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Dealing With an Alcoholic

Dealing with an alcoholic can make you doubt your judgment and even question your sanity. You may find yourself constantly making excuses for the alcoholic or worrying about whether she is in danger. People who live with an alcoholic spouse or partner often end up in a caretaking role, trying to keep the alcoholic safe while struggling to hold the household together.

Understanding the Signs of Alcoholism

If you’re confused about how to deal with an alcoholic’s behavior, you’re not alone. Most people need guidance from an addiction specialist to learn how to cope with an alcoholic’s unpredictable, erratic and often dangerous behavior. Understanding the symptoms of alcoholism is an important part of this process. According to WebMD, alcoholism is a disease characterized by:

  • A compulsive need to drink in spite of the effects of the addiction on one’s health, personal relationships and professional life
  • Frequent attempts to get sober followed by relapses into drinking
  • Dangerous or illegal behavior, like drunk driving or stealing in order to get money for alcohol
  • A disregard for relationships, activities or commitments that used to be central to the alcoholic’s life
  • A need to drink larger quantities of alcohol in order to reach the desired level of intoxication

Alcoholism and Families

Alcoholism can literally destroy families. An alcoholic’s habit can shatter trust, devastate family finances and ruin intimate relationships between partners. Dealing with an alcoholic in your household may be more complicated if the alcoholic is also the primary breadwinner. Family members may unconsciously enable the addiction by covering up for the alcoholic because they fear the loss of income.

Al-Anon, a 12-step recovery program for people who are affected by alcoholism, offers these warning signs for families who fear that they’re being affected by a loved one’s addiction:

  • You’re always worrying about the alcoholic’s safety.
  • You make excuses or tell lies about the alcoholic’s behavior.
  • You frequently change your schedule or cancel events because the alcoholic is drunk or has a hangover.
  • You feel like you have to walk on eggshells to avoid angry or abusive behavior.
  • You dread holidays and parties because you know the alcoholic will drink even more than usual.
  • You often run short of money to cover basic living expenses because of the alcoholic’s habit.
  • You find yourself manipulating the alcoholic emotionally or bargaining with her to get her to stop drinking (“I’d love you a lot more if you were sober.”).

A family’s support can make a big difference in an alcoholic’s rehabilitation if he or she decides to seek treatment. However, it’s important to remember that alcoholism never justifies violent or abusive behavior. If you’re with an alcoholic who’s hurting you or threatening to hurt you or your children, call 911 or leave the area immediately to find a safe place. An alcoholic may apologize profusely for his behavior after an act of abuse, but violence should never be tolerated.

*Why Is Recovery So Important to Kids?

A report from the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University indicates that although a disturbing number of children live in homes with alcoholic parents, recovering from alcoholism and building stronger parent/child relationships may offer kids hope:

  • Approximately 50 percent of American children live in households where a parent or adult drinks heavily, smokes cigarettes or uses drugs.
  • Almost 25 percent of children live in homes with an adult who abuses alcohol.
  • Kids who can build a strong relationship with one parent are 25 percent less likely to become substance abusers themselves.
  • Kids who can develop a strong relationship with both parents are 40 percent less likely to abuse drugs or alcohol.

Building Your Own Support System

Getting help for an alcoholic while trying to protect yourself physically and emotionally can be a balancing act. Although you can’t force an alcoholic to seek a private inpatient or outpatient treatment, you can seek support from addiction professionals, counselors, members of the clergy, friends or relatives in dealing with the alcoholic. We can also give you the information and resources you need to survive the devastating effects of this disease.