Family members living with alcoholics often find themselves in a tough spot. They feel it is their responsibility to “make” their loved one stop drinking or they downplay how the alcoholic is affecting their lives. Sometimes, they even blame themselves for the alcoholic’s destructive behaviors.
Often, when family members fall into these maladjusted thought patterns, it can be hard to break free of them. They need their own kind of “rehab” or counseling – whether it be 12-step meetings, such as Alanon or CODA, or individual or family therapy sessions.
Even if the alcoholic stops drinking, the family will not automatically snap back to normal. All involved need to make serious lifestyle changes. Family members develop the following behaviors to help them survive life with an with someone struggling with alcoholism, and these habits can be hard to break by will alone:
It is natural to want to help family members avoid getting in trouble, so people will make excuses for alcoholics, blaming their drunkenness on stress, a bad day, a birthday or a Monday; loan them money for alcohol or to pay bills they can’t afford because of funds spent on drinking; bail them out of jail if they get arrested for a DUI, and otherwise help them avoid consequences of their drinking. While they think they are helping, enabling can lead to long-term harm. It allows the person to drink freely since they know they have a safety net. Breaking free from enabling is tough, because of the guilt factor.
Denial and Minimization
It’s easy to insist that the alcoholic doesn’t have a problem, especially if he or she echoes the sentiment. It’s also easy to insist that the problem exists but it is not that bad — even if it is absolutely horrible. People living with alcoholics and struggling with other types of dysfunctional relationships do this as a way to survive what they are going through. Staying in denial can stop a person from pursuing a healthy relationship, or even repairing the one that they’re in to make it more functional. Denial is very common with children of alcoholics.
The blame game can go on for years if no one seeks outside help. Family members attack the alcoholic for being a drunk, an embarrassment, etc., and the alcoholic retorts that he drinks because of how he is treated in the family. Even if the alcoholic is an embarrassment, bringing more attention to it by shaming her is rarely, if ever helpful, and actually gives her an excuse to keep drinking without any internal reflection. Blaming family members for the drinking is just another way to avoid responsibility, similar to taking advantage of an enabler.
While family support is an important aspect of recovery, family members are not responsible for the alcoholic getting better, or declining to get better. They are, however, responsible for their own emotional recovery. They can begin their recovery process at any time, whether the alcoholic is pursuing treatment or not. This will help them come to a decision on how to best proceed in regards to the relationship.
About the Author
Kathleen Esposito is a certified addictions counselor in the Pacific Northwest. She helps individuals recover from drug, alcohol and gambling dependencies through group and individual therapy and regularly speaks at treatment centers.