Alcoholics' own misery must force them to seek help

October 23, 1997

QUESTION: My husband drinks excessively. Aside from getting help for my family, what should I specifically do 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 straight 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 may 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 no longer will 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 Bob, a recovering alcoholic, if he was forced to attend Alcoholics Anonymous, the program that put him on the road to recovery. He answered:

``Let me put it this way. No one goes to AA 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 AA 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 re-emphasize 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 both are listed in local phone books. Also to be found there is a number for National Council on Alcoholism, which can provide further guidance (call toll-free at 1-800-622-2255).

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.

Succeeding in marriage

QUESTION: If a man and woman really love each other, won't that hold their marriage steady when the storms come?

DR. DOBSON: Not necessarily - and certainly not if you are thinking of love as a romantic feeling.

Feeling wonderful about each other does not make two people compatible over the long haul.

Many couples assume the excitement of their courtship will continue for the rest of their lives. That never occurs!

It is naive to expect two unique individuals to mesh together like a couple of machines and to remain exhilarated throughout life. Even gears have multiple cogs with rough edges to be honed before they will work in concert.

That honing process usually occurs in the first year or two of marriage. The foundation for all that is to follow is laid in those critical months.

What often happens at this time is a dramatic struggle for power in the relationship. Who will lead? Who will follow? Who will determine how the money is spent? Who will get his or her way in times of disagreement?

Everything is up for grabs in the beginning, and the way these early decisions are made will set the stage for the future.

James Dobson is the president of Focus on the Family, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation of the home. Write to him in care of The Herald-Mail Co., P.O. Box 439, Hagerstown, Md. 21741.

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