with him, she says she did notice that he drank a lot but she thought nothing about it, believing he was just having fun in his youth.

But the drinking persisted even after their marriage.

Duong, her husband, often does not eat dinner at home, claiming he needs to go out to drink with clients to maintain relationships, which will aid in negotiating contracts.

She has realized there is no cure for her husband’s drinking problem.

During the birth to their first child eight years ago she had an appointment with the doctor for a surgery. She had told her husband to return home soon that night so that he could take her to the hospital early next morning.

But he did not return home at all, and Hoa could not reach him since his phone was turned off. She then contacted a friend who frequently drank with him and he told her that Duong was drunk and lying on the floor of the pub.

Though they now have a second child, she still has to wake up in the middle of the night to bring him home. Duong tells her the name of the beer place before leaving, and no matter how late it is she goes to ensure he is safe.

“Sometimes I feel tired and lonely,” she says. “I feel like I am carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders”.

Two men drink beer with a group of friends in a restaurant in Hanois Nam Tu Liem District on March 24, 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Hai Hien

Two men drink beer with a group of friends at a restaurant in Hanoi’s Nam Tu Liem District on March 24, 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Hai Hien

Duong is just one of many Vietnamese men who consider drinking an essential part of their life and leave their wives and girlfriends physically and emotionally drained.

Hai Yen of northern Bac Ninh Province always wonders what “magical” powers alcohol has to have her husband hooked so thoroughly.

“One time when I was ill and could not pick my child up from school I asked my husband to do it. But he ended up forgetting and leaving our child waiting in front of the school gate for hours.

“When our family goes to the countryside to celebrate the Lunar New Year, he spends the entire holidays drinking and dealing with hangovers the next morning.

“Once his wallet was stolen at the pub, but he was too intoxicated that he had no idea what happened…” Yen’s litany of drinking woes is long.

He only gives his wife a few million dong from his monthly salary of more than VND10 million (US$438) for household expenses, and keeps the rest for his “personal expenses” and “doing important tasks”.

Sometimes, unable to manage, when she asks him for money, his routine reply is he is “out of money”.

He crashed into a traffic divider while driving drunk six months ago, puncturing his abdomen and requiring the removal of a third of his stomach.

“I thought that after that incident he would quit for good. But he started drinking again after half a year”.

According to the General Statistics Office, alcohol consumption in the country rose from 0.9 liters per person per month in 2018 to 1.3 liters in 2020.

A 2019 study by Lancet, a British medical journal, found Vietnam among the world’s top beer-consuming countries and a 90.2 percent rise in drinking per capita between 2010 and 2017.

In 2017 Vietnam consumed 8.9 liters of pure alcohol per person, higher than Japan (7.9 liters), China (7.4 liters) and India (5.9 liters).

A 2015 World Health Organization study found 44 percent of people in Vietnam consume alcohol to “excessive and dangerous” levels.

A study on alcohol use done by the Health Strategy and Policy Institute found 63 percent of consumers are men, with the highly educated demographic accounting for the highest rate.

Men drink beer at a roadside restaurant in Hanoi, Vietnam. Photo by Reuters

Men drink beer at a roadside restaurant in Hanoi, Vietnam. Photo by Reuters

“In Vietnam, once you sit at the table, you must drink as hard as you can or you will be perceived as looking down on your friends and not worthy of being a man,” Hoang Anh Tu, a writer and psychologist, explains.

This gender stereotype causes men to suffer, he says.

According to 2019 data from the GSO, the medical cost of treating six common types of cancers caused by alcohol abuse was around VND26 trillion (over $1.13 billion), while the cost of dealing with the consequences of alcohol-related traffic accidents was around VND50 trillion.

Alcoholism also has a huge bearing on families.

The Department of Preventive Medicine published a study in 2018 that found alcohol drinkers responsible for 34 percent of incidents of domestic violence.

When Yen’s husband gets drunk, he transforms into a different person and smashes things at home despite her efforts to stop him. She has had to call a neighbor for help several times.

In the early years of their marriage, when Duong went out to drink and Hoa kept calling to check up on him and picked him up in the middle of the night, he was apologetic at first.

But over time he grew accustomed to it, and now even views it as her responsibility.

She tried to be tough and even stopped sleeping with him, hoping that would change him. One time she locked him out of the house to teach him a lesson. But nothing worked, and on the latter occasion he simply rented a room at a motel to sleep.

She grew tired and stopped caring, realizing her husband will never quit drinking regardless of what she. He still lives in the house, but Hoa considers him an invisible presence.

Tu says husbands are aware of the dangers and consequences of binge drinking but are unable to stop.

He says wives should talk to their husbands to make them understand they will lose something if they continue drinking.

“When a husband returns after drinking, his wife berates him briefly and forgives him if he expresses contrition. It is difficult to change them if they are not held accountable for their actions”.

According to psychologist Trinh Trung Hoa, a woman entering marriage should not fail to tell her husband to share family responsibilities. To protect herself and her children from her husband’s problematic drinking habit, the wife must not only give advice but also spell out the consequences, he says.

Rather than staying up all night waiting for her husband, she should prioritize her own health and spend time with her children, he says.

She should take a firm stance against drinking, and if it does not work, she should focus on saving herself, she says.

Hoa says: “The man is forced to think differently when a woman has the courage to decide her own life and stop following him”.

Recently Duong found a divorce petition with a letter on his desk. In it she said how disgusting it was every time she smelled alcohol on him.

“I despise seeing a disheveled person being dragged drunkenly into the house from the street. Now that we have liberated each other, you will be able to live your life however you want”.

Duong realized he was about to lose his family when he saw them, apologized to her and pleaded with her to give him another chance to make amends.

She agreed.

Though Duong has not stopped drinking completely, he only drinks once or twice a month and comes before 11 p.m.

“I have not lost any valuable deal or friendship since I stopped drinking,” he admits.

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