I was 49 years old when one of my loved ones entered a residential alcohol treatment program and I found myself plunged into a whole other world - a world that included terms and concepts like codependency, adult children of alcoholics, 12-step programs, co-addictions, dual diagnosis and the role a family member has in the denial that protects a loved one’s drinking. The family addiction world was a world I found confusing and overwhelming as I learned just how many of my loved ones had an alcohol problem and what that had meant in my life.
True to my nature, I began my quest for deeper understanding in the same way I’d approached my six other published nonfiction books and numerous articles. I immersed myself in research, intent on learning as much as I could about the subject - in this case alcoholism and treatment programs - and then all of the other issues that emerged as I tried to understand why a loved one drinks too much and why someone like myself puts up with it for so long. Luckily for me, the treatment center had a strong help the family component, and I was “done.” I didn’t know what being “done” meant, other than I was ready to do whatever it took to feel better; to quit feeling so angry. I followed our family therapist’s suggestions and started attending Al- Anon meetings, doubled my individual therapy sessions and attended family-help group sessions at the treatment center, as well.
My book, If You Loved Me, You’d Stop! What You Really Need To Know When A Loved One Drinks Too Much, and my blog are the culmination and continuation of my discoveries. I hope that by sharing what I have learned, others - whether a parent, friend, sibling, spouse or child - will find the tools they need to live their lives. I share this information because I wish I had known it, that it had been openly and freely talked about, long before I’d spent decades grappling with my various loved ones’ drinking.
For now, I’d like to leave you with my top key discoveries:
1. Alcoholism is one of the diseases of addiction. Addiction is defined as a chronic relapsing brain disease. Check out www.hbo.com/addiction for a wealth of information. It’s produced by HBO, NIAAA, NIDA and The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
2. To begin treating addiction, the substance of abuse must be stopped in its entirety in order to allow the structural and chemical changes in the brain to change and recover.
These first two discoveries freed me from my continued efforts to try control my loved ones’ drinking and thus to stop my nagging, raging, deal-making and shaming - the behaviors I’d been using in order to “help” them stop [hence the title of my book, If You Loved Me, You'd Stop!...]. These first two discoveries also allowed me to respect the person (my loved one) but hate the disease and know that until that person came to grips with the power of addiction, they would/will continue to drink, no matter how hard they try/tried to control their drinking.
3. Family members have a “brain thing” going on, too. For us - it’s the result of the constant assault of our fight-or-flight system. Our lack of understanding of the disease of addiction causes us to live in fear and anticipation of the other shoe dropping coupled with the frustration over the failures of our varied attempts to do whatever we could to stop it. So those of us in the family who do not have the drinking problem also need help in order to change some of the behaviors we’ve adopted in order to survive — behaviors that over time actually get in our way of living healthy, happy, fulfilling lives, regardless of whether our loved one stops drinking or not. Here are two links that may help: “ And They All Fall Down…This ‘Thing’ They Call ‘Denial ‘” and “ What To Do When You’re Concerned About a Loved One’s Drinking.”
4. Alcoholism is a young person’s disease caused in part by alcohol abuse during the critical brain development stage occurring from ages 12 on through 25. Due to brain imaging technologies of the past fifteen years or so, neuroscientists and other medical professionals have been studying how the brain develops. According to NIAAA, almost half of alcoholics were addicted by age 21 and two-thirds were addicted by age 25. Click here to better understand why.
5. Having a dual diagnoses (a mental illness, such as depression, bipolar, ADHD or PTSD and an addiction to alcohol or drugs) is common. Click here for information.