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How Alcoholism Impacts Work and the Family

Posted in Alcoholism

Alcoholism wreaks havoc on more than just the individual’s physical, mental, and emotional health. It also results in profound and often devastating effects on the alcoholic’s work and family life.

Alcoholism is Progressively Debilitating

No one chooses to become an alcoholic or to be dependent on alcohol. Regardless of the underlying causes of alcoholism (which may include genetic, environmental, family history and other factors), the fact remains that alcoholism results in progressive debilitation. The longer a person has been diagnosed with alcoholism and goes untreated, the worse his or her situation is likely to get.

How Work is Affected

Chronic alcoholics often lose their jobs, get demoted, or fail to win promotions because they lose so many days – unable to get up, still hung over, suffering the after effects of alcohol addiction, or just plain not caring.

Relationships with coworkers, supervisors, and bosses suffer as alcoholism progresses. The alcoholic – whether initially recognized with alcoholism or not – is gradually seen as untrustworthy, unbelievable, unreliable. He or she is not included in new projects or assignments, is often deliberately excluded from meetings, not copied in on memos, and not considered worthy of general inter-office communication – formal or informal. In effect, the alcoholic becomes more and more shut off from the main lines of communication, increasingly relegated to minimal-responsibility projects.

If Human Resources gets involved and tries to get the employee into an alcohol rehab or treatment program, there may be some hope for the individual to be able to keep his or her job upon successful completion of the program. If not, the individual may be fired, laid off, demoted, or have other employer-mandated penalties.

Since a stable work situation is so important to effective recovery following treatment, if you or a loved one is an alcoholic, the most important thing is to get him or her to accept and go into treatment. Use all the resources available to the employee through work, as well as any available federal, state, or local assistance.

How the Family is Affected

Alcoholism literally crushes the life out of the family. When one person in the family is an alcoholic, everyone in the family suffers. There is no escaping the tentacles of this deadly and devastating disease as it causes the alcoholic to spiral out of control. Violence, physical and/or sexual abuse may result. Other common consequences of alcoholism include bankruptcy or foreclosure, inability to pay bills, inattention to the needs of family members, and lack of care in personal appearance. The alcoholic is also prone to frequent arguments, often heated, and is suspicious, jealous, and quick to judge, irrational, illogical, demanding, and unremorseful.

At first, before alcoholism is diagnosed, the individual may have few or no telltale signs. The more he or she continues to drink, however – and especially if there’s a genetic predisposition to alcoholism – the quicker alcoholism will set in. The time from alcohol abuse to alcoholism differs for each person, since there is no single cause of the disease. Once the person is diagnosed as an alcoholic, he or she will always be an alcoholic. There is currently no cure – but the disease can be managed with treatment.

Here are some signs that your family member has alcoholism:

• Unable to limit the amount of alcohol consumed
• Feels a strong compulsion or need to drink
• More alcohol needs to be consumed in order to feel the same effects – known as tolerance
• Starts to have legal problems, problems with relationships in the family, at work, social problems
• Financial problems escalate
• Drinks alone or in secret
• Physical withdrawal symptoms – nausea, sweating, shaking – occur when stopping drinking
• Unable to remember conversations, activities, or commitments – called “blacking out”
• Engaging in a ritual of having drinks at a certain time, place, circumstances, and being extremely annoyed when this ritual is questioned or disturbed
• Irritability when the usual drinking time nears, especially if there’s no alcohol available
• Losing interest in family and other activities that used to bring pleasure
• Stashing alcohol in hideaways around the home, garage, car, office or elsewhere
• Ordering doubles, gulping drinks, deliberately becoming intoxicated, or drinking to feel “normal” again

Help for the Alcoholic and the Family

Encourage your loved one or family member to go into treatment for alcoholism – or go yourself if you are the alcoholic. Never allow the fear of not being able to pay to get in the way of treatment. There is always a way. For treatment facilities in your area, call the Treatment Referral Helpline maintained by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) at 1-800-662-HELP.

Family members also can benefit from family treatment, which is often a component of residential treatment programs for alcoholism. While the alcoholic is undergoing treatment, family members attend family therapy, lectures, and group discussions. This helps prepare family members for when their loved one returns home following treatment.
After treatment, the alcoholic is encouraged to attend Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.), a 12-step fellowship group. Attendance at A.A. meetings is likely to begin during treatment.

Family members have an A.A. counterpart in Al-Anon/Alateen groups. Al-Anon is for people who are affected by someone else’s alcoholism. During the meetings, through sharing of stories, participants gain a greater understanding of how alcoholism affects the entire family. Al-Anon uses the 12-steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, and also emphasizes the need for forgiveness and detachment. In many areas, Alateen groups are available for teenage children of alcoholics. Your doctor or counselor can refer you to these groups. They are also listed in the phone book, local newspaper, or on the Internet.

Don’t allow alcoholism to ruin the life of your loved one and everyone in your family. Get treatment now.