St Patrick’s Day is torture for those living with an alcoholic

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.


Why family support is vital

“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.”


Break the cycle

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.

Family support and coping strategies

“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.”


Family checklist

  • Take care of yourself.
  • Know where to go for more help and support.
  • Remember that it’s OK to ask for help.
  • Support other family members.
  • Realise that you can’t fix your relative or friend, and that they need to take steps to stop or cut down their use.
  • Know what to do in case of an emergency.
  • Understand that recovery can be a long process and that relapse is common.
  • Know where to get more information about available treatment options.
  • Understand treatment options that are available, and what each one offers.
  • Understand the effects of alcohol and other drugs. If you need more information, ask a support worker.


Enlisting support

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:


  • Stop rescue missions: Stop rescue attempts (such as making excuses to others) so the alcoholic will fully experience the harmful effects of his or her drinking.
  • Time your intervention: Talk shortly after an alcohol-related problem has occurred. Choose a time when he, or she, is sober, when you are calm and when you can speak privately.
  • Be specific: Tell the person you are concerned about his or her drinking and want to be supportive. Back up your concern with examples of the ways in which his or her drinking has caused problems.
  • State the consequences: Tell the person that until he or she gets help, you will carry out consequences – not to punish them, but to protect yourself.
  • Be ready to help: Gather information in advance about local treatment options.
  • Get support: Whether or not the addicted person seeks help, you may benefit from the support of other people in your situation –  regardless of whether or not the alcoholic family member chooses to get help.

Where to get help

  • Your GP: Make an appointment with your GP. He or she will provide support as well as suggest where to go for further help.
  • Al-anon: Al-Anon is a group that offers support to families and friends of alcoholics, and is separate from Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Similarly, Alateen provides support for teenagers affected by the problem drinking of a parent or other family member. http://www.al-anon-ireland.org/
  • askaboutalcohol.ie is a HSE website offering advice for anyone living with, or worried about, an alcohol addiction: http://www.askaboutalcohol.ie/worried-about-someone-else
  • Tabor Group: It has been our experience at Tabor Group for many years, that when a family is affected by addiction, then the whole family can benefit from support. Education, one-to-one support and peer support groups are all provided through the Tabor Lodge Family Support Programme. http://www.taborgroup.ie/tabor-lodge/support-services/



Get Help at Tabor Group

If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction to Alcohol, Drugs, Gambling or Food, get help today. We can help you recover in a healthy, friendly environment and beat your addiction. Don’t hesitate to contact one of our counsellors today at +353 (21) 488 7110 or Email Us and we can help you.