Alcoholism is a disease which affects every member of the family. Often, the kids who make it into the Alateen rooms report they generally have more problems dealing with the non-drinking parent than they do the alcoholic. The reason being that, although he is an alcoholic, he is predictable.
Kids can read the alcoholic like a book. They know exactly when it’s the right time to ask for extra money, or to go somewhere with their friends and also know when it’s time to make themselves scarce and get out of the way. They know the routine as far as the alcoholic is concerned. But they never know where the non-drinking parent is coming from next.
One minute she (or he as the case may be) is screaming at the alcoholic ? threatening them with everything from divorce to death ? and the next minute she may be compassionately rescuing him from the consequences of his latest episode ? dutifully cleaning up his messes, making excuses for him and accepting an increasing degree of unacceptable behavior.
The kids are generally confused by these double standards of behavior manifestation. But the truth is that the disease of alcoholism has affected the life of the non-alcoholic, her attitude and her thinking, perhaps more dramatically than it has the drinking spouse without her even realizing it.
Alcoholism works the same way. A progressive disease, it may start out with casually accepting unacceptable behavior ? “Oh, he didn’t mean that, he just had too much to drink last night”. A few years down the road, the behavior has slowly grown more and more intolerable, but it is still being accepted and becomes the ‘norm’.
She ends up with chaos in her own home that, a few short years ago, would have been unthinkable.
As that same type of behavior becomes routine in her own home, the last thing that would occur to her is to pick up the telephone and get help. She has slowly been drawn into the thinking that the alcoholic should be protected. She has learned to cover for him, lie for him and hide the truth. She has learned to keep secrets, no matter how bad the chaos and insanity all around her has become.
Few who have been affected by the disease of alcoholism realize that by ‘protecting’ the alcoholic with little lies and deceptions to the outside world, which have slowly but surely increased in size and dimension, she has actually created a situation which makes it easier for him to continue ? and progress ? in his downward spiral. Rather than help the alcoholic and herself, she has actually enabled him to get worse.
How families can provide treatment:
“How Can I Get an Alcoholic Into Treatment?” “If an alcoholic is unwilling to seek help, is there any way to get him or her into treatment?”
This can be a challenging situation. An alcoholic cannot be forced to get help, except under certain circumstances, such as when a violent incident results in police being called, or following a medical emergency.
This doesn’t mean, however, that you have to wait for a crisis to make an impact. Based on clinical experience, many alcoholism treatment specialists recommend the following steps to help an alcoholic accept treatment:
Stop all ‘rescue missions’– Family members often try to protect an alcoholic from the results of his or her behavior by making excuses to others about his or her drinking and by getting him or her out of alcohol-related situations. It is important to stop all such rescue attempts immediately, so that the alcoholic will fully experience the harmful effects of his or her drinking ? thereby become more motivated to stop.
Time your intervention – Plan to talk with the drinker shortly after an alcohol-related problem has occurred ? for example, a serious family argument in which drinking played a part or an alcohol-related accident. Also, choose a time when he or she is sober, when both of you are in a calm frame of mind and when you can speak privately.
Be specific – Tell the family member that you are concerned about his or her drinking and want to be supportive in getting help. Back up your concern with examples of the ways in which his or her drinking has caused problems for both of you, including the most recent incident.
State the consequences – Tell the family member that, until he or she gets help, you will carry out consequences ? not to punish the drinker, but to protect yourself from the harmful effects of their drinking. These may range from refusing to go with the person to any alcohol-related social activities to moving out of the house. Do not make any threats you are not prepared to carry out.
Be ready to help – Gather information in advance about local treatment options. If the person is willing to seek help, call immediately for an appointment with a treatment program counselor. Offer to go with the family member on the first visit to a treatment program and/or AA meeting.
Call on a friend – If the family member still refuses to get help, ask a friend to talk to him or her, using the steps described above. A friend who is a recovering alcoholic may be particularly persuasive, but any caring, nonjudgmental friend may be able to make a difference. The intervention of more than one person, more than one time, is often necessary to persuade an alcoholic person to seek help.
Find strength in numbers – With the help of a professional therapist, some families join with other relatives and friends to confront an alcoholic as a group. While this approach may be effective, it should only be attempted under the guidance of a therapist who is experienced in this kind of group intervention.
Get support – Whether or not the alcoholic family member seeks help, you may benefit from the encouragement and support of other people in your situation. Support groups offered in most communities include Al-Anon, which holds regular meetings for spouses and other significant adults in an alcoholic’s life and Alateen, for children of alcoholics. These groups help family members understand that they are not responsible for an alcoholic’s drinking and that they need to take steps to take care of themselves, regardless of whether or not the alcoholic family member chooses to get help.
Hear a personal story from Skylar talking about the alcohol treatment he received from Sovereign Health
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