When Alcoholism Endures
Written By: Jeffrey Morales, LSW, Substance Abuse Therapist, Chartiers Center
When it comes to having a drink after a long day of work or enjoying the company of friends and family with a cold beverage, we just want to experience what life has to offer. Alcohol itself has been an undeniable part of our culture for generations, even a mark of identity for some when talking about a favorite beer or spirit. Traditions, if you ask me, help us maintain a sense of community and identity – fond memories for the scrap book that can be shared and enjoyed years later.. However, recognizing why some traditions endure through the years and what type of community it builds becomes so important when we look at alcoholism. As we observe Alcohol Awareness Month this April, it’s important we take a hard look at why damaging traditions continue in our community.
It can be as simple as trying someone’s beer at a family cookout, trying an offered drink at a school party or even going out for drinks after work; these are normal acts that often go unquestioned. Without questions asked, there are also no answers to be found either.
How much have they had to drink? Are they okay to drive home? Have they been eating food?
If asking these questions about a friend or loved one makes you uncomfortable, you are not alone. Having a case of beer every night is unhealthy and everyone involved is likely aware of that. When a co-worker is having trouble throughout the day and there are obvious signs of heavy alcohol usage, go ahead and ask them if they are alright. When you are driving home with that family member who always has a few too many, ask them about what is going on in their life. You may discover something that they may not have shared with anyone else.
Alcoholism goes untreated especially when no one sees it as the problem. Whether it’s a hard week at work, anxiety over a deadline, grief over a loved one – ask that important someone how they are taking care of themselves. Raise an eyebrow if their habits change noticeably – it may not be alcohol abuse, but it remains a reason to check on them all the same.
I counseled someone that had a lucrative job and many opportunities, but had a marriage fall apart due to their drinking habit. They switched jobs, started living in their car and began making more impulsive decisions – the damage occurs slowly. This individual held off on seeking the care they needed at a treatment center because they wanted to go it alone and not worry their family. Eventually, after incurring mighty losses for both themselves and their family, they admitted that they needed more support . Alcoholism endures when good relationships do not; when it fills a void that life goals and passions once inhabited.
These pleas are for those out there whom have not yet begun to have honest conversations with the important people in their lives about an open secret that has been putting them at risk. To those who have been on the journey with a loved one struggling with addiction, I admire you. Visits to the emergency room, nights spent in jail, even sleepless nights at home – if these situations are old news in your life, I hear you. For those that have heard this message before and have long since intervened, you have likely done all you can think of and sincerely done your best.
Alcoholism is not a disease ultimately treated with medication and doctor’s visits. Like other chronic illnesses, it requires constant care and maintenance. Denial is a part of the illness, which reinforces the condition’s progression. From the outside looking in, there is a choice between denial and acknowledgment. A strong community speaks its mind on deep seated issues despite the stigma.
Most of all, in my opinion as a care provider, alcoholism endures in the absence of community. Parents, friends, pastors, coaches, teachers, therapists – our lives depend on the healthy bonds we share with each other. If someone out there is living a perfectly happy life without quality relationships, I would love to meet them, but show me what they are relying on instead.
Keep this tradition in mind, should it not already be held tradition, to coincide with April as Alcohol Awareness Month: be present in the lives of those you care for. Having a drink on the weekend does not need to be scrutinized. However, be mindful of your discomfort when alcohol is involved. There are meetings such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Al Anon for family members of alcoholics. There are specialists to talk to here at Chartiers Center where trained therapists know what to look for and how to provide reliable support. There are levels of care for each stage of addiction, but care cannot begin until the conversation starts, and support is offered. Alcohol is a part of our culture and that is not changing anytime soon. So why not engage in conversations around seeking treatment and support as part of our community traditions as well.