Loving a Drinking Alcoholic Hurts

"Alcoholism is a family illness" is a phrase that's bandied about so frequently that we assume we know what it means.  It's implications are so profound we've developed the practice of saying the sentence while ignoring its meaning.  It's easy to get angry at schools ignoring the needs of children of alcoholics (which make up around 25% of kids in a classroom) or at treatment providers not offering family members the care they need and deserve.  It's easy to get angry with institutions and practicioners.  It's more difficult to deal with the sadness that comes from working with spouses, children and parents of alcoholics.  Few come here looking for help for themselves.  The majority come looking for a way to fix their alcoholic/addicted loved one.  They are desperately looking for a technique, strategy or well crafted phrase that would result in their loved one entering into treatment.  Their suffering is palpable yet their focus is on the other.  "If only he/she would stop drinking everything would be fine."

Truth is that the best first step a family member or loved one can do to help an alcoholic is to immerse themselves in their own program of recovery.  It indicates a seriousness about change and results in an internal transformation for the family member.  In one sense nothing has changed but in a deeper sense everything has.  Alcohol Services can help a family member(s) develop and implement a strategy to regain control of their home, detach with love from the alcoholic's behavior, create a strategy where the alcoholic suffers the consequences of alcoholic behavior and make entering treatment an attractive option for the alcoholic.  The problem is unless the loved one is engaged in a program of recovery of their own they either will be unable to take the necessary steps or if they do it will tear their heart to pieces. 

Facing this issue a family gets a glimpse how difficult recovery is for the alcoholic/addict.  Their resistance to attending four Al Anon or Families Anonymous meetings per week mirrors the alcoholics resistance to AA meetings.  "Why do I have to do all this stuff?  She's the one with the problem!"  If they don't take care of themselves, odds are even if the alcoholic/addict recovers the family will be stuck in the anger, sadness and fear of the past.  The key is to get the entire family involved in recovery.  The shift is defining themselves as a "family in recovery"  rather than simply viewing the alcoholic/addict as the "designated screw up".

The pain of family members will not be healed by the action of the alcoholic/addict.  They need and deserve care for the unique "illness" that comes from loving an active alcoholic/addict.  Alcohol Services is very good at helping them address the situation but Al Anon and Families Anonymous are essential for attaining healing.