“Before A.A., I could not, or would not, admit I was wrong. My pride would not let me. And yet I was ashamed of me.
Now ask any recovering alcoholic if they have a disease and without a moments hesitation they will tell you yes.
There is much debate amongst people if alcoholism is a disease or not. It doesn’t fit the mould of a disease and most of the time we deny it exists.
Even though alcoholism has been recognized by the medical community as a chronic, progressive and even fatal disease, those who suffer from it sometimes refuse to admit they have a disease.
Even though alcoholism has some of the same characteristics of diseases. Alcoholism has a predictable course just like any other disease and comes with recognized symptoms also.
So what is alcoholism?
- An Obsession
The most simple way to put it is that alcoholism is a mental obsession that causes a physical compulsion to drink alcohol. A alcoholic has no control over his urge to drink and the only way to stop that urge is to take a drink.
Alcoholism also progresses overtime. You don’t start out automatically drinking 10 drinks a day, instead you start off with maybe 2 drinks, and then 2 becomes 3 drinks and so on. This happens slowly sometimes over the course of a few years and more often than not, you will never even realize when alcohol has taken over your life.
Many people are hesitant to call alcoholism a disease because the cause of the disease is alcohol dependence. It is not a germ or anything invades your body. Some could argue that alcohol is a toxin that enters your body and causes the disease. Not everyone buys that though.
To some of us alcoholism might just be an excuse to drink.
However the medical field feels differently. Some doctors have begun to refer to alcoholism as “alcohol dependence syndrome”.
Many also state that it is a progressive disease and moves through stages.
- There is an early stage, which is when it might take only one or two drinks to get the cravings to stop.
- As it moves into the middle stage it takes more drinks to stop the cravings. Alcohol begins to have more control in the middle stages of alcoholism.
- Finally in end stage alcoholism, an alcoholic has no control over his or her own life. Alcohol is calling the shots. Most alcoholics do not even know that they lost control as time goes on. This is why denial is a symptom that almost all alcoholics suffer from.
Doctors can diagnose alcoholism after a full exam that includes a behavioral evaluation and a medical evaluation.
- A behavioral evaluation will look at your history, drinking patterns and even environmental issues like your stress level to determine what your alcohol use is.
- A medical evaluation is when your doctor will look for physical symptoms of alcohol dependence. You might be submitted to tests to see if there is any neurological damage or any damage done to your organs.
Just as with many diseases, alcoholism can be treated and managed but there is no cure for it. You can not say you were an alcoholic but rather you are a recovering alcoholic.
by Jeff Stevens
For more information on how Alcoholics Anonymous helps recovering alcoholics a popular website that contains information and advice for dealing with alcoholism including information on what motivates teenage alcohol abuse.
Recovering alcoholics can benefit from Al-Anon
R.J. has been clean and sober and an active member of Alcoholics Anonymous for 20 years. He lives the Twelve Step program each day, one day at a time. He attends AA meetings faithfully, reads the literature, meditates, and asks his Higher Power for guidance. He has told his story many times and listened with loving acceptance to the stories of others, as AA members are encouraged to do. He thought nothing about addiction could surprise him at this point in his life and recovery.
Then he discovered his 20-year old son had a drug and alcohol problem. "I felt so stupid," he said. "I know this stuff, and it never entered my mind that my son was using. He was the good boy, the one who got straight A’s. He knows I’m a recovering alcoholic and that his mother (my ex-wife) is a practicing one. I thought knowing about us would keep him sober. But he got to a point where he seemed paralyzed; he couldn’t stay on track. One day I said, sort of in passing, ‘You act like you’re on drugs.’ He said, ‘I am.’ When I asked what kind and he said he’d tried ‘just about everything,’ I was stunned. I didn’t know what to do."
Not knowing what to do, R.J. did nothing the night of his son’s revelation except listen. "I told him I wouldn’t preach or yell, but I asked him if I could tell him when I heard him giving me the ‘standard’ addict’s lines like, ‘I have it under control.’ He said I could, and we talked until 4 a.m."
Next, R.J. sought help from others. His first impulse was to issue an edict telling his son not to come around until he got straight, but a counselor at work cautioned that things could get worse if his son felt abandoned, with no safe places or safe people to turn to. "She suggested I establish clear rules so he wouldn’t come here high or use here, but let him know that I love him and I’d do whatever it takes to help him when he’s ready."
