Reflections on Alcoholism (Living with an Alcoholic)

It’s never easy living with an alcoholic. Sometimes we try so hard to live with the alcoholic that we end up enabling them to drink. The problem is we don’t see the alcoholic as being sick but someone we don’t like to be around when they are drinking.

If they were in bed sick with the flu we would know how to care for them, but when they are drunk sick there is nothing we can do, other than watch them drink themselves to oblivion. Sometimes we take it personally and think they drink so much because of something we have done, but we shouldn’t blame ourselves for the addictions in other people.

The alcoholic is very sick. They are sick physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. You see, addiction stunts your growth; it literally makes you stop growing emotionally. The alcoholic does not know this and they sure don’t mean to be this way, its just part of the sickness. Immaturity is a symptom of alcoholism.

If you live with an alcoholic, you never know what to expect from one day to the next. You don’t know if they are going to start drinking again and blame you for their problems, or if they are going to get in the car and not return for days. The alcoholic does some pretty bizarre stuff sometimes, but that is just part of the sickness – just another symptom.

The loved one of an alcoholic always seems to get him or her self wrapped up within the symptoms of alcoholism. Ironically they don’t even have to take a sip of alcohol for that to happen. The alcoholic’s symptoms can totally overwhelm the loved one until they are literally at their wits end trying to deal with the alcoholic’s problems and behaviors. How depressing is that?!

And that’s the problem. Let me explain.

An addicted person is so different from their normal self that when they are drunk its like you are living with Mr. Hyde. It can be depressing, confusing, scary, and frustrating to watch a sober person transform themselves into drunks within a thirty-minute period. Who is this person? One minute he or she is Jekyl and thirty minutes later Hyde is back. Uh, what happened?

We Enable and Rescue The Alcoholic
First mistake is to think we have to do something! We think we have to fix them. We throw out all the booze. We hide the car keys. We bail them out of jail. We help them to bed. We clean up after them. We lie to people about their behavior. We sweep problems under the rug. We allow their verbal and sometimes physical abuse. We remain in denial with the alcoholic. We protect them from themselves when drunk.

But what does doing all of these things do to your own mental health? Don’t you feel resentful over the rescuing and caring of someone who treats you with disrespect? All of these things make you mentally sick with the alcoholic. You are treating the symptoms of alcoholism with your enabling, and its not working! It’s like treating a person who gets chronic headaches with aspirin. Why are they getting persistent headaches? That’s what you need to find out?

The Alcoholic Needs To Take Responsibility
The alcoholic must be allowed to take responsibility for themselves and for the addiction. The alcoholic does not realize the ramifications of their alcoholic behavior on others because alcohol takes away all inhibitions and modesty from them. They do not know that they are stunted emotionally because they can’t perceive themselves or their behavior. All they can see is how YOU always seem to be overreacting and giving in to their alcoholic whims and behaving moody with them. Do you see where I’m going with this?

What stands out most for the alcoholic is the behavior of a resentful enabler. Every home is different and so circumstances are different, but perhaps you nag and complain to them about their drinking. Perhaps you are talking badly about them to your children? Or maybe you call them names and blame them for the failure of your marriage. Whatever it is that you are doing will affect the alcoholic and how they react and treat their addiction. Do you understand how that works?

Detach With Love
The alcoholic does not need enabling and rescuing. What the alcoholic needs most from you, even if they don’t know it themselves, is for you to back away from the addiction so they will have to take control of the addiction and themselves. We should not impede that by enabling or rescuing them. Leave the responsibility, accountability and blame to the alcoholic. They need to be responsible for themselves.
The best thing you can do is to emotionally detach from the alcoholic and their behavior and not take anything personally. Love the alcoholic, but don’t love them to the extent of hindering recovery. Once you back away from the addiction and stop taking responsibility is when you won’t feel resentful, bitter, and offended anymore. They have a problem and they must come out of denial and take care of their problem on their own.

This does not mean you cannot support them when they are trying to quit drinking or help them with certain circumstances in their life when they are sober, it means that as long as they are willing to work on healing themselves, you will be there for them. But if they continue drinking you cannot and will not be a part of that – they are on their own. Detach with Love.