Ask Dr. Mike: Offensive Terms, Binge Drinking and Open Marriage

The Ashburn psychologist takes questions from the community.

Dr. Oberschneider is with Ashburn Psychological and Psychiatric Services. Send questions to moberschneider@hotmail.com.
Dr. Oberschneider is with Ashburn Psychological and Psychiatric Services. Send questions to moberschneider@hotmail.com.

Words, Trends Can Offend

Dr. Mike,

Q: I was recently at a work-related social gathering where someone jokingly called another co-worker in our group “Aspie.” As you probably know, Aspie is a term for Asperger’s Disorder, and the person who was joked about is admittedly socially awkward. However, my son has Asperger’s Disorder, and I was deeply offended by the comment. A part of me wants to confront this individual for a lesson in sensitivity training but he will likely not get it. While I don’t want to upset my co-workers, I also don’t want to carry around resentment and anger everyday. Thoughts? 

A: At the end of the day, I think it’s more important for you to correct things internally for yourself than to teach your co-worker a lesson. If you do choose to speak to your co-worker about the verbal misstep, I would caution you to not confront him but rather to let him know how you feel about the comment and what it means to you on a personal level having a son with Asperger’s Disorder. Ideally, you would want your co-worker to leave that conversation having learned something about you and himself, so that he might be more careful with statements in the future. 

Depending on your relationship with the co-worker in question, letting the issue go and moving on without a conversation may also be a good idea. Keep in mind that people sometimes say and do stupid things, and you may not get the response you’d like from your co-worker. The term Aspie, like many other terms, has entered our colloquial speak and may be considered by some to be okay to voice. “Retarded,” “gay,” “ADHD,” and “OCD” are other terms that are freely and offensively used without care these days.


The Problem With Binge Drinking

Q: My husband and I just returned from a wedding where he was obliterated by drinking for three days straight. He made a buffoon of himself, and we left the weekend in shame. This is common for him (and us) whenever we go on vacation or away for a few days. He’ll consume outrageous amounts of alcohol, be the life of the party, and then things get bad. Oddly, he comes home and is a tea toddler for months at a time without a single drink. Can someone be a part-time alcoholic?

A: Individuals who binge drink experience physical, social, emotional and financial hardships at a higher rate than those who don’t binge drink. Binge drinking is also associated with higher rates of strokes and sudden death, as well as fetal alcoholism, mental retardation and stillbirths for pregnant women. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention offers a helpful online fact sheet on binge drinking at: http://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/binge-drinking.htm.

The description you give of your husband’s drinking is more consistent with alcohol abuse rather than alcohol dependence. Unlike a true alcoholic, your husband appears to be able to go for long stretches of time without any alcohol, but his impulse control and judgment becomes compromised at those times when he does consume alcohol. In my opinion, the distinction between alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence is not that important here. What is important is that your husband’s drinking is causing both of you problems, and he needs help. 

I recommend that your husband see a therapist or psychologist trained in addiction and substance abuse counseling to better understand his drinking behaviors (including his motivations) and to learn better coping strategies for himself. That therapist may also wish to include you in your husband’s treatment, as your husband will very likely need your support in making changes.


To Have And To Hold Two

Q: After nearly 30 years of marriage, my husband has approached me with the request to see other people romantically. He reported that he hasn’t been happy with me for some time and that he met someone who does make him happy. I have to admit none of this should come as a surprise to me since we haven’t slept in the same bed for years and nor have we been intimate in years. Somewhere in there, with raising kids and having busy careers, we seemed to have grown very far apart. Part of me is of course hurt and angry, but part of me is okay with his request. I can’t imagine getting divorced, but I suppose that is an option as well. Any help you can offer is appreciated.

A: Out of respect to yourselves individually and to your marriage, I think both you and your husband should seek the assistance of a therapist credentialed in your area of need. What’s at stake here is far too great for either of you to make any sort of change or decision without careful thought and planning.  While it seems that your husband has been tempted to find happiness outside of your marriage, he has also come to you to discuss things first. You don’t mention children in your letter, but if children are involved (even adult children) you also should consider the ramifications that an open marriage would have on them. A well-credentialed and experienced therapist should be able to help the two of you figure out why the “somewhere in there” happened and what the next best steps are for your marriage. That professional will either respectfully help the two of you come together again or redefine your future apart.

Dr. Oberschneider is with Ashburn Psychological and Psychiatric Services. Send questions to moberschneider@hotmail.com.


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