-Rajeshwari Luther

Alcoholism is now recognized and classified as a 'disease' by leading medical authorities such as WHO (World Health Organization) and the American Psychiatric Association (APA).  Like any disease, alcoholism is characterized by definite symptoms.

One of the symptoms is that it does not affect the alcoholic alone - it is a family disease and those close to the alcoholic are as deeply affected by it, if not more.

The family of an alcoholic or addict is a set of hurt and confused people. Though they do not drink, they are nevertheless victimized by alcohol.

Just as addiction affects all areas of the drinker's life (physical, mental, emotional, spiritual and social (relationships), the family members go through a roller coaster-like experience that affects all areas of their life.

As the alcoholic is addicted to the bottle, the family becomes obsessed with the alcoholic. Their life revolves around the alcoholic. As the dependent often loses control over the time, quantity and place of drinking, the family experiences a loss of control over their responses. Thus, the family exhibits all symptoms of their own ‘addiction’!

The addict constantly 'justifies' his drinking and blames others for his condition; the family justifies their own irresponsible behaviour and holds the alcoholic responsible for each and every problem in the family. Family members very often throw tantrums just as the alcoholic becomes physically or verbally aggressive.

The alcoholic often feels guilt; the family too feels occasional pangs of guilt. Both try repeated but unsuccessful attempts at change. Both avoid social contacts. Alcoholics suffer from indefinable fears (paranoia) and the family experiences constant lurking fear, due to internalized emotional stress. Low self-esteem is typical of the alcoholic (compensated by grandiose behaviour) and members of his or her family always feel inadequate. Both avoid social contacts.

'Denial' is a typical characteristic of addiction. Various forms of denial exist in the family – blaming: “his wife doesn't care”. This way the parents try and absolve themselves, conveniently transferring the blame to the daughter-in-law. Rather than acknowledge the increasing disability from addiction, as the disease goes wildly out of control, family members often explain away with rationalizations: "he's drinking due to pressure at office".

When an alcoholic continues drinking, the family ironically enables him to continue his addiction. In their attempts to help the alcoholic, the family members will unwittingly enable the drinking by:

     • Taking over the alcoholic’s responsibilities

     • Rescuing them from tight situations

     • Making excuses on their behalf

     • Providing money or shelter

This way, the alcoholic or addict is not allowed to face the consequences of their behaviour, and thus does not feel the need for recovery.

Modern treatment facilities like Hope Trust offer a recovery program for the family members while the alcoholic or addict is in treatment. This way the entire family is empowered to begin the tough journey on the 'road to recovery'. The goal of treatment is to make the family whole and healthy again. As a leading expert puts it: "Addiction is a family problem and recovery a family responsibility".

The road to recovery is certainly not easy - it requires tremendous courage and a lot of time. But it is worth the effort.

Hope Trust recognizes the fact that addiction is a family disease. Therefore Hope Trust lays special emphasis on the families, which are often neglected. The Hope Family Support Program helps the family while the client is in treatment.