Alcoholism Is A Family Disease Part 1

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As I walked into the local market to do my weekly shopping, I was captured by the heated debate amongst traders, on whether the recent raids on alcohol dens sanctioned by the country’s leadership were helpful towards alcoholics or not. The debate generated quite varied reactions, and one lady expressed her joy over the destruction of illegal liquor, as her children would stop hiding under their beds when their drunken dad came home and was violent.

The second shared how she had bailed her husband out of jail several times, and paid for his search on many more occasions, when having not appeared home for several days, they suspected he was in danger. The third advised the rest to just pray and keep family issues within the family as there was no need to share them with the outside world. The last lady recounted how she could never trust anyone. Their mum would repeatedly lie to them that their dad had travelled, only for him to come home after a week looking awful. She had learnt not to trust anybody as her mum lied and dad was never there, even if everything they needed was supplied.

Their collective expressions were marked with anger, sadness, frustration and finally a level of joy that the illicit liquor would not be easily accessible. These conversations had me once again reflect about the challenges that families living with alcohol addicts go through, and how most of them have no idea how to support the alcoholics or themselves.

Alcoholism or alcohol dependence is a severe type of drinking problem where one takes too much alcohol, too often and for an extended period of time. The signs that one should look out for to detect alcoholism include: drinking more alcohol than usual; inability to reduce or control one’s alcohol intake; inability to function without alcohol; according extra time and effort to taking alcohol; spending less time doing important things and substituting this time with drinking alcohol. Families and individuals need to look out for these signs, as sliding into alcoholism is usually a gradual process and doesn’t happen overnight.

The two main reasons why people become alcoholics revolve around pain and pleasure. With regards to pain, most people start and get hooked up to alcohol to forget the pain hidden inside them. When they drink alcohol, reality doesn’t hurt as much, and to continue keeping away from the hurtful reality, they drink until they get hooked. Few people drink alcohol for pleasure, to have fun and to enjoy life. However, almost everyone asked say they drink for pleasure, which is untrue.

Why do they lie and cover up, you may ask? Well….most people won’t admit they have challenging issues. Society has unfortunately taught us that it is shameful to expose our weaknesses, and expects us to have the capacity to solve our own challenges. This is especially expected of men, leading to increased cases of people adapting to coping methods like alcoholism that hurt them and their loved ones in the long run.

So let’s stop for a moment here and acknowledge that – Alcoholism Is A Family Disease because it affects not just the alcoholic, but also other members of the family. It also affects friends, co-workers and employers. Alcoholics and very often members of the family, deny existence of the addiction. They alcoholic will admit to taking alcohol but assure you that they can stop if they decide to. It is observed that every type of addiction comes with a lot of shame for both the victim and the family, hence the frequent denial. Accepting the stark reality of alcoholism for both the individual and family is the first and most important step, without which there will be no progress.
Given that Alcoholism Is A Family Disease, what effects are typically observed in these situations?

Parents with an addicted child:

  • Financial instability – children may steal to keep up the addiction plus extra bills incurred by the alcoholic.
  • Emotional stress – living in anxiety about what may happen to their children or what they may do.
  • Legal battles – resulting from unlawful acts by the addicted child.
  • Health issues – associated with too much alcohol intake requiring medical attention.

The Alcoholic’s spouse,

  • Dual Roles – performing the role of the alcoholic since they are absent most times.
  • Financial difficulties – resulting from the unexpected expenditure drinking brings.
  • Dependence – over reliance on and allowing the children to play the role of alcoholic parent. Children take to helping the  present parent and playing some roles of the absent one.
  • Separation/divorce – resulting from the inability to cope with the alcoholic.
  • Emotional stress – feeling of self-pity, anger, guilt, resentment, exhaustion, frustration and sometimes low self-esteem.

The Alcoholic’s children

  • Low self esteem
  • A lot of shame
  • Loneliness and helplessness
  • Fear of abandonment
  • Chronic depression
  • Guilt – because sometimes they blame themselves for the parent’s drinking
  • Insecurity – as the family gets addicted to helping the victim and do not get time to protect and love the children
  • Controlled – because the active parent may over protect the children so that they do not end up like the addict.
  • Trust issues – as children’s first role models are parents. When they do not model the appropriate behavior, children may    interpret the whole world to be the same.
  • Controlling – some may hate the alcohol and while they may not drink, they may become too controlling of people around  them, including their spouse when older and children so that they do not get into similar habits.
  • Addiction – some may totally embrace the habit and start drinking from an early stage becoming addicts themselves.

Alcoholism is a family disease and families need to be open and accept help, for there are two unhealthy patterns found in the families of alcoholics: they do as much as possible to protect the marriage or the family and project it as perfect family, including covering up for them and cleaning their mess that only helps the alcoholic to continue; or, the family becomes overly concerned with the alcoholic’s problems, to the point of neglecting their own needs.

Once one has been an alcoholic, they will always remain recovering alcoholics. This is because there is no cure, and it is easy to relapse or fall back to the same old habit of alcohol dependence. All care givers also need help because it is mentally, physically and emotionally draining to take care of an addict. Sometimes poor or inadequate family support may lead to intake of other drugs or relapse as the alcoholic is journeying to recovery.

Alcoholism Is A Family Disease, and considering that all family members are affected, the whole family needs treatment. Treatment involves taking care of the family’s physical, psychological, emotional and social needs. Most families argue that the alcoholic is the one with a problem. However, even if this were the case which it is not, when the alcoholic gets treated, these families are still not equipped to offer support to the recovering addict and to help them become productive. As such treatment for the whole family is highly recommended.

With this realization, we need to rally ourselves as families to know and understand alcoholism and the critical role we can play towards recognition, support and recovery. The key question is….. going forwards, what can we do, what should we do, what must we do?

Keep it here for practical tips on the do’s and don’ts of handling alcoholism……………………………..

#End of Part 1 Click here for part 2

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