Have you ever lived with someone who had an alcohol problem?
Did you know that alcoholism is a disease?
If you’ve seen the the home page video, you’ll know that I grew up with an alcoholic father, but I didn’t find out it was a disease until my teenage years, so I grew up without understanding the things that were happening in my house.
In this post I will explain, based on my experience, 14 things I consider important about alcoholism.
1. Alcoholism is a disease
What begins as a “drinking” from time to time, can become, almost without realizing it, an uncontrollable addiction.
The person can’t stop drinking, even if he wants to.
Another thing is whether the alcoholic recognizes it. Normally, they deceive themselves by saying “I can stop whenever I want“, but curiously, they never do, why is that?
2. There are “cyclic alcoholics”
That means there are people who don’t drink every day, but they drink every weekend, or twice or three times a week.
I’m not saying that all people who drink alcohol every weekend are alcoholics.
What is important to know is whether the person may or may not be without alcohol.
For example, you can have a beer or two every weekend because you like it, and nothing happens. Another different thing is that you have to have the beer, and you can’t be without it. In this case, you need to investigate further.
The problem with cyclic alcoholics is that alcohol also provokes personality changes, so they are usually people with changeable behavior.
3. Transforms the behavior of people
Alcoholism causes a series of changes, for example:
- Relaxation and optimism
- Memory loss
- Increases sociability
- Decreases self-criticism
- Lots of behavioral loss inhibitions
- Increases reaction times
In my personal experience, I never knew which behavior my father would have when coming back home. Sometimes he’d be euphoric and everything would be ok, and sometimes, he’d be aggressive and everything would be wrong.
Alcohol causes these behavioral changes, in the person who drinks it.
4. Non-alcoholics can be “worse” than alcoholics
Alcoholics´partners had to deal with the disease for so long that, they often lose their way.
They have tried to do so many things for the other person, that they lose themselves.
The effects of alcohol on an alcoholic’s partner may be:
- Low self-esteem
- Inability to set limits
- Difficulty in managing everyday life
- Lack of emotional presence towards the children
- Obsession with the alcoholic person
5. Alcoholism affects children
What is said and what isn’t said, what is done and what isn’t, EVERYTHING affects the children.
Children are sponges and parents are role models.
So if the models aren’t doing very well, children grow up with:
- Low self-esteem
- Several fears
- Lack of confidence in themselves and in others
- Lack of self -appreciation
This disease is more powerful than it looks, because it affects all family members, at a very high level.
Close relatives, friends or colleagues can also see their relationship with the drinker, affected, because their reactions towards them can be completely disproportionate.
6. The person who drinks usually has a big self-esteem problem
Some of the effects of drinking alcohol are relaxation, a sense of optimism and memory loss.
It’s a good combination for a person who wants to forget everything because they are UNABLE to cope.
My father had a tough childhood. He was separated from his mother when he was very little. My grandmother told me some things that almost explain why he needed that to soothe his pain.
Of course I would have sent him to therapy, not to a bottle.
7. Alcoholics have feelings
With four or more beers, they believe they are the Mambo Kings, and can behave like the most despotic person.
In those moments, your understanding becomes dulled, anger appears and you forget about the sickness.
But in reality, it is avoidance, a resistance, an escape for some painful feelings or something that surpasses them and which they aren’t able to face.
In fact, I remember one morning when I had begun studying Gestalt psychotherapy that I talked to my father, about how I felt when he drank.
He began to talk about his feelings and believe me, I ended up telling him that he had depression, and asked him why he didn’t seek professional help.
But he didn’t follow my advice.
8. There is help for the alcoholic
I suppose you’ve heard about Alcoholics Anonymous, but just in case you’ve never heard about them, this is a support group for people with problems with alcohol.
The good thing about this group is that they are people who have stopped drinking, and have passed the same process:
- Denial of the problem
- Self- delusion
- Inability to stop drinking
- Abstinence symptoms
Former members may accompany the new abstemious, or even help them take the first step to stop drinking.
To learn more about this nonprofit organization, you can click on the link that I’m including on the website Alcoholics Anonymous.
9. There is help for relatives of alcoholics
There is another organization called Al-Anon which offers help to people who live or have a relationship with a drinker. There are also groups for children, called Al-Ateen.
You can find more information about them on their website Al-Anon.
Aat 14, started going Al-Ateen groups because my mother “forced” me to go. But after 4 or 5 sessions, I was already asking her to go. They helped me a lot to understand what was happening in my house and how my father’s sickness was affecting everyone close to him. And another very important thing was that I found a place to express my feelings.
Then, when I was 19 I began a process of personal growth and psychotherapy, which made me a new person.
So if you are living in a situation where there’s an alcohol problem, don’t hesitate to contact these associations, because there are support groups in every city.
I’m sure you can find one near you.
10. You don’t have to blame yourself
As a child I felt very guilty about my father’s behavior. I came to think that maybe there was something wrong with me, that caused these reactions.
But of course it wasn’t my fault that he drank, and it’s not yours either.
Each person is responsible for what he does with his life, his body and his decisions.
But when the person is drunk, he or she can blame you for all of his or her problems, but don’t believe them.
11. You can’t help the alcoholic if he/she doesn’t accept your help
As much as you explain that there is a place where he can get help, that the problem may be related to alcohol, that there are people who have been through it … it will be a waste of time, if he doesn’t want to listen.
Remember that one of the requirements for a person to accept help is that he is open to receive it. And this isn’t only for alcohol addiction, but also for any kind of problem.
Because we tend to self-deceive by telling ourselves:
- “I don’t have a problem”
- “It’s not a big deal”
- “I can handle it alone”
So while it is good that you tell the drinker that there is help for him and where to find information, the most important thing is to get help for yourself.
Remember that “if an element of the system changes, it causes a change in the whole system,” so if a person in the family unit changes, it will cause a change in the rest of the family.
12. Take responsibility for yourself and let the alcoholic take his or her own
One of the most important decisions my mother took, after going to Al-Anon groups, was to stop buying beer or wine for my father.
This decision was also imitated by her daughters.
We explained our position of not wanting him to drink, and our decision on being him who’d have to buy the drug.
That didn’t stop him from buying it, of course, but I think it was one of the first limits set at home.
She also created a new bank account where she deposited her salary. Thereafter, money began lasting until the end of the month.
Two small examples, but they show a way to take control of the situation, and leave the alcoholic alone with his own responsibility.
13. If the alcoholic stops drinking, it won’t imply a change in his personality
Alcoholism causes behavioral changes in the person and if the person stops drinking, it doesn’t mean they will immediately change their behavior.
To modify certain behavioral patterns the person must take responsibility for himself, and work on it, to change it.
But that happens to everybody. You cannot change a person, we can only change ourselves.
So, if he finally decides to stop drinking, don’t expect miracles.
There will come a hard period in which you’ill have to continue coping with many things you don’t like.
But it’s a big step, if the patient recognizes his illness and gets involved in treatment.
14. Work on your recovery
Both Al-Anon and Alcoholics Anonymous are based on a 12-step program that people have to follow to achieve recovery.
The fourth step requires insight into your character, to look at what you like and dislike, what you want to keep and what you want to drop, etc.
It’s very important from now to focus your attention on yourself.
Renew your list of priorities and put yourself first.
Besides from Al-anon and Alateen groups, all of the psychotherapy and personal growth courses I did have helped me a lot, because both are compatible.
So if you need help, don’t hesitate to ask a professional.
I hope my experience will help you identify whether another person’s alcoholism is affecting you in any way. If so, get in touch with the support groups I’ve mentioned in the post, and if you have any other questions, leave a comment.