The disease of alcoholism is a progressive brain disease, developing in gradual stages over a period of time. In the formative phases, one or two drinks are sufficient for the drinker, however they soon need more alcoholic drinks to get the same good feeling that they are seeking.
This is known as ‘tolerance’ – having to drink an increased amount to achieve the same effect or getting a lesser reuslt from the same amount of alcohol. Tolerance is one of the defining criteria to a diagnosis of alcohol abuse or alcohol dependence.
This progression can be rapid but is generally understated and takes a long period of time. No one remembers quite when the alcoholic lost control. The non-drinking partner may have initially lightly acknowledged his unacceptable behavior and made excuses for his boisterous drinking. However, as time passes and his behavior has consistently become more unbearable, the alcoholics partner grows to accept it as the “norm.” Drinking behaviour that would be perceived as totally offensive and a disaster at home some few years ago has now become just another event we ignore, further cementing our denial.
Alcoholism is a Menacing Disease
As the alcoholism progresses, so do the symptoms (poor behaviour and negative consequences) and dysfunctional responses to it become habit in the home, no one thinks of seeking help. The non-drinking partner now incorrectly believes that the alcoholic needs to be protected and so she has learnt to hide the truth and live a lie. Secrets have become a way of life for the family, no matter how crazy and awful life at home has become.
There is also an awful sense of shame and embarrassment, that’s this has happened in our family, that we’re somehow to blame for bringing this about. In reality, alcoholism is a no-fault illness and it’s more productive to focus the attention on looking for an addiction solution. Unfortunately all of these lies and secrets have only succeeded in making it easier for the alcoholic to continue drinking his way into oblivion. As codependents our best intentions are to aid the alcoholic and the family, however once embroiled in the illness we become a part of the dysfunction and enable continued drinking. Most often the alcoholic has no reason to consider changing their behaviour and getting some rehab until we change what we’re doing.
The gradual and insidious progress of the disease of alcoholism crept up on the family until it seemed that it was too far-gone for any hope of change. And so alcoholism will continue to advance for the alcoholic and the family until some crisis intervenes that results in getting some help to quit drinking. Fortunately the family does not simply have to sit around and wait for that to happen. The rest of the family can start their recovery by seeking help to perform an intervention.
Do not wait for the alcoholic to somehow ‘get to grips’ or ‘pull their socks up’ it is necessary for someone in the family to reach out for help. There are resources and groups available to assist the families of alcoholics. Please feel free to contact us for independent and expert addictions advice specific to your situation.
For simplicities sake, and not to discriminate against any particular gender, during this article on how Alcoholism Affects the Entire Family we’ve often used the common example of the male partner being the alcoholic and the female being the co-dependent enabler. This by no means reflects gender or sexual orientation co-dependency and enabling of alcoholics as a purely female role.
Read Part One of this article about how Alcoholism Affects the Entire Family.