A Guide For The Family Of An Alcoholic
The best defense of a family against the emotional impact of alcoholism is to acquire the necessary knowledge, emotional maturity, and courage in dealing with the alcoholic. People who are capable of helping an alcoholic may become confused and harmful when a family member becomes an active alcoholic. The immediate relative or person responsible for the alcoholic may need more help than the alcoholic himself if he is to begin an effective recovery program. Alcoholism is a disease that has a huge impact on the emotional life of the immediate family. The husband, wife, mother, father, siblings or children become the most vulnerable.
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The more distorted their feelings are, the less they will be able to help the alcoholic. Their efforts can be – and often do – harmful, not helpful. Often, for example, wives are accused of all the misunderstandings in the marriage of an alcoholic. This can lead them to believe that the accusations themselves are true. Meanwhile, alcoholism is an illness. A wife is not responsible for alcoholism any more than she would be responsible for her husband’s diabetes or tuberculosis. There are no wives who are actually responsible for the development of her husband’s alcoholism, and therefore she is not responsible for his recovery either. However, due to a lack of awareness, she may allow the disease to develop secretly.
Without real understanding and courage, she may remain passive throughout the progression of the disease. Although the wife is not responsible for alcoholism, she may cause her husband to neglect to seek help or to take steps that may result in recovery, despite the lack of a guarantee of complete recovery. The same principle applies to all family members, especially the person who is most important in the life of the alcoholic. It cannot “cure” his disease.
Even a physician should not treat his or her own serious illness, and will rarely act as a physician for the immediate family member, especially a wife or child. As the disease develops, family members become emotionally involved. The best help they can offer is to find help for themselves and to improve their own situation so that they do not contribute to the symptoms of alcoholic disease, rather than help in its treatment. The mistakes made by family members’ “good intentions” are sometimes so great that they prevent the patient from being healed. It is important to understand at the outset that the family can try to do what it thinks is best, and yet the disease will not be stopped.
However, if the family sincerely wants to learn the truth about alcoholism and put this knowledge into practice, the chances of recovery will increase significantly. The best way to help treat the alcoholic is to actually eliminate the lack of awareness: gain the right point of view based on an understanding of the disease and courage in dealing with the alcoholic. If we start to act in the old way, that is, by trying to make the alcoholic stop drinking, rather than by learning and changing our attitudes, it will only make things worse. We must first understand that the problem of alcoholism is “not in the bottle”, but in people!
Of course, recovery will not begin until the alcoholic is able to detach himself completely from the bottle and abstain from this “recovery”. Healing can be compared to building a Gothic arch. The foundations of its structure are invisible, many people lay down the individual bricks that make up this arch, but the cornerstone must be laid by the alcoholic himself, otherwise the whole structure will not do its job. No one can do for the alcoholic what he should do himself. You cannot take medication for a sick person and expect the patient to recover.
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The decision and the action must be made by the alcoholic himself, of his own free will, if the treatment is to have a lasting effect. It is amazing how an alcoholic can rule over an entire family, especially a wife or mother. He drinks constantly and the family screams, cries, begs, prays, threatens, or is completely silent. He tries to hide everything, defend and shield the alcoholic from the effects of his drinking. If the alcoholic continues to act like an “idol”, it is because the family is unable to oppose his attitude and thus reassures him in the misconception of his own “omnipotence”. To preserve this morbid mania of omnipotence, the alcoholic uses two kinds of weapons. The family must learn to resist it, or else it will become enslaved by the disease itself, creating serious emotional and psychological problems for itself.