Alcoholism is often thought of as a “family disease” because of the consequences that it has on family relationships and dynamics, sometimes without the family members even realising it.
The Alcoholics Family Also Needs Help
What began as loving acceptance of occasionally unsuitable drinking behaviour, has graduated to acceptance of intolerable alcoholic behaviour and has become the “norm” for the family. Alcoholic behaviour grows increasingly inappropriate over time that we almost don’t pick up on the severity until we’re so sucked into a co-dependent, enabling role that we can’t seem to break out of it.
Alcoholic spouse’s grow to believe that they need to protect the alcoholic and so lying to other family, friends and employers, to keep the truth of this alcoholic secret hidden, becomes normal. Often the codependent, enabling partner will keep the alcoholic secret, at great expense to themselves and their families regardless of the pandemonium and madness in the home.
By “protecting” the alcoholic with lies that grow with time, she has made things easier for him to continue in his demise. She is enabling him to get worse, rather than helping him. The disease will progress until the alcoholic is desperate enough to seek the help he needs. More often than not though patients are pressured into an alcohol rehab by their family to get detoxified and receive further treatment and the startling thing to remember is that this is a very effective route to recovery.
The old lie that the alcoholic has to hit ‘rock-bottom’ and want to enteralcoholism treatment> for rehab to work has been proven to be UNTRUE!
The stance that the family adopts can exert useful pressure on the alcoholic to do the right thing and seek help for their drinking problem. Fortunately there is hope and help from alcoholism treatment centres and groups such as Al-Anon and families can start to recover even if the alcoholic is still drinking.
Alcoholism affects each member of the family. Teens who have attended Ala-Teen have stated that they often have more problems dealing with the spouse of the alcoholic than the alcoholic themselves. These young people find the behaviour of the alcoholic to be expected and they know when things are ok or when things are risky. They have learnt the alcoholic’s patterns. However, they can’t say the same for the non-drinking parent, whose behaviour is not as predictable.
In one moment they may be threatening their alcoholic spouse and the next rescuing them from the consequences of his drunkenness and excusing his behaviour.
How Families Are Affected by Alcoholism
The family disease of alcoholism affects everyone close to the alcoholic, no-one is immune.
It’s important to remember that alcoholism is a no-fault illness. No-one is to blame or is the reason for an alcoholics drinking problem. No person can cure it or control alcoholism; however they may inadvertently be contributing to the problem. Often in Al-Anon recovering codependent enablers (spouses of alcoholics) speak of the “4 C’s”.
They say that through Al Anon, the 12 Steps, 12 Traditions and Slogans, they have come to realise that they can’t Control it, can’t Cure it, that can’t Change it and didn’t Cause it. It may be an idea to assess how the other person’s drinking may affect different family members, and how you are currently responding to the alcoholism. Perhaps the responses are not helpful?
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While we didn’t cause the alcoholism we can certainly do a lot as family and friends to help change our behaviour in relation to the alcoholic and pressure them into receiving some treatment. It is common to resort to “role playing” in the family, exploring these roles honestly, accepting any responsibility and beginning to ask for help in changing them will go a long way towards effective alcoholism treatment.
You can read more about Unhealthy Roles in Alcoholic Families here.