Alcoholism: Whose Fault Is It?
When something goes wrong, when someone gets hurt, when we make a mistake we often look for the reason why or the cause of the problem. If you trip on a shoe when you walk into the house it’s natural to get frustrated with the person who left the shoe in the doorway and so we say, “I tripped because of what you did. It’s your fault.” If you are running late for a meeting and there is a slow car in front of you it’s not uncommon to get angry and blame the person in front for “making me late” or to take it personally and feel like they are driving slow on purpose.
The same thing happens with alcoholics: they say they drink because of someone or something else. But the truth is only one person is responsible for their actions, for their drinking, and that is the person who is actually doing the drinking. So, how can you frame fault-finding and start to concentrate on improving communication in an alcoholic family? More here, with a section at the end for your questions or comments.
I drink because…
Many children of alcoholics hear something like, “I drink because you do [blank].”
Whatever ‘blank’ might be in your house, when you hear something often enough, for long enough it is easy to start believing that it is true. Especially when you are young. Alcoholism is a disease with a great deal of denial, and so you are not going to hear an alcoholic say, “I drink because I am out of control,” or “I drink because I have unresolved pain and am self-medicating,” or “I drink because I just can’t help it and I don’t know how to stop.” Instead it is easier to blame someone else, to make someone else the cause of the problem and that is exactly what happens.
Tripping over the shoes…Again and again
Imagine again the situation where you keep tripping over the shoes that get left in the doorway. The first time it makes sense to be upset with the person who left them there. The second time maybe you are frustrated and irritated. The third time you probably need to remember to turn on the light so you don’t trip. You know the shoes are there, it is your job to avoid them. The same thing is true for the alcoholic, their behavior, their actions, their choices are their own and the decision to drink belongs only to them. No one can make someone else drink no matter how annoying the behavior or frustrating the situation.
But alcoholism is not your fault
Just like with the shoes certain situations may be annoying, but we can ask people for what we need or we can learn other ways to cope with bad situations. You can say to someone, “Every time I come home I trip over your shoes, please put them somewhere else.” You can go around the shoes, you can turn on the light. You can make a choice about how you deal with the circumstances.
In the same way, alcohol abuse in the family can start to become a pattern. Maybe you got in a fight with your father and after he had a drink to calm down. Now everyday when he has a drink he says it is because of you, he gets drunk because he doesn’t like your friends, your grades are not good enough, you fight with your siblings – whatever. But your father, your mother, who ever it is has a choice in how they deal with the situations that are frustrating to them. If the choice they make is to drink, that is their choice, their action and only they can make it.
Start or stop: We can’t control another’s alcoholism
People often say that alcoholism is a baffling disease. There is so much that we don’t understand about preventing, treating or curing alcoholism, there is so much we don’t understand about what makes someone continue to drink when even they know that it is hurting them and the people around them. And growing up in an alcoholic home can take years, decades, or a lifetime to come to peace with.
But we do know that it is a disease of the person who has it – no one but themselves is making them drink, no one but themselves can make them stop. We may feel bad when we have a fight with someone, we may feel like we are not doing the best we can do with our life and our choices, but what they do with their frustration, their anger, or their irritation is up to them. Sometimes it might feel good to think that if we were just a little bit better in whatever way we were supposed to we could make them stop, but we can’t; we can’t make them stop drinking, just like we can’t make them start!
Do you have a question or comment? Are you looking for family therapy for alcohol problems? Please leave your questions, comments, or concerns here. We’ll do our best to respond to you personally and promptly.