When a long-time friend (also a recovering alcoholic) suggested going to Al-Anon, R.J. said he was "blown away" by the idea. Like many recovering alcoholics, he had always viewed Al-Anon as a Twelve Step mutual-help group for "them"–the family and friends of the alcoholic–and AA as the Twelve Step group for "us"–the alcoholics who affected their lives.
R.J. and his friend went to an Al-Anon meeting where they were the only men. He confessed that he was very nervous at first but said the familiar Twelve-Step meeting structure eased his anxiety. "Then I said, ‘I’m an alcoholic–the reason you’re here–but now I need help.’ It broke the ice, and they welcomed us with so much warmth and generosity."
Because it is not unusual to have more than one problem drinker in a family, it makes sense that recovering alcoholics can also be affected by another’s alcohol or drug use, and that they could benefit from the fellowship and support of Al-Anon. Except for one word in Step Twelve where Al-Anon has substituted the word "others" for AA’s word "alcoholics," the Steps of the two groups are identical.
"At AA we learn that we’re powerless over alcohol. At Al-Anon you discover that you’re powerless over others," explained R.J. He thought the Al-Anon members he met also gained by meeting two recovering alcoholics who embrace the same Twelve Step philosophy they do.
R.J. said it was a profound experience to view addiction "from the other side of the fence" at Al-Anon. "It struck such a chord when a woman there told me I’ve got my story, but my son is still writing his. I can tell him about my path and show him a path exists, but I can’t walk it for him."
Al-Anon meetings are held in 115 countries, and there are over 24,000 Al-Anon groups worldwide. For more information visit http://www.al-anon.alateen.org/.
Alive & Free is a health column that provides information to help prevent substance abuse problems and address such problems. It is created by Hazelden, a nonprofit agency based in Center City, Minn. "Copyright © 2003 Hazelden Foundation. All rights reserved." Any other use of the Web site or the information contained here is strictly prohibited.
Detachment with love takes on deeper meaning
One of the great gifts of the addiction recovery movement is the concept of detachment with love. Originally conceived as a way to relate to an alcoholic family member, detachment with love is actually a tool that we can apply with anyone.
Al-Anon, a Twelve Step mutual-help group for friends and family members of alcoholics, pioneered the idea of detachment with love. A core principle of Al-Anon is that alcoholics cannot learn from their mistakes if they are overprotected.
That word "overprotected" has many meanings. For example, it means calling in sick for your husband if he is too drunk to show up for work. Overprotecting also means telling children that mommy didn’t show up for the school play because she had to work late, when the truth is that she was at a bar until midnight.
"We used to call such actions ’enabling,’ because they enabled alcoholics to continue drinking," says Rosemary Hartman, supervisor of the Hazelden Family Program in Center City, Minn. "Today we use the word ’adapting,’ which is less blaming."
Originally, detachment with love was a call for family members to stop adapting, Hartman adds. But as Al-Anon grew, people misunderstood detachment with love as a way to scare alcoholics into changing: "If you don’t go to treatment, I’ll leave you!" Such threats were a gamble that fear could force an alcoholic into seeking help.
For years the concept of detachment with love got stuck there. In fact, says Hartman, people still call Hazelden to ask: "If the person I love continues to drink or use other drugs, should I leave?"
"My response is to ask family members to consider a deeper meaning of detachment with love," says Hartman. "This meaning centers on new questions: What are your needs beyond the needs of the alcoholic or addict? How can you take care of yourself even if the person you love chooses not to get help?"
Detachment with love means caring enough about others to allow them to learn from their mistakes. It also means being responsible for our own welfare and making decisions without ulterior motives — the desire to control others.
"Ultimately we are powerless to control others anyway," says Hartman. "Most family members of a chemically dependent person have been trying to change that person for a long time, and it hasn’t worked. We are involved with other people but we don’t control them. We simply can’t stop people from doing things if they choose to continue."
Understood this way, detachment with love plants the seeds of recovery. When we refuse to take responsibility for other people’s alcohol or drug use, we allow them to face the natural consequences of their behavior. If a child asks why Mommy missed the school play, we do not have to lie. Instead, we can say: "I don’t know why she wasn’t here. You’ll have to ask her."
Perhaps the essence of detachment with love "is responding with choice rather than reacting with anxiety," Hartman says. "When we threaten to leave someone, we’re usually tuned in to someone else’s feelings. We operate on raw emotion. We say things for shock value. Our words arise from blind reaction, not thoughtful choice."
Detachment with love offers another option: responding to others based on thought rather than anxiety. For instance, as parents we set limits for our children even when this angers them. We choose what we think is best over the long term, looking past children’s immediate emotional reaction.
