The following is an interview I participated in on IdeaMarketers.com for National Recovery Month.
September is National Recovery Month. A month dedicated to the message that recovery from alcohol or drug abuse is possible. There are many people who live with the secret that they have an alcoholic in their family. These same people struggle with questions on what they can do to help their partner and family.
In recognition of National Recovery Month, Dr. Neill Neill has submitted his responses to common questions partners may have in regard to an alcohol problem in their family. Dr. Neill Neill is an alcoholism expert
. He is a psychologist, columnist and author, who maintains an active psychology and life-coaching practice in Qualicum Beach, BC, Canada. He is consulting psychologist to a private addiction rehab facility for men. A significant part of Dr. Neill’s practice is with individuals and families touched by alcohol and drug abuse.
Question: You use the term “functioning alcoholic.” What does that term mean, and how does a “functioning alcoholic” differ from an “alcoholic?”
Answer: What I say applies just as well to women as men. I will use the male version in my answer, because I work with male alcoholics.
An alcoholic is someone who is alcohol-dependent, that is, he has a compulsive need to seek and drink alcohol. “Functioning alcoholic” is the term the alcoholic typically uses to describe himself, so as to say that he is still able to function in life. He narrows his definition of “alcoholic” to the drunk at the homeless shelter. The high-functioning alcoholic may be successfully employed, married and supporting children. At the lower end of “functioning,” he could be getting by at work, but privately abusing his wife, neglecting his children and slowly dying of liver disease.
As listed in my book
, if the self-abuse is serious enough to do any of the following,
- putting his health at risk, or
- subjecting his family to abuse or neglect or
- being unable to workthen he is not “functioning.”
That’s the bar I set for myself years ago as I overcame my own alcohol dependence.
Many alcoholics use the fact that they are able to hold a job or run a business to convince themselves there is no problem. They also use it to justify their alcoholism to others, especially their families.
Any alcoholic, functioning or not, may need help to find a less self-destructive route to meaning and happiness in life.
Question: Spouses/partners are usually the ones who notice their significant other may have an alcohol problem. Are there specific symptoms of alcohol dependence? If so, what are a few?
Answer: There are many clues to alcohol dependence, but here are a few. He sometimes questions his level of drinking. He drinks by himself. He drinks in the morning. He gets drunk without meaning to. His personality changes when he is drinking. On the subject of his drinking, he lies, minimizes and denies, sometimes without any awareness he is doing it (alcohol affects/damages the brain). He has memory blackouts. He becomes angry and defensive about his drinking. He has lost friends over it. He has driven his car after drinking. He asks his wife to call in to his work because he has the flu, but she knows he just has a hangover. He blames others, especially his wife, for his drinking.
Question: Once a person has been diagnosed with alcohol dependence, what is the next step for the spouse/partner and her family?
Once she concludes her partner has an alcohol problem (see Alcoholism Test
), she needs to protect herself from buying into his alcoholism. She should refuse to “keep family secrets” and encourage her kids to be open as well. This includes keeping the family doctor, minister and friends informed and up to date. To keep perspective, she is best to maintain her own friendships and outside interests. Self-care is critical.
This is also the time for her to educate herself on alcoholism and its treatment. When the day comes that he decides he needs to change, she is ready with the options and the phone numbers.
The hope is that he decides there is a next step while the marriage is still intact.
My premise in what I have said is that she is safe. If there is verbal violence, it likely will escalate to physical violence. The physical violence often starts with punching walls smashing things, before it escalates to violence against her. If there is escalating verbal violence, she is not safe. Period! A woman killed at the hands of her spouse probably believed she could handle him. An intoxicated violent man may be too much for even four police officers to handle. If she is unsafe she should take careful steps to preserve her safety.
Question: Dr. Neill, September is National Recovery Month. A month dedicated to the message that recovery from alcohol and drug use disorders is possible. What would be your advice to a spouse/partner who is trying to help their significant other begin recovery? Is there hope?
Answer: There is always hope. No one, not the one who is alcohol dependent or the partner, has to be a victim of alcohol, because there is always choice.
So…to you the spouse/partner of someone with a drinking or drug problem:
- Put self-care first, that is, look after yourself.
- Always remember you didn’t cause this.
- Tell your addicted spouse (when he is sober) how you think and feel about the substance abuse and its effects on you and the children.
- Tell your family doctor and minister what’s happening.
- Do your research and have the phone numbers of help agencies handy for the time your partner admits there is a problem or might need help. You cannot be the therapist.
- Although you may hope it never becomes necessary, plan and be prepared to leave if you are not safe.Never give up on life.
Interview Conducted by:
Luanna is a Virtual Assistant
and Staff Editor for IdeaMarketers
. She helps small business owners save their precious time by taking care of the basic needs they have to keep their businesses up and running.