Portrayed in media as angry outbursts, smashed bottles, and dramatic exits, the reality of living with an alcoholic can be far more complex. Alcoholism affects people from all walks of life, and the stereotypical image of someone lying in the gutter should be left in the past. Often, it’s like living beside a quietly flowing river, constantly threatening to burst its banks. The most significant challenge? You love the person struggling with alcohol.
Regrettably, those living with an alcoholic often find themselves inadvertently enabling them. Deep care and concern for a loved one, whether it’s a partner, parent, sibling, or friend, can lead to behaviors that perpetuate the addiction. This may involve placing a drink in their hand to prevent night-time seizures or covering up their drinking to maintain appearances. Falling for the deceptive allure of alcohol dependence is common. Additionally, if you rely on the person’s income, parenting, or companionship, breaking free from this cycle can be even more daunting.
There’s no doubt about the crucial role that family and friends play in the recovery process. Those who live or work with an alcoholic are often instrumental in motivating them to seek help and adhere to their recovery goals. If you’re concerned about a loved one, a family conference or planned intervention can be a pivotal step toward initiating treatment.
The Impact of Living with an Alcoholic on Partners
Alcohol addiction not only breaks the person with the addiction but also those around them. Living with an alcoholic can lead to mistrust, intimacy issues, mental and physical problems, and ultimately relationship breakdowns. People in long-term relationships may excuse addictive behavior, attributing it to a phase or a means of coping with various life challenges. However, the longer addiction persists, the tighter its grip becomes.
Lies and Deception
Addiction, by its very nature, is a selfish disease that prioritizes alcohol above all else. The impact on the brain compels individuals to prioritize drinking, often at the expense of everything and everyone else. Those addicted to alcohol may lie about the extent of their drinking or their whereabouts after work. You might discover hidden bottles in unusual places or notice unexplained slurred speech. Partners, concerned for their loved one’s well-being, are inclined to question these behaviors, often met with defensiveness. The fear of retaliation silences their concerns, perpetuating the destructive cycle.
Anxiety and Uncertainty
Scientifically, there are four distinct types of drunk individuals: the Mary Poppins (happy and cheerful), the Ernest Hemingway (seemingly unaffected), the Nutty Professor (wild and free), and perhaps the most unpredictable, Mr. Hyde (hostile and erratic). Living with an alcoholic often entails encountering all four personalities in the span of an evening. This unpredictability can make it incredibly challenging to anticipate the individual’s behavior and feel at ease in their presence.
Sex and Intimacy
Physical intimacy is a fundamental component of a healthy relationship. However, alcohol’s effects on the mind and body can make sexual relations and intimacy challenging. While moderate alcohol consumption initially helps relax and reduce inhibitions, excessive and prolonged drinking can diminish sexual drive and function. If you’re living with an alcoholic, you’ve likely experienced going to bed alone while your partner sleeps off the effects of alcohol. If this pattern persists for months or years, physical intimacy within the relationship may deteriorate entirely.
Co-Dependency and Mental Health
In a co-dependent relationship, your actions become intertwined with someone else’s behavior. When both parties rely on alcohol to cope or function, this can result in mutual acceptance of the problem and avoidance of addressing it. It might even lead to increased alcohol consumption by both parties as a means of dealing with each other’s behavior. Those suffering from mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression, may find that their symptoms worsen, and alcohol becomes a method of self-medication.
How Children Are Affected by Living with an Alcoholic
Children are the true innocents in the realm of alcoholism. They have no control over being exposed to destructive relationships and dysfunctional parents. Yet, what they witness and endure from birth can have a profound impact on their later lives. Children of alcoholics face a higher risk of anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem compared to children of non-alcoholics. These challenges can lead to complications during childhood and early adulthood.
Feeling Unloved and Neglected
Living with an alcoholic as a child leaves one vulnerable to mental and physical harm. A parent struggling with alcohol addiction may find it difficult to care for themselves, let alone a child. This often results in the neglect of basic needs, such as missed meals, dirty clothing, or being left unattended.
Difficulty in Communicating with Others
Parents who are functioning alcoholics frequently cultivate a culture of secrecy within the family. They may discourage children from disclosing family matters to teachers or neighbors. Erratic behavior from parents can make children feel as though they cannot speak up or challenge their parents’ actions, leading to feelings of anxiety and fear.
Alcohol can cause developmental issues not only in unborn children but also in young people growing up with an alcoholic parent. Children often bear feelings of guilt, believing that they are the cause of their parent’s addiction. They may feel ashamed of their home life or harbor resentment toward a caregiver who has let them down. Inability to process these challenging emotions can lead to behavioral problems that persist into adulthood.
Taking Action When Living with an Alcoholic
Be kind to yourself. The fact that you’re still here, pondering how to help, means you can play a positive role in someone’s recovery. There are steps you can take to mitigate the impact on yourself and any children in the household, and others may require you to be courageous and seek professional assistance.
Prioritize Your Needs
When living with an alcoholic, your well-being often takes a back seat. Recognize that their drinking problem is affecting you and take steps to prioritize your health and care needs. By maintaining mental and physical strength, especially when children are involved, you will be better equipped to cope on the darkest days.
Open Communication and Offer Support
Engaging in empathetic communication can be challenging when you deeply care for someone but are struggling to like them. It’s essential to remember that alcoholism is a disease, not a personal vendetta. Encourage the individual to open up and discuss the reasons behind their drinking. Offer to join them in sobriety or show support in ways that demonstrate your care.
Plan Alcohol-Free Activities
South Africa, like many places, has a well-established drinking culture that can be challenging to escape. Many social events and interactions revolve around alcohol consumption. While it’s difficult to avoid entirely, you can start by removing alcohol from your home. Additionally, try to steer clear of scenarios that actively encourage drinking. It’s always best to communicate your intentions with your loved one, rather than attempting to deceive them into alcohol-free situations, as this can exacerbate the situation.
Consider an Intervention
Interventions are most effective when a group of family members or friends unites in a common goal: helping the individual become sober. Approach your loved one individually and as a group, making sure not to intimidate them. If they are in denial and resisting treatment, but you’ve reached a breaking point, it may be time to seek professional addiction intervention services.
Remember, living with an alcoholic is a challenging journey, and it’s essential