How Can I Help a Loved One Who Has an Alcohol Problem?
by Jim Howard, former Director, Missouri Lawyers Assistance Program
The answer would be simple if we were talking about some other disease, such as diabetes, cancer or heart. Once presented with the reality of the disease, (usually by discussing the observable symptoms), the afflicted individual is usually more than willing to initiate a professional evaluation to review the symptoms, rule the disease in or out and if contracted, to proceed with an immediate treatment program
Identification of the symptoms of alcoholism, and willingness by the alcoholic to seek help are not quite so simple. Due to centuries of shame and moralizing about alcoholism, unfortunately, there is still a strong stigma attached to the disease. Thus, often the family, along with the alcoholic, will deny its existence.
Help for impaired lawyers and judges in Missouri has been available for some time now. The Intervention Committee of the Supreme Court has been active in facilitating interventions for impaired lawyers and judges since 1986. Initially designed to intervene when substance abuse was considered a likely contributing factor in disciplinary cases, Rule 16 was modified in 1993 to provide for interventions for third-party referrals from families, friends and colleagues. Prior to 1986, effective assistance for impaired lawyers was provided by volunteer recovering lawyers and judges. Many of these volunteers continue to unselfishly help impaired brother and sister lawyers in the state.
With MOLAP services extended to the families of members of the Missouri Bar, it seems appropriate to address the issue of helping a family member with an alcohol program. Virtually all individuals with an active alcohol problem will be in some form of denial. The problem drinker will likely not initiate help. It usually takes the courageous intervention by those who are important in the life of the problem drinker (significant others).
One of the most effective techniques available to confront the individual with the reality of the alcohol problem is the intervention. While a formal intervention with a professional facilitator may be appropriate, the actual intervention process should begin much earlier. Actually, any positive change by the spouse, family, friends or business colleagues begins the process. There is a myth that nothing can be done to help the alcoholic until he or she hits bottom and is ready for help. While there may be some truth in this, the fact is that significant others can help the alcoholic want to get help.
Important, positive steps include:
Education about the disease of alcoholism, including symptoms. Alcoholism is a disease to be treated, not a moral problem to be solved. The earlier the treatment, the better the chance of recovery, much like other diseases. Without help, the alcoholic may die. Alcoholism is a progressive disease that kills over 250,000 annually.
Family counseling is usually appropriate and beneficial. This counseling is not just to facilitate help for the alcoholic. Rather, it is to provide help for the family members who unquestionably have been damaged and affected by the drinking problem.
Self-help groups are available for family members, such as Alanon, Alateen, and Adult Children of Alcoholics.
With changes in the family, and the consistent, caring presentation of the reality of the drinking problem and its impact on the family, the active alcoholic may respond positively to the suggestion of getting help. Help is available in the form of treatment, usually followed with regular attendance in a 12-step recovery program. A professional assessment will determine if there is a problem and if so, the appropriate level of care.
If the alcoholic continues to refuse help, then a formal, professional intervention should be considered. The important thing to keep in mind is that alcoholism is treatable, and that help is available for the problem drinker and his or her family.
The Missouri Lawyers Assistance Program (MOLAP) is available to provide assistance and guidance. To lose a loved one as a result of this disease need not happen. For information or professional confidential assistance, call: