Alcoholism and Marriage

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In the financial pages of a Canadian newspaper, a personal finance adviser was dishing out this advice to people who complain that they can’t seem to make ends meet and therefore unable to save for a rainy day. They are almost always out-of-pocket at the end of each month and were getting tired of the roller coaster ride. The first thing the financial planner said was “you have to drop this gotta-have-it attitude. Bring your brown bag everyday to the office so that you’re not tempted to stop for a gourmet coffee and a muffin on your way to work. Go back to basics and stop keeping up with the Joneses. You don’t need a 56 inch flat screen high-definition TV, nor do you need the latest GPS for your car. Discard the gotta-have-it mentality and see how much you can be saving a month!”

Good point. 

But what if the problem is – alcohol, I gotta-have-it?

What we need is not a financial planner but a psychologist. If our alcohol problem is taking us down, down into the dark abyss of nowhere we’ll have to throw in a psychiatrist and marriage therapist as well. Because alcohol, as you know, is toxic – so toxic that anyone gets hooked without even knowing they’ve been had.

Alcoholism and Marriage - The Ugly Side

A woman was seeking advice from Dr. Gayle Peterson, a marriage therapist and counselor. She said her marriage had been going well until the birth of her second daughter who was diagnosed with Down’s syndrome. In addition to looking after their second child, she started noticing that her husband’s behavior had changed and he was becoming morose, angry and very controlling. He criticized everything she did and she also noticed how he was having a hard time with his drinking - like his own father.

The woman’s husband had become verbally abusive. She told him that if he didn’t stop his drinking, she would file for divorce. His response to that was he would not pay a single cent of child support if she did, and that if she stayed in the house, he would burn it down. To add insult to injury, she was diagnosed with depression. She suggested that they go for counseling, but he refused.

Not knowing what else to do, she turned to Dr. Peterson for help. The doctor’s insights deserve some mention here.

It isn’t the birth of the sick child that caused the marriage to be rocky. It is clear that the woman’s husband was already what the doctor called “in the grips of alcoholism” as well as falling into a depression himself. Their marital troubles did not begin when the second child was born, but the fact that she had Down’s syndrome added stress to the already iffy marriage.

The doctor suggested that the man’s behavior was provoked by his own abusive childhood and that his feelings at present were symbolic of his father’s alcoholic behavior. She explained that alcoholism is regarded by many in medical circles as a family disease. She told the woman to first get help for herself – so she can overcome her depression – and if he still refuses to look after his alcohol problem, then she should seriously consider leaving the marriage. To do this, she will need all the support of her family and friends so she remains steadfast in her resolve NOT to accept abuse. She should also call the police, if she feels that he can potentially harm her and the children physically.

Dr. Peterson was categorical about one thing: even if he promises to stop drinking but does not seek professional help, she must not accept this. Her husband’s alcoholism has roots in his family and if he had not been trained early in life to cope, he will never learn how to react to stress intelligently. It is apparent that he needs all the help he can get.

Her husband will have to admit that he has a serious drinking problem, and then he should connect with a social support network that will help him as he recovers. He can start with Alcoholics Anonymous as an initiation, but an in-patient hospital setting must also be considered. There are resources in the community who can provide information and referrals.

Fatal to Marriage and Brain Health

You may already have learned how alcohol, if taken excessively, disrupts the functioning of certain parts of the body, one of which is the brain. It is a disease that can harm memory including the brain’s chemical pathways. If alcoholism remains unchecked, a person may lose substantial brain structure and function. Alcoholism begins in behavioral and social levels, graduates into damaged relationships and eventually causes organic brain damage. This last condition may be beyond repair.

An alcoholic spouse definitely needs help. Divorce appears to be the only solution if help is consistently refused because the children cannot continue to live in an abusive home atmosphere. The consequences of a home situation like this one cannot be overstated. Family members need to break lose if they are to save their self-esteem and confidence before it’s too late. A parent’s duty to one’s children is to shelter them from the alcoholic father or mother because the stark truth is, their own future is at stake.

Path to Recovery

The staff members at Family First, an organization dedicated to offering assistance in marriage and family relationships have outlined the basic three-step recovery process for alcoholism.

The first step is to seek a local chapter of AA. From their experience in working with alcoholics, they have a defined set of questions that will determine if individuals have a drinking problem. Attending meetings is free and the individual can remain anonymous. On the AA web site, one will read a grim portrait of alcoholism. Usually, a person who has had one too many will be told by well-meaning friends that he is NOT an alcoholic and that all he needs is more will power, a new hobby to keep him distracted, a change of scenery or more rest and relaxation. Eventually, however, alcoholics turn desperately to AA because it is not a stronger will power that will keep them on a straight course. The sad thing is that it takes more than that to stop their addiction to the bottle. It is a progressive disease that requires professional attention.

The second step to recovery is to try Al-Anon. This is an organization that counsels individuals who are affected by a loved one’s alcohol problem. They have been offering this service for over 50 years and have opened a section called Alateen, specifically targeted at teens.

If steps one and two fail, and the alcoholic has “hit bottom” (the phrase used in alcoholic circles which refers to the point where alcoholics have no other recourse but to seek professional help), there is a third method – intervention.

What constitutes intervention?

A well-planned group confrontation is held between the alcoholic and those who are most affected by his alcoholism,

In that confrontation, family member (or friends) share their thoughts and feelings about how they have been affected by the alcoholism,

By sharing their sentiments, they let the alcoholic know exactly how his/her drinking has affected them, in the hopes of convincing the alcoholic to face his problem so that he decides that he wants to be treated,

After the discussion, the alcoholic is immediately taken to the facility to be treated, where his loved ones have committed him.

Although alcoholics cannot treat their own drinking problem no matter how much will power they muster, there is hope for recovery. The idea is not to let the alcoholic take his problem into his own hands because he won’t be able to manage on his own, no matter how sincere his intentions are. The crucial element in this situation is PROFESSIONAL HELP.

Before we end this article, we’d like to share something that we read online. It’s from a Mrs. Marty Mann, who is Executive Director of the National Council on Alcoholism in New York. She once attended AA meetings, and she refers to alcoholics hitting bottom, losing everything they once had.

“Well, actually in the very early days of AA, that was about right. Certainly when I went in, and there were just a handful of us, nobody had a dime; we had all lost everything materially. Nobody had much of anything else. A few still had their wives, but most didn't. And only one had her husband, I being that one. The second woman did not have a husband. The third one still had her husband, and this was a miracle — we didn't believe it — because while wives sometimes stick to the alcoholic, husbands rarely do.”

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