Many high functioning alcoholics deny they have a drinking problem. They are able to do well in school or hold down a good job, exercise regularly, and provide a nice lifestyle for their family. They meet deadlines, make their daily appointments, sustain relationships and are getting along just fine. Basically, they successfully perform throughout the day and then go home and treat themselves to alcohol as a reward for the stress they are under or as a reward for a job well done. You probably know at least one person like this in your life. We care so much, but tend to skirt the issue because we don’t want to rock the boat or don’t feel it’s our place to discuss. However, immediate family members are often miserable because they know after a drink or two the behavior will become embarrassing, aggressive and unpredictable.
On the flip side, the alcoholic doesn’t see how his/her behavior is negatively affecting his family, but instead thinks it’s harmless or only harmful to himself. In reality, children of alcoholics are seriously affected for the rest of their life. Research shows that children from alcoholic families tend to have lower self-esteem and higher levels of stress, anxiety and depression than those who live in non-alcoholic households. They also have greater risk of truancy, making poor decisions and eventually modeling the behavior in adulthood.
It can be extremely difficult to approach the problem drinker because he or she is defensive and in complete denial. However, friends and family shouldn’t just let it go because years of living with this behavior is not only exhausting, but also contributes to a breakdown in intimate relationships and serious health issues for the alcoholic. The person might seem healthy enough because they aren’t overweight or slowing down right now, but in the long run alcohol abuse contributes to heart problems, depleted hydration and nutrients, disrupted sleep and liver disease.
So, how should you approach the topic? First of all wait until the person is totally sober. Direct the conversation so you are not being accusatory but instead explain how the drinking is causing a problem for you, your children and other friends and family. Tell them that you really care and want to help and keep the emphasis of the discussion focused on your own concerns rather than blaming them for living this lifestyle. By avoiding direct confrontation, you may be able to alleviate some of their defensiveness about the subject.
Realize that you won’t be able to solve the problem in one conversation. It will take time for them to get past the initial shock, denial, hurt or frustration that the topic causes. You may even find that they are unwilling to listen and you may have to back away from the relationship for a while. In the end, studies show that most people who seek help for alcoholism say that they would not have done it on their own. It was the action and influence taken by a loved one or friend that helped them to reexamine their lifestyle and enter a treatment program.