Tuesday, April 1, 2014

“A” is for Alcoholism

ADisclaimer: Although the subject is generally considered on the medical and social levels in other discussions, today I would like to base most of my remarks on a more personal level, although I will throw in a few statistics, the sources of which are listed below. On this personal level, please note that most of my statements are my own opinion – based on personal experience, and may contrast with what professionals might consider “proper” behavior.

According to an article at Examiner.com1 more than 65% of United States households are affected by the problem of alcoholism. This is the official data, but the percentage is probably higher; many households or individuals do not report the existence of the problem because of the stigma connected alcoholism.

The discussion as to whether or not alcoholism – the addiction to alcohol – is a disease is a moot point: it debilitates the body’s immune system, is the cause of diseases such as cirrhosis of the liver, heart problems, brain damage, kidney failure and can (and often does) cause the death of the addict. According to cdc.gov2 more than 15,990 deaths were caused by alcohol-related liver diseases and 25,692 other alcohol related diseases in 2010, in the US alone. Again, these are the official stats, but it is probable that the real count is much higher.

I have known both family members and dear friends who enter into the statistics. They were wonderful people and their lives and subsequent deaths from alcohol abuse has had a terrible effect on all those who held them dear. I’ve learned a few things from my experience with them, and I’d like to share these with you.

First, alcoholics don’t all react in the same way to their drinking, just like not all alcoholics imbibe in the same drinks. Some become maudlin, others become violent, others yet disappear completely, until they have worn off their “binge”. Others yet may not show any particular signs of having gone over the limit.

Daniel* would go on a super-binge of drinking beer and then completely disappear for a week at a time. He lost his job, worried his family and in the end died of a heart attack. He had tried to quit and had been successful for a few years, but then, in a moment of weakness, he “fell off the wagon”.

John* successfully stopped drinking when he discovered that if he didn’t, he would only have a few more months to live. He lived for another five years afterwards, without drinking another drop of alcohol.

Many professionals promote the idea of tough love as a means of helping loved ones overcome their addiction; I agree that up to a certain point this could help them realize that they have a problem: leaving them tangled up to sleep on the floor where they have fallen, or refuse to bail them out of the drunk tank could lead them to understand that they do, indeed, have a problem. The next step, however, that of “inviting” them to leave and not come back until they have stopped drinking is not, for the most part, going to work.

Peter* found himself in this latter category. He was told to leave, and not come back until he discovered he loved his wife enough to stop. When he did stop, he would be allowed to go back. The problem was, although he loved his wife very much, he was unable to stop drinking on his own. He wanted to, but by then the choice was no longer his; the alcohol made the choice. In fact, instead of helping him stop, the eviction only made him drink more, until the day came that only a timely phone call from a friend kept him from “taking the bridge”.

If you have a loved one going through alcohol addiction, help them by pushing them to get help and support them in their efforts when they do. Alcohol withdrawal is neither easy nor pretty; not all survive the physical pain of withdrawal: approximately 25% patients will die during D.T.3 If you need to, apply non-violent tough love, but most of all, don’t threaten with eviction. The only lasting effect it will have is to increase the need to drink and also to decrease self-respect and esteem. It hurts, but it can be done, with help.

*Names have been changed 


  1. Examiner.com
  2. Alcohol Use
  3. Alcohol withdrawal, pg. 62

© 2014 Mary Purpari