Jeanne Keahon, LMSW ACSW
"When he drinks, he gets way out of control, We don't know what to do
"I worry that she's going to get hurt, her personality changes when she
drinks, you can't reason with her. Someday she's going to go home with
the wrong guy."
"He's going to fail out if he doesn't cut down on his drinking, I know
he's missing his classes."
You might be a partner, family member or a friend. Whatever the
relationship, a problem drinker's behavior can be a great source of
worry. Eventually your worry and concern about the drinker begins to
impact on your life.
You are not alone if you think you need help. Many students seek
counseling to address their concerns about someone else's drinking. They
have begun to realize and accept that there is a problem and it is out
of their control. Many attempts to limit the drinking or control the
drinker's behavior have failed. They ask, "How can I help?" Often they
find they need help themselves because of the impact on their own lives.
According to addiction experts, the first step is recognizing and
accepting that there is a problem. Unfortunately everyone around the
drinker reaches this step before the drinker. Family and friends begin
to identify how the drinking impacts on them. Partners complain of a
range of emotional problems from mild anxiety to depression. In addition
to the emotional strain, there may be relationship conflicts with
friends, family and community. There may even be encounters with law
enforcement. They feel frustrated and powerless.
If you are one of the lucky ones, you will seek help from a counselor or
support group before losing yourself in the problem. People experienced
with addictions know how easy it is to slip into a care-taking or
rescuing role when closely involved with a problem drinker. A counselor
can help you understand the dynamics of addiction and help you to
realize what helps and what doesn't. The terms "enabling" and
"detachment" will be introduced. The initial goal would be to help you
sort out what is your responsibility and what is the drinker's
responsibility, and to hold the drinker accountable for his or her own
behavior. This is easier said than done.
How close you are to the drinker, and how long you have shared your
relationship, can make "detachment" difficult. Coping patterns such as
controlling, blaming and manipulating the drinker might be well
established. Finding alternate ways of coping takes time, skill, and
trust in your counselor. Slogans borrowed from AA can keep you on track
when the going gets rough. "One day at a time" and "First things first"
can help you with the problem of obsessive worry. If you are closely
involved with a problem drinker, it is likely that you have become an
expert worrier. You have the amazing ability to look into the future,
anticipate catastrophes and develop a contingency plan. This coping
pattern can be exhausting and is usually ineffective, but provides the
comforting illusion that progress is being made. Many students report
problems with concentration and memory. Their preoccupation with the
problem drinker makes them tired and emotionally worn out which begins
to impact on their academic performance.
Probably the most important thing to remember about someone else's
drinking is that, you didn't cause it, you can't control it and you
can't cure it. Many close friends and relatives affected by someone
else's drinking, feel guilty and ashamed. They often feel responsible
for the problem drinker's behavior. This is especially so, because the
problem drinker rarely accepts responsibility for his or her behavior,
and will often attribute their difficulties to other causes.
"Letting go" is another helpful slogan. The phrase is a reminder to let
the problem drinker experience the consequences of his or her drinking.
This is where a professional counselor can be a great support.
Establishing your own boundaries and limits, will help you to avoid
"enabling" behavior, when the problem drinker asks you to make excuses
or bail him or her out of trouble. "Letting go" is also a reminder to
keep the focus on yourself and avoid trying to control someone else's
drinking while letting them know how their problem impacts on you and
suggesting where they can get appropriate help.
As you put into practice some of the concepts mentioned, you might find
that the problem drinker's problems seem to escalate. This might be an
effort to re-engage you in old familiar enabling behaviors and sometimes
it's a natural course of events with an untreated drinking problem. A
counselor can help you get a handle on your life, avoid self blame and
feel better about yourself whether the person you care about continues
to drink or not.
If you would like more information about these issues, please contact
Jeanne Keahon or Brandon Roman (AOD Counselor) at the Counseling Center.
Here are some websites that provide resources for children of alcoholics
or drug addicts:
Adult Children of
The Awareness Center Resources for Adult
Children of Alcoholics
There are also books in our recommended
readings page that may be helpful.