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Family must unite when loved one has a drinking problem


QUESTION: My husband drinks excessively. Aside from getting help for my family, what should I do specifically for him? How on earth am I going to get him to go to Alcoholics Anonymous or some similar treatment program? He is deep in denial, and I’m not even sure he’s thinking right now. He couldn’t make a rational decision to save his life. How am I going to get him to cooperate?

DR. DOBSON: You’re right about the difficulties you face. Begging won’t accomplish anything, and your husband will be dead before he admits he has a problem. Indeed, thousands die each year while denying that they are alcoholics.

That’s why Al-Anon teaches family members how to confront in love. They learn how to remove the support systems that prop up the disease and permit it to thrive. They are shown how and when to impose ultimatums that force the alcoholic to admit his or her need for help. And sometimes they recommend separation until the victim is so miserable that his or her denial will no longer hold up.

In essence, Al-Anon teaches its own version of the “love must be tough” philosophy to family members who must implement it.

I asked one recovered alcoholic I know if he was forced to attend Alcoholics Anonymous – the program that put him on the road to recovery. He said:

“Let me put it this way. No one goes to A.A. just because they’ve nothing better to do that evening. Everyone there has been forced to attend initially. You just don’t say, ‘On Monday night we watched a football game, and on Tuesday we went to the movies. So what will we do on Wednesday? How about going over to an A.A. meeting?’ It doesn’t work that way. Yes – I was forced – forced by my own misery. Pauline allowed me to be miserable for my own good. It was loving duress that moved me to attend.”

Though it may sound easy to achieve, the loving confrontation that brought Bob to his senses was a delicate maneuver. I must reemphasize that families should not attempt to implement it on their own initiative. Without the training and assistance of professional support groups, the encounter could degenerate into a hateful, vindictive, name-calling battle that would serve only to solidify the drinker’s position.

Al-Anon Family Groups and Alcoholics Anonymous are both listed in local phone books. Also to be found there is a number of the Council on Alcoholism, which can provide further guidance. For teenagers of an alcoholic parent, there is Alateen. Teens can go there and share without their parents’ permission or knowledge, and it’s free.

QUESTION: Children seem to be growing up at a younger age today than in the past. Is this true, and if so, what accounts for their faster development?

DR. DOBSON: Yes, it is true. Statistical records indicate that our children are growing taller today than in the past, probably resulting from better nutrition, medicine, exercise, rest, and recreation. And this more ideal physical environment has apparently caused sexual maturity to occur at younger and younger ages. It is thought that puberty in a particular child is triggered when he or she reaches a certain level of growth; therefore, when environmental and general health factors propel a youngster upward at a faster rate, sexual maturation occurs earlier.

For example, in 1850 the average age of menarche (first menstruation) in Norwegian girls was 17.0 years of age; in 1950, it was 13.0. The average age of puberty in females had dropped four years in one century. In the United States the average age of menarche dropped from 16.5 in 1840 to 12.9 in 1950. More recent figures indicate that it now occurs on average at 12.8 years of age! Thus, the trend toward younger dating and sexual awareness is a result, at least in part, of this “fast track” mechanism.

Dr. Dobson is founder and Chairman Emeritus of the nonprofit organization Focus on the Family, Colorado Springs, Colo. 80995 ( Questions and answers are excerpted from “Complete Marriage and Family Home Reference Guide” and “Bringing Up Boys,” both published by Tyndale House. COPYRIGHT 2010 JAMES DOBSON INC.