In this sense, detachment with love can apply whenever we have an emotional attachment to someone — family or friend, addicted or sober. The key is to stop being responsible for others and be responsible to them — and to ourselves.
Alive & Free is a health column that provides information to help prevent substance abuse problems and address such problems. It is created by Hazelden, a nonprofit agency based in Center City, Minn. "Copyright © 2003 Hazelden Foundation. All rights reserved."
S-Anon is a program of recovery for those who have been affected by someone else’s sexual behavior. S-Anon is based on the Twelve Steps and the Twelve Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous. We encourage you to browse our web site for information about the S-Anon program,
The Twelve Steps of S-Anon
The Twelve Steps of S-Anon are the foundation of our personal growth and recovery. The principles of the Twelve Steps are universal, applicable to all of us, regardless of our various beliefs.
When practiced as a way of life, these spiritual principles help us to meet and rise above all difficulties in our lives – not just those associated with living with or having lived with sexaholism. Here are the Twelve Steps we follow which are suggested for our recovery:
- We admitted we were powerless over sexaholism – that our lives had become unmanageable.
- Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
- Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him.
- Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
- Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
- Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
- Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
- Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
- Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
- Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
- Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
- Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps, we tried to carry this message to others and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
The Twelve Steps reprinted and adapted with permission of Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc.
Families and friends of alcoholics can help find hope and help in Al-Anon/Alateen
Those who live with alcoholism often live in fear: fear of abuse, fear of anger, fear of trusting others.
Al-Anon Family Groups (including Alateen for younger members) is a source of understanding, help, and hope to families and friends of alcoholics. The following story, originally published in the August 2002 issue of Al-Anon’s monthly magazine, The Forum, illustrates some of the fears experienced.
My pattern of isolation began in childhood when my mother’s abusive behavior became a source of sadness and embarrassment. I coped by being a good little girl and keeping my feelings to myself. Years later, while I suffered from my son’s alcoholism, I withdrew again. When the pain became intolerable, I decided to try Al-Anon.
It was scary walking into a room that was full of strangers, so I put on my everything’s okay mask. Then the members began to share their stories. Everyone’s words carried such depth and honesty that I began to feel hopeful. I thought maybe I could let my guard down, too. Maybe somebody would finally understand.
Continuing to attend meetings, I confronted longtime habits of self-pity that kept me stuck in misery. It was pretty difficult to feel alone and sorry for myself when I sat with people whose experiences were the same or even worse than mine.
When I was little, I often blamed myself for Mommy’s anger. Later I felt somehow guilty about my son’s alcoholism. Al-Anon told me I did not cause the disease and that I could not control or cure it, either. The only thing I could change, I learned, was my own response. As I gradually let go of guilt, I felt a new sense of lightness and freedom.
Sometimes I still find myself sliding back into isolation, but now I have a choice. I can stay in a dark, lonely place, if that’s what I choose. Or I can keep coming back to this program, into the healing light of intimacy with my fellow travelers on this journey we call life.
(Al-Anon members maintain personal anonymity in print, on radio, TV, film and the Internet)
Family recovery key to treatment for alcoholism.
Alcoholics and alcohol abusers attract more public attention, but their families and friends also suffer long-term effects from alcoholism-and their recovery may be essential to the alcoholic’s recovery, according to a leading researcher in the field.
"Alcoholism is a family disease. While it is important for the family to support the alcoholic’s recovery, it is also important for members of the family to get involved in their own recovery.
Family recovery decreases the chances that the children of alcoholics will repeat the pattern and engage in unhealthy relationships," said Robert J. Ackerman, Ph.D., cofounder of the National Association for Children of Alcoholics and director of the Mid-Atlantic Addiction Training Institute at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), there are 18 million alcoholics in the U.S. More than 500,000 Canadians are dependent on alcohol, according to the Canadian Community Health Survey. According to commonly accepted health-care provider estimates, each alcoholic adversely affects the lives of an estimated four-to-ten people. The number of impacted American and Canadian family members and friends is between 74 and 185 million.
"CCSA and Al-Anon are working toward a common goal, to reduce alcohol-related harm to families." Perron added, "We commend the work Al-Anon has done for more than 55 years to provide support to families touched by alcohol dependency. " CCSA provides objective, evidence-based information and advice aimed at reducing the health, social, and economic harm associated with substance abuse and addictions.
For 55 years relatives and friends of alcoholics in Al-Anon Family Groups have shared experience and hope with each other in order to solve their common problems.
Al-Anon believes alcoholism is a family illness and that changed attitudes can aid recovery.