What can you do if alcoholism runs in your family? Should you just avoid drinking altogether, and encourage your family members to never touch a drop of the stuff? Is that a realistic approach to controlling the threat of alcoholism?
It is my opinion that in the real world, such a prevention tactic is going to be lacking severely. Meaning that I do not think that you can treat addiction like it is the boogeyman and expect to stay protected because of a heightened sense of caution.
The truth is that an unsuspecting person is eventually going to put some sort of addictive substance into their body–whether it is a casual drink while under peer pressure, or it is a prescription of Vicodin based on a softball injury. Given enough time and life experience, most people will come across an addictive substance sooner or later. And if they happen to be predisposed to addiction or alcoholism, I do not believe that there is anything you can do in order to prevent it from happening.
When I look back at my own life, I can see this “fate argument” as playing a major role. I eventually stumbled on to drugs and alcohol, even though I had some medical reasons that should have steered me clear of them. Once I had just the tiniest taste, I lit up and wanted more, more, more. I really do not think it would have mattered if we could magically go back in time and divert me on those times when I first ingested drugs or alcohol. The eventual addiction would have manifested anyway. It is only a matter of when it happened, not if it happened. Life is too varied and chaotic for most humans to not run across and addictive substance at some point in their journey. That is my theory anyway, and when other people tell their stories in AA and NA, it seems to back that theory up quite nicely.
That said, if you or your family are struggling with alcoholism, here is what I would suggest once you have acknowledged that a problem exists:
One, simply start by acknowledging that the problem is real. If you just secretly hope that your spouse or family member quits drinking on their own, that can quickly become exhausting and discouraging. Or you may have the problem yourself and be stuck in denial, which is also exhausting. So in order to move forward and actually attempt to address the problem you have to get super honest with yourself and assess exactly what the problem is the true extent of it. This often amounts to someone admitting to “full blown addiction,” even if that someone might be you. First admitting to it and then accepting it at the highest possible level.
Two, I would suggest that if you are the person who is struggling with denial and substance abuse that you become willing to ask for help and seek treatment. If you are not yet willing to do that then my suggestion to you is to start writing in a daily journal about how you are feeling each day. If you do that consistently then eventually you will realize that you are unhappy while abusing drugs or alcohol and that, furthermore, things are not getting any better over time. It is only through keeping a written journal that might be able to wake your own mind up from a state of denial. You need the journal to reflect the truth back at you. This is why you need to write down your feelings each day and how happy or unhappy you may feel. Expose the truth to yourself if you want to break through your own denial.
Now if it is a family member or a loved one who is struggling with drug or alcohol addiction then you have 2 basic options, of which you may use both if you choose. One is that you should go to an Al-anon meeting and get into program, that fellowship, and that support community. Dealing with an addicted person in your life can be very draining, and if you do not have some support in your corner it can be downright exhausting. Having people in Al-anon to bounce your ideas off of can give you the feedback and insight that you need to overcome the struggle you are in. Your second basic option is to try to convince your loved one to check into an inpatient treatment center, which can be formally approached as an organized intervention. Whether you ultimately choose to intervene or not in an organized way will depend on many factors, the most important of which in my opinion is that of timing. In other words, you should not really do an organized family intervention when the alcoholic or addict is basically making their life work functionally in spite of their addiction. Meaning that if things are good, don’t intervene, because the alcoholic will dismiss your concern very easily and stay in denial.
On the other hand, if you can use better timing, then you might choose to do an intervention when the alcoholic is just getting out of jail for driving while intoxicated, or dealing with some other significant consequence of their disease. If they have a major life consequence staring them in the face then it is much more difficult for the alcoholic to rationalize away your concerns. What you are trying to do is to wake them up to the fact that their disease is real, that it is making them miserable, and it is getting progressively worse over time. You want them to realize that their addiction will never get any better.
Treatment is almost always the answer, and to be more specific, inpatient treatment is often the best possible solution.
There are other ways to pursue recovery, but none of them are as focused and specific as going to an inpatient 28 day rehab program.
Often the addict or alcoholic is not going to be willing to attend, but this is a “yet.” Realize that this is a “yet,” and that if the addict continues to experience more misery and more consequences at the hands of their addiction that they will eventually become open to the possibility of treatment.
Your job is to be ready for that window of opportunity when you see it. Be ready to get on the phone, be ready to call a rehab center, be ready to whisk that family member off to treatment just as soon as they reveal a hint of surrender and willingness. That is really the key to transforming an addict or alcoholic’s life–getting them to surrender and go to inpatient treatment.
Knowing is half the battle, so learn the warning signs of drug abuse and alcoholism so that you can respond effectively to these threats. If you can direct or divert someone into treatment at just the right time the it may even save their life.