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partner is alcoholic. Can you help?
problem drinkers are unable to admit to this problem. The cry for help may
therefore come from someone close who suffers as a result. The cry often
comes at a time when he or she is unable to cope any longer with the
drinker. As such, the drinker may self-righteously feel they do not have a
problem as they had been drinking like this for years. They may resist
treatment and often blame others for problems. Many marriages fail at this
point. One spouse can no longer tolerate the alcohol and the alcoholic
refuses to take responsibility. This makes treatment of alcoholics
is important for people to understand the stages of recovery and that each
stage carries challenges that some alcoholics will not overcome. Five
stages of recovery are discussed: precontemplation, contemplation,
preparation, action and maintenance.1
the precontemplation stage, the alcohol problem has not yet been
identified let alone accepted by the alcoholic. During this stage, their
defences, most notably denial are strong. They actively reject any notion
of alcohol problems and show anger towards anyone suggesting a problem.
They reject treatment and may rely on the support of their drinking
buddies to affirm they do not have a problem.
the contemplation stage, the alcoholic toys with and finally accepts they
have a problem with alcoholism. This acceptance can be overwhelming, at
times leading to depression and/or anxiety. These intense feelings must be
expected and planned for as part of a treatment process.
the preparation stage, the alcoholic learns what treatment is necessary in
order to recover. Depending on the severity, this can include
detoxification, inpatient or outpatient counselling and marital and/or
family therapy and even prescribed medications.
next stage, action, is when the treatment plan is implemented and
activities are undertaken to address the alcoholism. The support of family
and sober friends is crucial here as alcoholics learn to defend
themselves, not from admitting alcoholism, but from being pulled back
towards drinking by former drinking buddies. Also crucial at this stage is
developing an understanding of one’s own family history that may have
been contributory to drinking.
final stage involves relapse prevention and is referred to as maintenance.
This stage can be life-long. One of the best-known maintenance programs is
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). This program is based upon a self-help, group
model. Members meet regularly to manage the challenges of sobriety.
from alcohol starts with clear, blunt information from friends and family
and by trained professionals such as physicians, social workers or
psychologists. Some family and even some professionals beat around the
bush when confronting an alcoholic. This is music to the alcoholic’s
ears. Fuzzy messages allow them to maintain their denial.
Thus, one must clearly and fully confront the
alcoholic. Clear messages leave no wiggle room.
you think your spouse has a problem with alcohol:
Confront him or her forthrightly. If you are concerned for your
safety, then do so in the company of a friend or professional.
Get help for yourself too. Learn about alcoholism, your role in the
recovery process and of the impact on your family’s well-being.
Recognise that it may take some time if your spouse is in the first
stage of recovery. He or she has yet to even acknowledge a problem. This
can be an insurmountable challenge for some people.
Recognise that alcoholism can pose a risk not only to the alcoholic
but also to those around him or her. At all times, make sure children are
appropriately supervised and cared for. Alcohol related problems are a
major cause for referrals to child protective services.
1. DiClemente, C.C., Bellino, L.E. and Neavins, T.M.
Motivation for Change and Alcoholism Treatment. National Institute on
Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Alcohol Research and Health .23:2.
Direnfeld, MSW, RSW
is a child-behaviour expert, a social worker, and the author of Raising
Kids Without Raising Cane. Gary not only helps people get along or feel
better about themselves, but also enjoys an extensive career in public
speaking. He provides insight on issues ranging from child behaviour
management and development; to family life; to socially responsible
business development. Courts in Ontario, Canada consider Gary an expert on
matters pertaining to child development, custody and access,
family/marital therapy and social work.
For information on Direnfeld's book, Raising Kids Without Raising Cane, click here.
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