Alcoholism is, indeed, a family disease. Anyone caught up in the immediate orbit of the alcoholic will be drawn into the chaos and pain, as there is no way to separate from the overall effects of the alcoholism. These effects run far and deep, impacting family members in all aspects of life.
For this reason, treatment for the alcoholic must also include the family component. Family members need to articulate their own pain and frustration as part of the healing process in recovery. Alcoholism family support is a key treatment element for both the family members and to teach them how to best support their loved one in recovery.
How Alcoholism Impacts the Family
Alcoholism can over shadow every other thing in the alcoholic’s life, including his or her own family. Drinking takes over, becoming an obsession that leaves little room for family time, parenting, or participating in the children’s activities. Even though the alcoholic may be physically present, they are often inebriated and not tuned in to the moment at hand.
There are several ways that alcoholism impacts the family. Some of these include:
- Causes stress on all family members, constant worry about the alcoholic
- May lead to violent or abusive behaviors directed at family members
- Causes financial problems, due to money spent on alcohol, a DUI or job loss
- Subliminally teaches children maladaptive ways to manage life’s stressors
- Impacts overall health and wellbeing of family members, due to chronic stress
Disordered Responses to the Alcoholism
When there is an alcoholic in the family it sets up a domino effect of disordered responses. As humans, most people do the best they can in their attempts to minimize the damage caused by the alcoholic, but these efforts have the potential to backfire.
It is very hard to face the fact that a member of the family has become addicted to alcohol. It can elicit feelings of shame, guilt, and fear. For many family members, the knee jerk response to the alcoholism is to be in denial. Somehow, it is thought, if we just ignore the problem or hide it from others it will go away in time. Denial only postpones the person getting the treatment they need and allows the disease to progress to more dangerous levels.
Once the alcoholism has been acknowledged, family members may seek ways to limit the damage caused by the alcoholic’s behaviors. Sometimes the enabling behaviors are rooted in love and good intentions, but by constantly bailing out the alcoholic by covering for them, paying their bills, and cleaning up their messes it only contributes to their refusal to take responsibility for their own disease.
Support for the Family Members
Alcoholism family support is not only about helping the alcoholic. The family members themselves need support, as it is extremely taxing to have a loved one in the family who battles alcoholism. Family members may find themselves dealing with increased anxiety symptoms, feelings of despair and isolation, and are at higher risk of catching colds and other illnesses due to the toll on their immune system.
There are organizations, such as Al-anon, that are designed solely for the loved ones of the alcoholic. In the Al-anon meetings family members learn that they are not alone and can gain a great deal of support there. A classic Al-anon saying is that “You are not the cause of someone else’s drinking, you cannot control it, and you cannot cure it.”
Psychotherapy is another good source of support for family members of alcoholics, allowing them to freely share the struggles and sorrows related to their loved one’s alcoholism and receive professional guidance in managing those emotions.
Alcoholism Family Support Objectives
The family can be an important source of support for the alcoholic in recovery. When everyone comes together with the unified goal of providing a healthy, supportive environment for the recovering alcoholic great things happen. Some tips for helping this become a reality include:
- Participate in family counseling. This helps family members convey their frustrations, trust issues, and anger in a clinical setting where the therapist can guide the conversation toward positive outcomes. New communication skills and conflict resolution techniques can help the family move forward.
- Remove all alcohol and drugs from the home. This includes the items that one wouldn’t initially think of, such as vanilla extract or over the counter medications. The home should be substance-free for a minimum of one year while the family member is reinforcing recovery.
- Establish healthy boundaries. Setting limits and articulating consequences is essential for the family as well as the recovering alcoholic. It may be difficult at first to set firm boundaries, but this will actually help the person in recovery resist falling back into former behaviors and resist relapse.
When your loved one is ready to commit to recovery, having a united family support plan will help all members of the family overcome the effects of this devastating disease.
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