Family Response

Does this sound familiar? Perhaps you are clergy, a certified substance abuse counselor, an adult child of an alcoholic, or simply the neighbor of someone who is struggling to make the right decision about a husband, child, or other family member. The typical responses are often a complicated mix of fight or take flight or both.

Rev. Cynthia Sloan

Rev. Sloan

Families and friends who love someone addicted to alcohol or other drugs have experienced emotional pain that only another who has been in the same place can understand. One who has never experienced loving and being loved by an addict might say, “Why don’t you just leave them?” But would this be a valid solution if the afflicted person had cancer or diabetes? No, of course not.

Families and friends can help by:


  • Attending workshops on addictionGoing to open AA or NA meetings and learning firsthand from folks who have lived through the grip of addiction
  • Becoming a member of an Al-Anon family group.
  • Family members can play an integral part in the addict’s full recovery, but only if they are willing to work as hard at being a part of the solution as they have worked at being part of the problem. This not meant to be a criticism, only a statement of truth.

k1753299Everyone is reluctant to change what’s familiar. It is like having an old favorite pair of bedroom slippers. Though worn and ugly, they are comfortable and one is used to them. If one gets a new pair, will they feel the same … will there be a period of adjustment…will one miss wearing the old ones?

If you grew up in an alcoholic family, more likely than not you married an alcoholic. Somewhere in the back of your mind you found yourself doing the same things you promised yourself you would never do. Adult children of alcoholics find themselves married to someone they thought they could change or control.

Following are some characteristics of a person brought up in an alcoholic home:**

  • Hero–the well-adjusted child in the family who has it all together. They get good grades, are the star of the football team, and strive for perfection as validation. They need to be in control, but everything in their lives is out of control.
  • Scapegoat–the child who gets into trouble. He or she unconsciously chooses to be the “one problem” so that the other members of family will take their focus off the alcoholic/addict.
  • Lost Child–the “good one” who never does anything wrong to the extent of being lost in the shuffle. They grow up and typically marry someone they can take care of and/or fix.
  • Mascot–the child who makes the family laugh. They bring relief to the situation by putting on a comic mask to ease the emotional pain in the household.
  • Chief Enabler–usually the spouse who tries everything to “keep the secret.” They try to keep the family intact while it is falling apart. The only sense of relief the enabler might get is a brief period of sobriety the addict might demonstrate in response to a threat from that spouse. As the disease progresses, the enabler might feel a bit like a juggler with too many balls in the air. Eventually, this family member gets “sick and tried of being sick and tired” and either leaves and/or goes into recovery.

imageCAED7U2GThe importance of family members’ involvement in their own recovery cannot be overstressed. The family can and does make a difference in getting someone into a program of recovery. Just by becoming a member of Al-Anon, the family member learns: they didn’t cause it, they can’t control it, and they can’t cure it. The Three Cs of Al-Anon (also adopted by Alateen) provide relief and freedom to many people.

Freedom from depending on someone to provide our happiness is the start of the road to recovery. All kinds of miracles can happen when we decide we have had enough. It is time to quit playing to blame game and begin a journey toward freedom.

Pray this prayer with me:

God grant me the SERENITY to accept the things I can not change
COURAGE to change the things I can;
And the WISDOM to know the difference.

*From a letter to the clearinghouse for the Al-Anon family groups, which are an outgrowth of AA; 1990, Understanding and Counseling the Alcoholic by Howard Clinebell.

**From Counseling the Chemically Dependent by Rickey L. George.

Originally published by SPSARV & the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries. Permission granted to reprint.

Rev. Cynthia Sloan serves as program associate for the United Methodist Special Program on Substance Abuse and Related Violence (SPSARV), where she coordinates the delivery of training and resources for clergy and congregational ministry development. An ordained deacon of the Western North Carolina Conference, Rev. Sloan is a licensed clinical addictions specialist in the state of North Carolina.

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