Dear Dr. Frankie,
I came out of a three year relationship with an ex who was a substance abuser and bi-polar. I am now in a happy, loving relationship of five months. I hope I get to spend the rest of my life with my current girlfriend. However, I have one concern. While she isn’t a big drinker, she does go to the bar by herself to meet up with people fairly regularly and has a few drinks at times. Though she swears she is fine to drive home, she told me about a time she drove home when she wasn’t ok. Apparently this incident just happened about 9 months ago. My girlfriend had a bad day at work, went to the local bar, had many drinks, and thought she was fine. Drove home and then realized she wasn’t fine. Luckily she wasn’t arrested or in an accident. She swears she has learned from her mistake and will never do it again. She is fine with not having a drink, and we regularly go out to dinner and whenever and she will not drink at all. Should I put the past behind and move forward, or is this something I shouldn’t ignore? Does she have a problem, or am I scared because of my last relationship?
Most of us have experienced episodes of poor judgment when we’ve consumed one too many cocktails (hence the basket full of car keys at house parties). Alcohol impairs our judgment and ability to make good decisions. Her bad choice to drive home does not mean she is an alcoholic. Going to the bar alone to meet with friends is normal, healthy activity as long as she is not drinking in excess or doing it every day. It is natural for someone with your dating experience to be cautious and extra sensitive to substance use. It might be helpful to know that there is a clinical distinction between alcohol dependence and alcohol abuse. Alcohol abuse is when a person’s drinking leads to problems but they are not chemically addicted. Alcohol dependence occurs when there is a physical addiction to alcohol. An alcoholic will drink despite it possibly being the root of marital problems, job loss, or disease. From what you are describing it does not sound like your current girlfriend is dependent or an alcoholic. If you are still concerned you could both consider making a deal that neither of you will have more than two drinks if you’ll be driving home that evening. If you make an agreement but she drives home again after drinking too much then perhaps there could be a bigger problem. Her judgment lapse occurred nine months ago and doesn’t sound like it has happened again, let it go.