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Why Is Alcoholism Called a Family Disease?

Why Do I Need Help? He's the Alcoholic!

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Updated May 16, 2014

Is Alcoholism a family Disease
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Alcoholism is a disease that affects every member of the family, to the extent that the kids who make it into the Alateen rooms report they generally have more problems dealing with the non-drinking parent than they do the alcoholic.

What? But I don't have a problem! He... him... he's the alcoholic! He's the one who causes all the problems! He's the one in trouble all the time ...

True, but he's also predictable. Kids can read the alcoholic like a book. They know exactly when it's the right time to ask for extra money, or to go somewhere with their friends, and also know when it's time to make themselves scarce and get out of the way. They know the routine as far as the alcoholic is concerned. But they never know where the bedraggled non-drinking parent is coming from next.

One minute she (or he as the case may be) is screaming at the alcoholic -- threatening him with everything from from divorce to death -- and the next minute she may be compassionately rescuing him from the consequences of his latest episode -- dutifully cleaning up his messes, making excuses for him and accepting an increasing degree of unacceptable behavior.

The truth is the disease of alcoholism has affected her life, her attitude and her thinking perhaps more dramatically than it has the drinking spouse and she may not even realize it. Why? Because it crept up on her slowly.

Frog In The Water

A few years back, there was a story going around the 12-step rooms about a frog in the water. It goes like this:

If you put a frog into a pan of boiling water, it will jump out faster than the eye can see. But if you put the frog into a pan of water that is the frog's body temperature and then slowly turn up the heat the frog will stay in the water -- even to the point of boiling alive. Why? Because the frog does not notice the gradual change in temperature.

Alcoholism works the same way... the heat is constantly turned up but nobody notices. Cunning and baffling! A progressive disease. It may start out with casually accepting unacceptable behavior -- Oh, he didn't mean that, he just had too much to drink last night. A few years down the road the behavior has slowly grown more and more intolerable, but it is still being accepted and becomes the "norm."

She ends up with chaos in her own home that a few short years ago would have been unthinkable. If she looked out the window and saw the same kind of things taking place across the street at the neighbor's house, she would probably pick up the phone and call 9-1-1 to get those people some help!

An Insidious Disease

As that same type of behavior becomes routine in her own home, the last thing that would occur to her is to pick up the telephone and get help. She has slowly been drawn into the thinking that the alcoholic should be protected. She has learned to cover for him, lie for him and hide the truth. She has learned to keep secrets, no matter how bad the chaos and insanity all around her has become.

Few who have been affected by the disease of alcoholism realize that by "protecting" the alcoholic with little lies and deceptions to the outside world, which have slowly but surely increased in size and dimension, she has actually created a situation that makes it easier for him to continue -- and progress -- in his downward spiral. Rather than help the alcoholic, and herself, she has actually enabled him to get worse.

The heat increased so gradually, over such an extended period of time, nobody noticed the water was beginning to boil and it was time to jump out of the pan.

The disease will continue to progress for the alcoholic until he is ready to reach out and get help for himself. Waiting for that to happen is not her only choice.

The other family members can begin to recover whether the alcoholic is still drinking or not. But it can't happen until somebody picks up the telephone and asks for help. There is hope and help out there.
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