Take Care of Yourself Too – The Family of an Alcoholic Suffers

If you have a friend, family member or other loved one who has a history of heavy drinking, this article contains some information that you need to know.

It is Important to Get Professional Help for Some Family Matters

Hopefully, your loved one is in treatment for her or his alcohol addiction; if so, keep in mind that substance dependence affects the entire family group in a variety of ways, not just the addict. To understand how important it is for you to recover right along with your loved one, consider the essential data obtained by New Zealand researcher Dr. Sally Casswell of Massey University in Auckland.

On February 4th, 2011, the Reuters news service reported that Dr. Casswell’s study of the family members of alcohol addicts (in treatment or not), revealed some long-suspected results: When compared to others, the parents, spouses/partners, and children of addicts suffered from significantly elevated rates of low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, and chronic pain. Dr. Casswell examined a control group of 3,068 individuals ages 12 to 80 years old. Study participants reported overall dissatisfaction with life; they also tended to pursue fewer educational or occupational opportunities available to them. As published in the journal Addiction, perhaps the most compelling and disturbing of Dr. Casswell’s findings is that family members of alcohol addicts were more likely to become problem drinkers themselves in an effort to “keep up” with their addicted loved one, and to somehow normalize their experience of living with an alcohol addict.

This New Zealand study echoes similar studies of the past decade among family members in the United States, and demonstrates what has long been known about the disease of addiction:

Addiction takes a toll not only upon the addict but upon those who love and/or live with the addict as well.

Alcohol addiction, in this way, is similar to other chronic diseases like cancer in its negative emotional and physical impact upon a patient’s family. “This potential for harm to others,” said Dr. Casswell, “should be considered in debates about policies aimed at curbing heavy drinking.” She included in these policy debates such variables as the price or taxation of alcohol, harsher penalties for drunk driving, and raising the minimum drinking age.

Loving an addict isn’t easy; loving yourself is often even harder. If someone close to you is in alcohol recovery, the very best thing you can do for him or her is to care for yourself. As the addict in your life becomes more physically and emotionally healthy, it’s essential for you to do the same. A good way to start is by talking to your loved one’s treatment counselor about marital and family therapy, especially if you have questions about your own drinking. If you suspect that you may be suffering from depression, start your healing process by consulting a physician about symptoms that are troubling you. Never think that you’re being selfish by addressing your own needs – there’s a big difference between “selfish” and “self-esteem!” You’ve stood by your loved one through the worst times; don’t forget to do the very same for yourself.

Recovering from substance use disorders is a challenging journey that feels more doable in an environment that tends to each individual’s complex needs and strengths. Our goal is to foster a treatment experience that is built on compassion, hope, and caring, and fueled by excellence in the provision of evidence-based and trauma-informed care.

– - Anonymous