What the Family of An Alcoholic Needs to Know

You’re close because you’re family. You notice the signs and nuances. What started as an occasional night watching football and having a few cold ones, has transformed into everyday drinking for your husband. Now, he goes from work to the pub and doesn’t come home until 2:00 a.m. Or, maybe it’s your wife who you caught more than once hiding a battle in the closet, taking a sip now and then. Perhaps you’re concerned about your teenage son who had his first contact with alcohol at a party when he was 14 years old. Now, he’s out of control. How does he get his hands on beer? Is he into harder stuff like whiskey shots and tequila? If I search his wallet will I find a fake ID? Every family of an alcoholic has a little bit different story. But, many of the consequences and challenges are similar.

When a loved one suffers from alcoholism, the whole family crisscrosses the constant paths of pain and unhappiness as they watch their loved one brawl with addiction. The discomfort also reaches coworkers and friends who are often at a loss for words. What can they say? What can they do? There’s a feeling of helplessness that envelopes family, relatives, and friends. Watching your loved one harm themselves with alcohol on a non-stop basis can be excruciatingly painful. In such an environment, verbal conflict, physical violence, marital tension, infidelity and divorce are common. Everyone’s on edge, trying to avoid the words, or even the gestures, that could trigger the alcoholic into storming from the house and beating a path to the nearest bar.

Alcohol addiction cuts across creeds, races and social classes in the United States. More than 15 million Americans are struggling with alcoholism. Of this figure, only a meager 11 percent are undergoing alcohol detox, which is the most potent route toward sobriety. So if you live with one of the 89 percent who is not seeking treatment, your life is affected continuously and influenced by their the actions. Here are some essentials that may help you defend your sanity and facilitate your loved one’s road to recovery.

Trading Blame

An alcoholic will often tap into creative ways to blame those around them for their problem. It’s typical for these struggling family members to lay their burdens at the feet of parents, siblings, spouses and others. You’ll hear them make allegations like, “You pushed me into drinking.” Don’t buy it. A loved one who’s an alcoholic will drink regardless of how much love you show them. As a friend or relative, don’t ever accept that it’s your fault. They’re the ones who embraced the bottle and accelerated their disease. Without going through alcohol detox and maintaining a life of sobriety, they will remain alcohol dependent.

Never Try to Control It

You want them to get better, so it’s natural for you to look for solutions. You’re willing to do everything possible. But right now, it may be better to fold your arms and let events play out. Unfortunately, an alcoholic usually needs a crisis. It may be a DUI, a health matter or losing their job. The crisis is a reality check and often the beginning of a new era for an alcoholic.

Trying to Cover It Up

Denial accompanies alcoholism. Your family member will hide the information about their health and state of mind. High functioning alcoholics are the masters of this game of deceit. They can maintain the outside appearance of accomplishment, happiness, and poise. Family members may never see the hours of drinking alone. Or, they may dismiss the evidence of alcoholism, such as the social drinking or smell of alcohol on their breath, because they only notice the signs occasionally.

How Family of an Alcaholic Avoids Enabling

Due to your affection toward your alcoholic loved one, you may inadvertently enable their quest for destruction. Educate yourself on common missteps that lead to enabling an alcoholic. When you enable an alcoholic, you are not allowing them to feel pain. The consequences of their actions lose clarity. For example, when an alcoholic passes out just a few steps into the yard and you help them inside and clean them up, you enable them. They remain numb to the pain. But, you feel it.
If there’s a person in your family who needs an alcohol treatment center, they also need your love and concern as they take those first courageous steps. Never expect them to stop drinking without your help and compassionate treatment from medical and behavioral health professionals. Remember that alcohol detox is not a personal process. It’s an institutional treatment in a controlled environment. Once you’ve supported them through their alcohol detox, never detach yourself. Once the medical process liberates their mind and body from the poison, the time arrives to rebuild. That’s when they need you and the rest of their family the most.


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