Loving someone who has an alcohol addiction is a constant strain and affects the entire family.
Living with an addicted person is exasperated further by events associated with ‘being sociable’ such as weddings, birthdays and dates such as St Patrick’s Day – when most people are off work ‘celebrating’.
St Patrick’s Day is especially tough as it is associated with the Irish drinking culture and can be a key time for relapse if someone has been working hard to stay sober.
For those in active addiction, it offers a chance to indulge their disease as “everyone is in the pub” while a partner or children are left behind, worrying about what’s coming home to them.
When you live with, or are close to someone with a drinking problem, you often end up thinking it’s your fault, which is why families need support from people who understand addiction.
Going to a support group, or getting involved in a family programme at an addiction treatment centre provides emotional support.
“Just knowing that others had similar problems really helped,” says Mary, whose partner is an alcoholic. “I thought my husband drank because he didn’t care enough about me and the kids, or anyone else.
“I thought he did it deliberately to upset me and it drove me mad that he would miss family time on days like St Patrick’s Day. Other families were at a parade, we were at home waiting for him to stumble in from the pub. I hated him at times.
“But when you find out that alcoholism is a disease, or addiction, you realise the person is drinking because they don’t know how to stop.”
It’s a vicious circle of stress – sometimes a family member might be so anxious about the drinker getting into money trouble, for example, that they pay all their bills.
Sometimes problem drinkers deliberately make others angry, particularly partners, because then they have an excuse for what they’re doing. They have justification for the drinking they’ve just done, and the excuse to drink more.
“My family support group helped me to see that all alcoholics do this, it’s not your particular husband, wife, child, mother, father, sister or best friend,” says Mary.
“One of the main strategies you learn is not to take on the blame. You’re not responsible for someone who is sick. If they had cancer or diabetes, you wouldn’t think it was your fault,” says Mary.
Learning to accept that you can’t control someone else’s drinking is key, she says.
“You learn to detach and not do things for the drinker that they should do themselves. If their behaviour is out of line, they need to accept responsibility and the consequences.
“Their illness won’t improve because you do everything for them and excuse their behaviour. Support them but also realise that you must take care of yourself too.”
Alcoholism treatment specialists recognise that persons with addiction are more likely to do well in treatment with family support. They recommend the following steps to help an addicted person accept treatment:
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