The 1994 film "When a Man Loves a Woman" tells the story of a woman causing her family pain because of her drinking problem. It was a hit for Meg Ryan, but to many people, this is real life.
Nearly 14 million people in the United States – one of every 13 adults – abuse alcohol or are alcoholic. And more than half of all adults have a family history of alcoholism, with more than nine million children living with a parent who has an addiction of some sort, according to information from Brown University. "...Alcoholism is an illness, and it's something like diabetes or any other sort of illness...," according to Lee Holmes, a therapist in Helena, Mont.
According to EMedicineHealth.com,
some of the symptoms of alcoholism include insomnia, blackouts, chronic depression, loss of employment, financial difficulties, frequent intoxicated appearance and weight loss. But many alcoholics go unrecognized by doctors, because they have learned to conceal the amount of drinking they're doing -- and the body can help, adapting physically to the increasing amount of alcohol in the bloodstream.
And, according to the Web site, spouses sometimes minimalize the problem, taking over family obligations like finances as a way to avoid the problem or because they don't want others to find out about it. But the stress from that illness can eventually cause marital problems, including separation and divorce.
It's often difficult to advise families dealing with alcoholism, because each alcoholic is different, said Ed Azzam, a Lutheran minister and therapist in Athens, Ala. "Some (alcoholics) are very quiet and just keep off by themselves, but some are very aggressive," he said.
And the problems alcoholics create are often different in each family, he said. Sometimes, he said, "(alcoholics) have learned to excuse themselves for their attitudes and blame their wives for creating a situation for which they get in trouble. ...He then has this little slave child who he can blame all his faults on, and anything that goes wrong is her fault."
Azzam said talking to a spouse directly is the best way to deal with the probelm. "In order to help an alcoholic, you have to use tough love, and tough love is the only way. It can be very difficult..," he said.
He suggested an intervention, which is a gathering of friends and family, who all take turns talking with the person who has a problem. "...Each one has to say the things they love about him, they like about him, and the things they dislike, and when it's all done, say, 'We have a representative from the rehabilitation center who will take you to the rehab center right now, because an alcoholic doesn't believe he's at fault, she's at fault. They believe the world is bad and deal with it by drinking."
But Holmes said the key to successfully overcoming alcoholism is for an alcoholic to find out why he or she drinks. "...If they drink to escape, and they need to understand what they're trying to escape from," he said. "...Alcoholism comes from a pattern of behavior, but it isn't promoted only by drinking, but unresolved feelings, and they need to resolve what that issue is, and thats where the healing comes from."
Azzam added: :"An alcoholic generally starts sometimes, before he's 10, maybe 12 years old. Most of the really bad ones, they've never learned how to live a life. You must first teach them...."
Once an alcoholic is in recovery, reading often helps them progress, according to Azzam. "....I have a set of books called 'the classics.' I offer them biographies and autobiographies of famous men. I give them one of these, and say, 'Read as much as you can handle, and come back and tell me about it," Azzam said. "They say, 'That was quite a guy,' and I say, 'No, that was a regular guy who knew how to focus on things to do them very well.'"
Many, he said, haven't learned simple life skills, so he coaches them. "Not every alcoholic is that bad. Some of them manage to get very good jobs. They're alcoholics all through high school and college, and their jobs, but it gets to them, and eventually they need retraining, and I teach them how to live," Azzam said.
If you're a spouse dealing with an alcoholic, Holmes offered several points to examine when considering divorce. 1. Has the alcoholic tried to get help?
"I think the best approach is simply to evaluate what has gone on in the past, and if there's any sort of attempt to change the behavior. Everyone needs a chance to do that. It's really a tough syndrome to work with, because it has the occasion to return," he said.2. Has the alcoholic tried to change their behavior?
"It has to be determined not by verbal communication, but by behavioral patterns that have to be observed, and actions. It really is determined by the level of commitment, so if you were to step into a relationship, that needs to be something to really be considered," he said. 3. If they've made an effort, try to support it.
"I think its a tough situation, and a tough thing to really do, and it can't be done alone," Holmes said.