Living with an alcoholic can be a living hell: unpredictable and dangerous, yet sometimes exciting and romantic. We never know when we’ll be blamed or accused. We can’t dependably plan social events.
As the addict becomes more irresponsible, we pick up the slack and do more, often becoming the sole functioning parent or even the sole provider. We’re unable to lean on our partner for comfort or support. Meanwhile, we rescue him or her from disasters, medical emergencies, accidents, or jail, make excuses for no-shows at work and family gatherings, and patch up damaged property, relationships, and self-inflicted mishaps. We may also endure financial hardship, criminality, domestic violence, or infidelity due to the addict’s behavior.
We worry, feel angry, afraid, and alone. We hide our private lives from friends, co-workers, and even family to cover up the problems created by addiction or alcoholism. Our shame isn’t warranted; nonetheless, we feel responsible for the addict’s actions. Our self-esteem deteriorates from the addict’s lies, verbal abuse, and blame. Our sense of safety and trust erodes as our isolation and despair grow. Many of the feelings partners experience are the same, regardless of the type of addiction.
Alcoholism is considered a disease. Like other addiction, it’s a compulsion that worsens over time. Alcoholics drink to ease their emotional pain and emptiness. Some try to control their drinking and may be able to stop for a while, but once alcohol dependency takes hold, most find it impossible to drink like nonalcoholics. When they try to curb their drinking, they eventually end up drinking more than they intend despite their best efforts not to.
No matter what they say, they aren’t drinking because of you, nor because they’re immoral or lack willpower. They drink because they have a disease and an addiction. They deny this reality and rationalize or blame their drinking on anything or anyone else. Denial is the hallmark of addiction.
Drinking is considered an “alcohol use disorder.” There is a pattern of use causing impairment or distress manifested by at least two of the following signs within a year, when the person:
Alcoholism is a family disease. It’s said that at least five other people experience the effects of each drinker’s alcoholism, coined “secondhand drinking” by Lisa Frederiksen. We try to control the situation, the drinking, and the alcoholic. If you live with an alcoholic, you’re affected most, and children severely suffer because of their vulnerability and lack of maturity, especially if their mother or both parents are addicts.
It’s painful to helplessly watch someone we love slowly destroy him- or herself, our hopes and dreams, and our family. We feel frustrated and resentful from repeatedly believing the addict’s broken promises and from trying to control an uncontrollable situation. This is our denial.
In time, we become as obsessed with the alcoholic as he or she is with alcohol. We may look for him or her in bars, count his or her drinks, pour out booze, or search for bottles. As it says in Al-Anon’s Understanding Ourselves, “All our thinking becomes directed at what the alcoholic is doing or not doing and how to get the drinker to stop drinking.” Without help, our codependency follows the same downward trajectory of alcoholism.
There is hope, and there is help for the addict and for codependent family members. The first step is to learn as much as you can about alcoholism and codependency. Many of the things we do to help an addict or alcoholic are counterproductive and actually can make things worse.
Listen to the experience, strength, and hope of others in recovery. Al-Anon Family Groups can help. The below list is reprinted with their permission. You will learn:
Attend an Al-Anon meeting in your area or online. Read and do the exercises in my book, Codependency for Dummies.
©Darlene Lancer 2014
Copyright 2015 Psych Central.com. All rights reserved. Reprinted here with permission.