Thursday, April 16, 2015

How Alcoholism Affects Loved Ones

Originally posted on Yahoo August 5, 2008, later posted on and then removed from Persona Paper

(All stories with names changed came from various Alanon meetings.)

Linda scrambles to finish the dishes after dinner and quickly dresses her children in warm fall jackets. She rushes outside to a spot behind the bushes and bends low, embracing and shushing her four babies who by now are so accustomed to hiding, they know the routine.

Daddy's car pulls into the driveway. He ambles into the house and walks directly to the refrigerator. He opens a beer and gulps it down. One can after another finds its way to the mound of empty cans piling up on the floor next to the recliner.

In their position behind the bushes, Mom and kids watch Daddy pop open each can and flip through the channels. Nobody moves in the bushes until Mom gives the signal. She knows how long it takes her husband to pass out in front of the television. Once again she has successfully managed to avoid the beatings and emotional torture she and her children have been suffering for years.

Linda's children are only four of the millions of children whose parents are alcoholics. She wonders if staying with her husband will build character in her children or if leaving him will be more painful for them. She wonders how many of them will become alcoholics themselves.

Jerry's wife, Amber, has blessed her husband with a child. Sadly, Cassie's facial deformities announce her disability, fetal alcohol syndrome. Amber is pregnant again – with Cassie's sister. Amber admits she drinks too much, but says she can't handle the stress in her life without a couple of glasses of wine each day. Unfortunately "a couple" to Amber is actually four to six to anybody who counts.

Literature from a variety of sources on fetal alcohol syndrome recommends that pregnant woman drink no alcoholic beverages whatsoever. Many alcoholics refuse to admit they have problems, though, so denial feeds into the continued problem. Though she feels guilty, Amber will continue to drink. The more she drinks, the worse she feels. The worse she feels, the more she drinks.

Unaware of the cycle that revolves around her, she sinks deeper and deeper into depression, oblivious to the fact that alcohol itself is a depressant. What she doesn't know is that she is also a candidate for breast cancer.

Resources such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Alanon, Alateen, therapy, hospital admission, rehabilitation centers, and prescription drugs exist to help the alcoholics and their family members deal with the effects of alcoholism. All the while, through whatever help they hope will work, loved ones wait for their alcoholic to hit bottom.

"Hitting bottom" is a phrase used to indicate the moment when the alcoholic suddenly discovers he needs to change, the moment when he finally admits he is an alcoholic. Bottom, it turns out, is different for everybody.

Forcing the alcoholic to hit bottom, without clinical support, can result in disaster. And support groups admonish people who try to reform the alcoholic without help from a knowledgeable therapist. What loved ones learn is that people can change only themselves and only if they want to change.

At one open AA meeting many years ago a former alcoholic defined his moment. While shaving and combing his hair in the bathroom mirror he saw, in the reflection, a miniature tuxedo hanging on the shower rod behind him. The suit belonged to his young son who was to be a ring bearer in a wedding that day. Having already lost one family due to his addiction, this father decided in that moment that he was not going to lose another family. From that moment on, he never had another drink.

Friends and family members pray for moments like that. They ask when their alcoholic loved ones will experience their own epiphanies. The emotional torment loved ones endure becomes unbearable.

For all the pain and suffering the alcoholic inflicts upon his or her family and friends, however, no greater pain is felt than that which the alcoholic inflicts upon him-or herself.

Despite efforts made by loved ones, despite fervent prayers to help the alcoholic, despite all of the resources available to people addicted to alcohol, alcoholics sometimes die, leaving in their wake sadness, confusion, destitution, loss, chaos, and unresolved anger. Most of them will never know how much they were truly loved.

The best anyone who loves an alcoholic can do is to change the way he or she responds to the alcoholic. Repeated arguments manifest in the form of a hideous dance where one partner follows the other in predictable and exasperating patterns. Change the pattern and the response changes.

Hating the disease but loving the alcoholic places loved ones in a different frame of mind. Loved ones must learn how to draw boundaries and be firm about not allowing unacceptable behavior.

The effects alcohol has on the entire family are often devastating, but compassion and a commitment to forgive even seemingly unforgivable behavior lifts a burden from the minds and hearts of the people who love their alcoholics the most.

Forgiveness is a choice. It doesn't absolve the alcoholic from past behavior and it doesn't erase memories loved ones will never forget, but it allows the soul to free itself from the misery it has been carrying around and it changes the dynamics of the relationship.

"Unease, anxiety, tension, stress, worry - all forms of fear - are cause by too much future, and not enough presence. Guilt, regret, resentment, grievances, sadness, bitterness, and all forms of nonforgiveness are caused by too much past, and not enough presence.” (Eckhart Tolle)

photo courtesy of MindExpansi0n on Morguefile


  1. This is an excellent overview of something that sadly affects too many people.

  2. I wish more alcoholics had higher bottoms!