Alcoholism does not only affect the alcoholic, it also affects each person in the family. Sometimes the non-drinking parent in the family can unwittingly contribute to the havoc alcoholics cause due to their dysfunctional responses to the alcoholic’s drinking. We speak more about the unhealthy roles in alcoholic families here.
The behaviour of the alcoholic becomes fairly predictable and the children in the family learn to read his moods and know what to expect next. Sometimes they even use this knowledge to their advantage, for example asking for money when he is in a particularly good mood. With regards to the non-alcoholic partner though, children can sometimes be taken off guard and surprised by the co-dependents reaction to the next drunken bout, as she vacillates from one desperate reaction to the next.
The non-drinking partner’s behaviour can be unpredictable as he or she tries to comes to terms with alcoholism in the family and how best to deal with it. On one occasion she may explode in anger, irritation and embarrassment and threaten all manner of consequences to his alcoholic drinking and it’s negative behaviour. Then, the next time she may be sweetly trying to support him through his drinking, even buying the alcohol and giving all sorts of excuses (both to herself through rationalizing and justifying as well as to other friends and family for why he is drinking so much.
Rescuing the alcoholic from the negative consequences of his drinking and convincing themselves that it’s not quite as bad as it seems is the hallmark of a codependent alcoholic enabler.
Alcoholism is a Progressive Disease
Usually alcoholism slowly and insidiously becomes a major part of family life and affects far more dramatically than most initially realise. Because the progression of alcoholism can be gradual, the mindsets that develop slowly alongside the alcoholism result in negative coping mechanisms that are also unhelpful to family life.
As alcoholism creeps into family dynamics so gradually, few seem to notice until it is a full-blown problem that needs admission to some form of alcoholism rehabilitation. Do not wait for the alcoholic to somehow gain ‘spontaneous insight’ into their condition, it is often necessary for someone in the family to reach out for help and bring about a crisis that results in admission to an alcohol rehab.
There are professional resources available to assist the families of alcoholics. Please feel free to contact us for independent and expert drinking problems advice specific to your situation. Part Two of this article Alcoholism Affects the Entire Family is found here.