Loving an Alcoholic
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Loving an alcoholic

Loving An Alcoholic

Elizabeth Choate, MS, LMFT

Your Therapy Tools


Alcoholism is a slow, debilitating, and persistent addiction that not only hurts the alcoholic but those who live with them, love them, and especially those who become their caretakers while believing they are in a relationship. If you are the alcoholic, it is never too late to get help, and if you’re the person who loves one, lives with one, or is in a relationship with one, there is support out there for you as well. You are not alone.

Alcoholism, Alcohol, loving an alcoholic, living with an alcoholic, addiction.

Loving an Alcoholic

Alcoholism is a slow, debilitating, and persistent addiction that not only hurts the alcoholic but those who live with them, love them, and especially those who become their caretakers while believing they are in a relationship. If you are the alcoholic, it is never too late to get help, and if you’re the person who loves one, lives with one, or is in a relationship with one, there is support out there for you as well. You are not alone.

Alcoholism, like all other addictions, is fueled by regret, insecurities, and the drive to bury the pain or forget why it is there. Drinking alcohol is an escape from shame, trauma, feelings of failure, and grief. Sometimes alcoholism develops when people drink out of boredom and peer pressure, then find that they are craving a good drunk all the time. Others are binge drinkers who function well all week at work then get hammered all weekend long as a form of stress relief. Self-medicating with booze provides temporary relief from mental ailments such as stress, depression, and anxiety while damaging the brain and body.

Family members, companions, children, and other loved ones of alcoholics witness the above-mentioned cycle of destruction, experience hitting the ceiling of tolerance with their alcoholic while they begin feeling resentful, angry, alone, afraid, and disgusted. At the same time, they are also the caretaker, enabler, and dreamer who wishes, hopes, and prays that the alcoholic will slow down or stop drinking because it is heartbreaking and infuriating to watch a loved one circle the drain and slowly commit suicide.

The Damage.

There is a term I have for what alcohol does to the brain, Swiss Cheese Brain. I came up with this watching relatives and friends get hammered then getting stuck in a loop of a topic, they would repeat the story over and over much like someone with dementia might do. The story is always a significant piece of their past, sometimes it is a happy one and sometimes it is resentful or sad. None the less it is always a trip down memory lane. For the loved one of the alcoholics, these redundant trips down memory lane generate eye rolls, long sighs, and the wish that- just for once- the alcoholic could come to the present and get the hell out of the past.

Alcoholics gravitate to their glory days and to who has wronged them in life, it all depends on what they are ruminating about and what triggered them. Sometimes the trigger is a song, a movie, a scent, etc., and no matter what is going on around them they will tell that same old story verbatim and insist their loved ones listen like a captive (and I emphasize Captive) audience. Even when the loved one is trying to watch a movie, listen to a podcast, or read a book, it doesn’t matter, the lush is going to corner them and tell that story as though it were the first time anyone has ever heard it while the loved one thinks, ‘Oh God, please, not this story again’.

Malfunctions.

People who are addicted to alcohol malfunction often; they pass out while eating and drop their plates and sometimes choke, they pass out while holding their drink and drop it on the floor, they drive while intoxicated and sometimes kill others on the road, they pass out and urinate in their clothes, they pass out and choke on their own vomit, they leave phone chargers plugged in with the charger plug on the floor then pass out and spill their drink between their feet and the live electrocution threat, they fall down and break bones, they pass out on the toilet and fall, they lose all inhibition and act out of character (promiscuousness, rage and destruction, theft, etc.), and experience memory loss that causes them to deny all malfunctions the next day unless someone records them and presents the evidence.

The alcoholic is trapped in a prison on their dysfunction in their own minds. Many cannot endure social interaction without having a few drinks in their system. All events from children’s birthday parties, going to a movie theater, going skiing, having a BBQ, eating breakfast, or even just being conscious requires mass amounts of alcohol. It is their armor, their courage, their escape, their medicine, and one will rarely if ever witness that alcoholic in a sober state.


Codependency.

People who love alcoholics most likely grew up surrounded by them. They do not love them because they choose to, at least not consciously, they love them because they learned early on to be caretakers of them. Children of alcoholics become parentified, they take care of their drunk parents and take on the responsibility of caring for their siblings, the home, the pets, and themselves. The codependent traits strengthen and carry on into adulthood and result in people finding themselves in a relationship with or married to an alcoholic. The cycle continues.

The loved one is constantly trying to correct the alcoholic’s malfunctions. They unplug all phone chargers not in use, watch for signs that the alcoholic will be passing out and take the glass from their death grip and put it in the kitchen, they nudge them while they’re eating to keep them from passing out and choking, they help them change their clothes after they’ve peed themselves, and they try to clean up this mess of a human as best they can. All of this while the loved one gets no needs met, feels exhausted, feels lonely, sacrifices themselves to ensure the comfort of a very dysfunctional human being.

 Alcohol annihilates erections but the alcoholic values that high more than love and connection, so the loved one is left in an unvoluntary state of celibacy while weighing the option to cheat or deciding to go ahead with it, or simply learning to adapt to a sexless life while their youth wastes away in sacrifice for another who is completely oblivious to anyone but themselves. Some alcoholics will take Viagra and cheat on their significant other as well, especially with coworkers who don’t see the lush but the better, more sober version of them because they drink less at work as they have to hide it while on the clock. So, someone else gets the best of the functioning alcoholic while the loved one never sees that best side again. The loved ones are committing a slow suicide with their codependent caretaking of the addicted.

It is an unhealthy carousel for all involved. Watching another person debilitate themselves is heartbreaking, frustrating, and sometimes dangerous. The caretaker of the alcoholic hopes, prays, and tries to love the alcoholic to healing. Those are the ‘ups’ or highs of the roller coaster ride, the lows involve exhaustion, compassion fatigue, and a slow simmering anger that eats away at the body and soul. Alcoholism is a plague that spreads its ill effects to all parties involved. It really takes the fun and glamour out of the word party.

As you read this you may be shaking your head in agreement, feeling frustrated, or maybe even shedding some tears. If you love an alcoholic, you are one tough cookie! You are likely loyal to your core, patient as a saint, and loving without limits while also running on fumes while you are running out of ideas on how to help the one you love to heal. While these traits are quite beneficial to others, and admiral, virtuous even, they are not so helpful for your needs and your self-care. You’re trying to heal the wrong person, love.

Codependency develops when we become a caretaker and our ego drives us to be the healer, martyr, hero who saves this poor soul. You need to be needed in order to feel worthy. You say yes to everyone but you. It is time to learn who you have the power to heal, truly, and that person is you. You are not alone. It is NOT selfish to practice good self-care with healthy boundaries, knowing your limits, and being true to you. A good therapist can help you with learning to love you, Alanon groups are very helpful, as well as several self-help books such as Codependent No More (January 1, 1986 by Melody Beattie). 

You can only control you; you can truly only heal yourself, you need support, and you deserve a break from the heartache, chaos, and heartbreak. The alcoholic is addicted to booze and you are addicted to the alcoholic, this is robbing you of your youth, your sanity, your circle of friends, your dignity, your security, and maybe even your bank account. My hope for you is that get to work on healing yourself and gain the tools, support, and the knowledge you need to find your happiness and overcome what has held you back from living your best life.  You. ARE. SO. WORTH. It.

For more information on healing, check out my podcast

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