Dealing with the Alcoholic in Your Family

Posted · Add Comment

Dealing with the Alcoholic in Your Family

The person most affected by addiction is the addict himself or herself, but alcohol addiction also harms the loved ones around him or her. If you have an alcohol addict in your family, you have probably witnessed many painful moments of unpredictable behavior, dishonesty, and pain as both drunkenness and the craving for it takes over a person’s life and turned them into somebody you don’t recognize.

The social stigma around alcoholism has led many families to simply keep it as a secret, feel guilt or shame that they somehow “caused” the addiction, or enable the addiction by doing whatever it takes to keep the addict quiet and happy. These are understandable reactions to a deeply troubling reality, but not ones that will deal with the problem. Here are some alternatives that can help you both care for yourself, and guide the troubled family member to the help he or she needs.

Educate yourself

Read as much as you can about the addiction process. Our culture has popular misconceptions about addiction masquerading as “common sense, but also a lot of sources to get the truth. Websites run by treatment centers and programs, books about recovery and addiction, and interactions with friends can help you understand the truth about addiction. The group Al-Alon runs support groups for friends and families of alcoholics, allowing you to connect with other people struggling with similar issues, and hear from others the best ways to care for both them and yourself.

Realize it’s not your fault

It may be easy to blame yourself for your family member’s behavior. Some people may feel like they should be doing more to protect other family members or prevent the addict from drinking, particularly if their drinking causes them to transition from polite and pleasant to belligerent or even violent. The truth is that alcoholism is a disease caused by a wide variety of biological and environmental factors. Some people are both incapable of cutting back on their drinking and driven to consume alcohol at every opportunity.

That does not mean they are hopeless, in fact there are many possible options to help an addict recover. However, you did not cause this person’s addiction. Also, you are not going to be able to “solve” it without the cooperation of the addict. The commitment required for sobriety will only be successful if each individual makes the decision for him- or herself.

It may be very easy to focus all your attention on doing whatever you can to help the addict get better, and that can easily get exhausting. Whatever you do, don’t forget to look after your own needs. Take time to do enjoyable activities for yourself and take a break to give yourself needed rest. If you are ever worried about your own personal safety, or that of children in your house, do not hesitate to escape and do whatever it takes to protect yourself.

Help, but don’t enable

You may love and care very deeply for this addicted person, and would be willing to do almost anything for them. It is important that the way you “help” actually point towards recovery, rather than sustain the addiction. Giving money, lying to protect them, or otherwise shielding them from the harmful consequences of their drinking is “enabling,” and furthering the addict’s sense of denial.

Many people are unable to recognize that their drinking has become a problem until they hit a “rock bottom” where they are forced to come to terms with how their habit is ruining their life. It may be hard to leave someone alone in their addiction, but it may be a necessary part of them realizing their need for help.

The best thing you can do to help someone is point the way towards a recovery program. Do not try to preach at them or shame them into seeking help, but speak honestly about how you are concerned about them, how their drinking affects you, and specific steps they can take to pursue real sobriety.

Understand and support the recovery process

When alcoholics pursue sobriety, it is only the beginning of a long process of discovering truth about the self, seeking reconciliation, and making radical changes in their lives. It may be very difficult to regain a sense of trust. As you seek to rebuild your relationship, it is important to communicate your feelings honestly.

The person will need your support, but simply telling them you have forgiven them before you are truly able to will not help repair your relationship. Rebuilding trust is often something that is going to take a lot of time, and recovery is a process that will take a lifetime. They may make some radical changes in their everyday living, and you can best support their goals through honest communication.