The effect of alcohol on a family
Last time we looked at the signs and symptoms of alcoholism and how to diagnose it. In this article, let's see how the disease affects families. Alcoholics have a disease that is primary (not secondary to another condition), chronic (as opposed to acute -- once you have it, it never goes away), progressive (it always gets worse; it never gets better), incurable (there is only remission), and fatal (the end result is death). The family progresses right along with the alcoholic in their disease.
The three unspoken rules in an alcoholic family are don't talk, don't trust, and don't feel. Alcoholism has been compared to the elephant in the living room -- everyone knows it's there, but no one talks about it. Family members sometimes feel responsible for the alcoholic's drinking because they may have enabled them by buying it, not confronting them, or drinking with them. They know the alcoholic tells lies, but family accept them as the truth.
Family members become over-responsible while the alcoholic avoids responsibility. They let the alcoholic exploit them and accept their promises. They cover up, lie about, and minimize the alcoholic's drinking and related behaviors. Family members can be in a state of denial just like the alcoholic.
As a result of living with an alcoholic, family members feel an assortment of feelings including fear, guilt, shame, anger, sadness/depression, and responsibility. These overwhelming feelings can also manifest themselves in physical symptoms.
In recovery, the family also progresses right along with the alcoholic. They learn to work their own program of recovery and to take care of themselves. Family needs to detach with love from the alcoholic and remember the "three C's" -- you didn't cause it, you can't control it, and you can't cure it. If you have a loved one suffering from alcoholism, Al-Anon will help you. Simply look in the phone book, or call me at 336-5340.
Blessings and Peace,
Julie Scheib, Director
Discovery House, Inc.