Burlington, Vermont – November 3, 2011
Alcoholism is regularly referred to as a family disease, affecting not only the addict but everyone else who lives in the home.
“People see alcoholism with bad attached to it, with judgement attached to it,” said a mother of two who knows the stigma surrounding alcoholism and didn’t want to be identified. She’s been sober eight years, but says alcoholism once held her family hostage. “I would basically put the kids to bed and say, I deserve this — I deserve to drink, and so I drank at home alone. It was a pretty lonely disease,” she said.
The illness not only drags the addict, but also their loved ones through the ups and downs of the disease says Hannah Rose with the Turning Point Center. “Are they going to be under the influence? What is their mood going to be? What’s their stability? There’s the embarrassing things that the person with the disease may do out in public.”
Rose now runs the Burlington-based recovery and support center but she’s also a recovering alcoholic and knows first hand about the love-hate relationships many families share with their addict. “I think the family has the absolutely hardest job because it’s impacting their life too,” she said.
A life alcoholics say can be paved with broken promises, poor parenting and deep regrets. “Once it’s said, you can’t unsay it. you can’t undo it,” said Dick, a recovering alcoholic. “Today I’m working on amends with my children.”
Experts say living with an alcoholic can put tremendous stress on both a marriage and a family. Children tend to internalize their parent’s drinking and often blame themselves for the problem.
“I can’t even have alcohol in my house without my daughter saying no! because my daughter would cry every time I drank,” said Jennifer Ploof, a recovering alcoholic.
Health professionals say children of alcoholics are at a greater risk for birth defects, depression, anxiety, eating disorders and suicide attempts. They’re also three to four times more likely to become addicted to alcohol than other kids. And one in four will become alcoholics themselves.
“I knew I wasn’t giving my kids the utmost attention they should have. I don’t mean I left my kids behind or alone or I beat them, I just mean that I wasn’t mentally there 100-percent of the time,” said the mother of two.
But in many alcoholic homes domestic violence, verbal abuse and neglect is elevated. Keeping the family together, and healthy, during this lifelong disease can be a challenge.
“Often times while the alcoholic doesn’t seek help on their own, the family member is really struggling and doesn’t know where to go or who to turn to,” said Barbara Cimaglio with the Vermont Department of Health.
Al-Anon is one option. It’s a support group for families of alcoholics. Meetings are anonymous and can help families cope with their secret. “Family members that have made it through and stayed with someone to actually reach recovery are some of the most courageous people that I’ve ever met,” Rose said.
“I have had plenty of stuff thrown at me in sobriety,” the mother said. For this mom, a 12 step program, support groups, and exercise help her battle the disease. A lifelong fight to stay sober. “And that’s what recovery has done for me. It’s made me a part of something again when I was in a very lonely, lonely world,” she said.
Friday, in part three of our series, we’ll tackle treatment — talking to alcoholics about the rough road to recovery and rewards they’ve re-discovered in sobriety.