Alcoholism – A Cruel Companion
Loving an alcoholic is one of the hardest things to live through. It’s a mixed bag of emotions for the alcoholic, I’m sure. While he or she is drinking, they generally feel pretty good. It isn’t until after they sober up - and experience the physical and emotional after effects - that they feel bad. Unfortunately, the one who loves the alcoholic never gets to see light at the end of the tunnel until the loved one can finally admit – if they ever do - he or she has a problem and wants to find a way out. I know – my brother was an alcoholic and eventually died because his cruel bottled companion killed him. Some “experts” consider alcoholism a disease while others consider it a lack of self- discipline resulting in addiction. Regardless of the school of thought, it is a serious though often hidden problem in many homes today. According to Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, “Alcoholism refers to any condition that results in the continued consumption of alcoholic beverages despite the health problems and negative social consequences it causes.” The term alcoholism was first coined in 1849 by the physician Magnus Huss as a way of describing the adverse effects he saw of alcohol on the human body. The word was popularized in the United States through the growth of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) which started in 1939. AA compares alcoholism to an allergy and an illness in their material. John I. Nurnberger, Jr. and Laura Jean Bierut – genetic geneticists – believe that alcoholism does not have a single cause – even genetically. Although genes do play an important role “by affecting processes in the body and brain that interact with one another and with an individual’s life experiences to produce protection or susceptibility”, it is not the sole cause of alcoholism. Besides a genetic predisposition toward the addiction, what are some of the other causes? The social environment and emotional health of an individual play an important role in whether an individual will succumb to the illness. Regardless of how many risk factors are present, the first step necessary for the cure must come from the individual. He or she has to decide for themselves that they want to quit drinking. The next step is counseling and possibly the physical removal of the alcoholic from an environment that is the emotional trigger which drives them to medicate with alcohol. Some support groups – like Alcoholics Anonymous – do not recognize remission. They call it recovery when an individual completely stops consuming alcohol. Staying away from alcohol is only part of the recovery process. A large part of recovery is about addressing and ultimately healing the underlying emotional and social factors that triggered the problem in the first place. A 2002 study by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism surveyed a group of 4,422 adult alcoholics and found that after one year, some were no longer alcoholics. The breakdown was as follows: • 25 percent still dependent • 27.3 percent in partial remission (some symptoms persist) • 11.8 percent asymptomatic drinkers (consumption increases chances of relapse • 35.9 percent fully recovered – made up of 17.7 percent low risk drinkers plus 18.2 percent abstainers The negative impact on the body of an alcoholic includes diseases such as cirrhosis of the liver, pancreatitis, epilepsy, polyneuropathy, alcoholic dementia, and heart disease, increased chance of cancer, nutritional deficiencies, sexual dysfunction and death from many other sources. My brother had two brain aneurisms – the second one killed him. Withdrawal from alcohol is also life threatening for the alcoholic. It is critical that an alcoholic only go through the withdrawal process under medical supervision. The symptoms of withdrawal are very real. They will suffer with hallucinations, shakes, convulsions, seizures and possible heart failure. The statistics show that a medically supervised detoxification and rehabilitation program is quite effective. A year after completing a rehab program about a third of alcoholics is still sober and an additional 40 percent are substantially improved, but still drinking heavily on occasion. A quarter of them have completely relapsed. Unfortunately, there can never be success if the alcoholic is not completely committed to the program. Alcoholics Anonymous was the first group to offer group therapy and psychotherapy. Other groups similar to AA include LifeRing Secular Recovery, Rational Recover, SMART Recovery, and Women for Sobriety. The social effects are just as debilitating as the physical. There is eventually a loss of employment which leads to serious financial problems. Judgment is impaired from the alcohol which leads to legal consequences like being charged for drunk driving or public disorder or even civil penalties for tortuous behavior. Let’s not forget the impact on the family. It always leads to marital conflict and frequently to divorce and even domestic violence. The lasting damage to the emotional development of an alcoholic’s children is not difficult to spot as these children grow into adults. It’s a scar that is permanently etched onto their little souls. The adult alcoholic soul was once a little soul that was scarred too. In most cases the alcoholic chose alcohol to medicate the pain for which he could never find relief. If you know someone who is struggling with this disease – friend or family – there may be something you can do to help. Alcoholics Anonymous suggests nine steps for confronting an alcoholic. 1. Adopt a professional intervention strategy – talk to the Al-Anon Association in your area, a licensed therapist, counselor or psychologist for a safe approach. 2. Wait for the right time. Don’t try an intervention when the loved one is intoxicated. 3. Organize a support network of relatives, close friends or even members of Al-Anon. 4. Be firm and clear. You can’t afford to be wishy-washy. 5. Don’t give in. Stay firm and don’t let the alcoholic bully you into giving up. 6. Prepare a plan of action. Know the steps that will be taken after the intervention (a resident or outpatient rehabilitation program, a support group, and so forth). 7. Offer support and encouragement during the detoxification phase. 8. Be willing to change. You will need to make some adjustments in order not to enable the alcoholic in the future. 9. Continue seeking support – Al-Anon and other organizations like it. Results do not happen overnight. Loving and supporting one who has an alcoholic problem is never easy – even if they are trying to cooperate with the healing process. But it is not impossible either. My family lost a loved one to alcohol, but it doesn’t have to be that way for you and your family. Did we do something wrong? I don’t think so, but then again it isn’t about blame. Get to the best information available and be ready to implement your plan once your loved one moves out of denial. For those readers who know someone like my brother, I pray that he or she is in that 35.7 percent that no longer has the problem. The information in this article was taken from www.alcoholics-anonymous.org, other related sites and personal experience. We are fortunate that there is a lot of help for this illness. Take advantage of it - it never hurts to be prepared – ever.