Dying for a Drink,
by Anderson Spickard and Barbara Thompson
Alcoholism is a family disease. That is what any addiction treatment professional worth his salt will tell you. In their book, Dying for a Drink: What you and your family should know about Alcoholism, Anderson Spickard and Barbara Thompson show that alcoholic drinking may be more destructive to the family unit than ever believed.
The Effect of Alcoholic Drinking on the Drinker
Though the physical effects of alcoholism are well documented, the authors spend some time describing the damage long term drinking does to a body. The obvious victims are the liver and stomach which can be destroyed by long term, heavy alcohol use.
The permanent physiological and chemical changes to the brain are truly terrifying. The authors contend that long term alcohol abuse actually changes the way in which the brain interprets pleasure. This, in part, explains the progressive nature of Alcoholism.
Due to these changes in the brain, even an alcoholic with many years of sobriety may have unexpected reactions to any mood-altering substance. Even medications taken under a doctor’s watchful eye have the danger of triggering the obsessive craving for alcohol, which is the benchmark of an addicted drinker.
The Effect of Alcoholic Drinking on the Spouse
Everyone knows that living with an alcoholic husband or wife is difficult. But, the psychological trauma can have effects that reach long past the cessation of drinking.
Many drunks have gotten sober and been shocked when his wife was not doing cartwheels in celebration of his accomplishment. He had done a great thing, right? Well, nobody gets awards for finally doing what he was supposed to be doing all along. The alcoholic has dried up, but the wake of his damage remains.
Many spouses of alcoholics undergo stress similar to a physical assault. As disturbing as the attack may be, the pain does not go away when the confrontation ends. These spouses need healing every bit as much as their alcoholic partner.
The Effect of Alcoholic Drinking on the Children
The real tragedy of an alcoholic household is the effect on the children who live there. Though some kids may emerge unharmed, most carry scars well into their adulthood. Most hide their pain well, which makes them vulnerable to sever difficulties down the road. Many children of alcoholics become alcoholic themselves. Even if they can avoid that trap, they often have extreme difficulties managing adult relationships.
The authors describe several broad coping styles that children tend to adopt:
- Becoming Unusually Responsible
- Compulsively Helping and Placating
- Always Adjusting or Giving In
- Causing Trouble
None of these methods are effective in the long term and all has a serious downside. When these coping strategies eventually fail, the adult child of an alcoholic may face a serious crisis.
What To Do About Alcoholism In Your Household
If someone in your house is suffering from alcoholism, the first thing to do is seek professional help. This means seek out a Counselor, Therapist, Psychologist, or Psychiatrist who has specific experience dealing with alcoholism. Believe it or not, this can be difficult. Do yourself a favor and be your own advocate. Ask direct questions before you hire someone for this very important job.
Some exciting new breakthroughs have improved the chances of lasting sobriety, even for the worst cases of Alcoholism. These include Cognitive-Behavior Therapy as well as new drugs. Ask your therapist about these options.
Sometimes the oldest solution is the best. Don’t forget about the old fashioned 12-step program. If your are an alcoholic, AA is a critical part of your recovery package. If you are a spouse of an Alcoholic, Al-Anon may save your life. While Alcoholics Anonymous is anything but perfect, regular participation has been shown to be a critical component in long term sobriety.
No Alcoholic suffers alone. It’s an easy mistake since selfishness is a common characteristic of alcoholics, both active and dry. The mere presence of an alcoholic in the home has profound implications for the mental health of everyone around him. You can drink or not…it’s your choice. But don’t think that you are not huting those around you.