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Alcohol: When Enough is Enough

Though there is still some debate about the nature of alcoholism, most professionals now understand it to be a chronic and sometimes fatal disease, likely with a genetic component. In the definition adopted by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, alcoholism is characterized by 'impaired control over dinking - and distortions in thinking, most notably denial.' What this means for alcoholics is that they are frequently unable to make the decision to stop drinking without help from others.

Unfortunately, alcoholics have frequently engaged family member to make excuses and cover up for them. After prolonged and repeated excuse making many family members have a hard time facing up to the fact that they have been part of the problem. The first step to getting an alcoholic help is for family members to stop making excuses. Calling in sick for a husband or wife who has a hangover, cleaning up after their drunken messes, hiding the problem from other family members and dozens of other behaviors are all ways in which well intentioned families just make it worse.

Once, one or more family members have developed an awareness of the problem and ceased any enabling behaviors they may have been engaged in it's time to intervene. An opportune time to talk to a person about their disease may come shortly after an alcohol related problem has occurred--like a serious family argument or an accident. However, waiting to discuss the problem can also have drastic consequences, so if the person's behavior is destructive don't delay. Choose a time when the person is sober and there aren't other distractions.

One thing people often worry about is what to say. Tell your loved one that you are worried about his or her drinking. Sharing that you've read that alcoholism is a disease can help disarm the person and allow them to not feel defensive. This can reduce the likelihood of an argument. Explain to the person what problems you see their drinking causing for them, as well as, how it's a problem for you.

Tell the person what will you do if they don't stop. Explain to them that you care for/love him or her too much to watch them destroy themselves without trying to stop them from it. Each person and situation will call for something different. You may state to a son or daughter that you will no longer give them money for rent, you may tell a spouse that you will not go out or talk to him or her when he or she is drunk. Whatever you say to them don't set consequences that you are unwilling to follow through on, this will only give the message that you aren't serious and will tolerate their drinking.

Before talking to the person it can be helpful to locate resources. Gather information in advance about treatment options. If a person indicates that he or she is willing to get treatment, it is important that it be immediately available. For treatment resources try

If you don't get anywhere talking to the person on your own try professional intervention. There are professionals, known as intervention specialists, who can help facilitate a group meeting of family members, friends and even employers to appropriately confront the alcoholic or addict. For more information on interventions see

A great deal of stress can be incurred while coping with an alcoholic or addict, so get support you don't have to go through it alone. Al-Anon, provides free support groups for spouses and loved ones of alcoholics, and Al-ateen, provides support for children and teenagers with alcoholic parents or guardians. Participating in these groups may help family members process their emotions and develop coping skills for dealing with the alcoholic/addict. Sometimes more help may be need than these support groups can provide and seeking help from a professional counselor may be necessary.

About the Author

David Westbrook is a freelance writer. For more information on alcoholism see and


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