Alcoholism Is a Family Disease?
|Dawn Cove Abbey
Healing and Recovery Outreach
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From the eBook: "One! The Journey hOMe", by Klaas Tuinman
|Questions and comments welcomed.
- Secondly, and this is important, it also it sets the pattern for this kind of lifestyle to become a
generational reality, or issue. Because this lifestyle will slowly, subtly, and very powerfully
"program" the children to internalize that this is what "normal" is, and they'll pass it on later as the
form their own relationships and families. That's how alcoholism and other dysfunctional living
patterns become "generational". It's how the cycles of dysfunction, violence and abuse are
perpetuated from one generation to the next. A chronic dance of denial, codependency, enabling
The Family: a note
- While chronic alcoholism (inebriatedness) wreaks havoc in, and with, the family, periodic binges,
benders and toots are in many ways more devastating. This is because each "intermission" brings
momentary hope to all the others that maybe life is finally going to turn around - only to be
disappointed again before long. Those one-again, off-again do horrible things to minds and
- Like the heat increase in the Frog story - so gradually over such an extended period of time,
similarly nobody in the family noticed that the "water was beginning to boil, and it was time to
jump out of the pan". The "disease /habit" will continue to progress for the alcoholic until he/she
is ready to reach out and get help for her/himself. Waiting for that to happen is not her/his only
- The other family members can begin to recover whether the alcoholic is still drinking or not. But it
can't happen until somebody picks up that telephone, or takes some steps, and asks for help.
There is hope and help out there.
- It is a community affair, because it's also impacted in equally devastating negative ways: primarily
in traffic, boating and hunting, etc, accidents and fatalities, which kills thousands annually, and
leaves thousands more with injuries and traumas; and because what goes on "next door" creeps
through the fence and affect everyone in the vicinity.
- Added to that is that frequently, Police, Children's Services, Welfare Department, Schools, and
Hospitals, among others get involved by the wider impact of a particular family's behaviour. When
that is magnified by many similar family situations, the effect is huge. Not only does it affects the
professionals and individuals involved in these, but it also has huge financial consequences.
- There is this wide-spread almost contradictory ambivalence about drinking and drunkenness: one
that effectively leads to a subtle form of tolerance. And because of that, there is a tendency to not
get involved, and in that way, help to perpetuate this insanity.
- So in essence, few who have been affected by the consequences of someone's "disease" of
alcoholism realize that by "protecting" the alcoholic with little lies and deceptions across the board,
a behavioural attitude that slowly, but surely, increased in size and dimension, they have actually
created a situation that makes it easier for it all to continue --and progress-- in their downward
spiral. That is a direct consequence of the ambivalent tolerance. Rather than help alcoholics, they
actually enable them to continue, and to get worse.
- We're all in this together, after all. And we're all walking each other home - so perhaps it's time we
were more careful of the paths we choose in those walks and journeys.
Why Do I Need Help?
. . . I'm not the Alcoholic . . .
What's going on? I don't have a problem!
He... him... he/she's the alcoholic!
She/He's the one who causes all the problems!
He/she's the one in trouble all the time ...
There's an element of truth in this, at first glance, that changes quickly when we look
a bit closer; for when we do, we can see a kind of schematic of the setup. First,
there's the person who is the main character: the one who's drinking is out of
control. BUT . . . secondly, we see those in the immediate vicinity who are also
directly affected by that drinking behaviour - and all its ramification.
In a family situation, there will be, besides the "drinker", the partner, spouse, mate,
etc, and the child, or children. They all hear, and see, and very often "feel" the
consequences. Many, if not most of those, are anything but pleasant. In extreme
cases (which are very common) they are horrible: see "The Amazing Power Of
Alcohol" listed here on the Navigation menu at the left, for just how big, and bad the
impact on everyone else can be.
For more on that, see the Alcoholism-Home page. **
- Before I go farther, I want to remind you of an important fact: ** That there
are currently two radically different approaches to understanding, and dealing
with, alcoholism. The one is the familiar "disease" model, and the other is the
"Habit/Learned Behaviour" model.
And now, let's continue our look at why it's a "Family Affair".
The "best" working description for our purposes here, I believe, is that alcoholism is
a dysfunctional state of being, condition, or coping strategy that affects every
member of the family in very devastatingly negative ways, as shown in the other
information articles. Let's expand our view of the impact:
- In many cases, it's the spouse or partner who is most severely impacted, bearing
the greater brunt of it, whether physically, financially and materially (as we saw
in the "Amazing Power"), and/or mentally and emotionally. For a closer look at
the latter, please see "Invisible Violence". As well, this person also witnesses the
impact on the children (and perhaps the extended family). And the children are
the tertiary collateral victims.
- So our next look, a deeply related
one, is the impact on the Children:
it is huge.
- Suggestion: see "Children Of
- That impact has two dimensions:
First, the direct effects on them.
- True, but he/she's also predictable
and kids can read the alcoholic like a
book. Of course, they know exactly
when it's the right time to ask for
extra money, or to go somewhere
with their friends, and also know
when it's time to make themselves
scarce and get out of the way.
- They know the routine as far as the
alcoholic is concerned. But they
never know where the bedraggled
non-drinking parent is coming from
It is a progressive "disease". It may start out with casually accepting unacceptable behavior -- "Oh,
he/she didn't mean that, she/he just had too much to drink last night". . See "Denial" and "Enabling"
(Navigation Menu). But a few years down the road the behavior has slowly grown more and more
intolerable, but it is still being accepted and becomes the "norm."
- They (spouse/partner and children) end up with chaos in their own home that a few short years
ago would have been unthinkable. If they looked out the window and saw the same kind of
things taking place across the street at the neighbor's house, they would probably pick up the
phone and call 9-1-1 to get those people some help!
- As that same type of behavior becomes routine in their own home, the last thing that would
occur to her/him is to pick up the telephone and get help. She/He has slowly been drawn into the
thinking that the alcoholic should be protected. He/She has learned to cover for /herhim, lie for
her/him, and hide the truth. She/He has learned to keep secrets, no matter how bad the chaos
and insanity all around him/her has become. And yes, it is insane and chaotic. And it will get
worse, gradually, for alcohol is insidious.
- The Progressiveness of this catastrophic behaviour is very subtle: read the story of the Frog on the
- The major effect on the entire family, which very quickly and subtly, is that it becomes a
"Dysfunctional" one - and that has major ramifications in itself, because it becomes the new way
of life, with negative consequences for all, in almost all cases.
- It impacts those family members in different ways. The kids of course, are kind of helpless pawns;
as is the spouse; and in some cases, the children tell us, that often they have more problems
dealing with the non-drinking parent than they do the alcoholic. Also see Codependency.