Alcoholism and my family: family denial

At Eden Recovery and Rehabilitation Centre we define alcoholism as a complex disease of the brain and body that is often marked by chronic relapse. This disease involves the compulsive need and use of alcohol regardless of serious health and social consequences. However alcoholism isn’t just the addict’s problem it is a family affair and often a very dark one. Alcoholics can be of any race, gender, and background or income level, it doesn’t discriminate. Alcohol may be infecting the addict but it is affecting the entire family structure. At Eden Recovery we know addicts are masters of justification. We see this time and time again where families confront the addict on their behavior. The addict then replies with plenty justifications often very believable ones to why their life is such a mess. The ironic and most concerning factor is that within alcoholism it’s not just the addict that denies the addiction but the family as well. At Eden we refer to this as family denial. The family members start denying the real problem because that is what the alcoholic is doing.  Family denial within a dysfunctional system occurs in at least three ways:

  1. Systematic Denial
  2. Protection against exposure
  3. Primary patient philosophy

Systematic denial essentially means that the entire system is denying the existence of a drinking problem. This denial occurs because the perceive alcoholism as some sort of reflection upon themselves as individuals and a family unit. Forget that the problem exists so that I don’t need to be faced by the cold reality of my life.

The second way family denial can occur is known as the protection against exposure phase. It simply means that the family unit will not discuss the problem or disruption as a method to shield them from the stark reality. They essentially avoid this topic because if they don’t they have to talk about it admit that it exists and find a solution. During this phase the non-alcoholic parent will generally attempt to protect the children from any exposure to alcoholic parent, i e the addict.

The third way in which this denial can take place is referred to as the primary patient philosophy. Within an alcoholic family the perception is that the alcoholic is the first concern, the person to be helped first. This essentially means while the alcoholic drinks the family is falling apart and struggling on a daily basis and many may even collapse. As long as we carry this belief we ultimately deny intervention for the non-alcoholic members. At Eden we do not ignore the effect the alcoholism has had on the family. Many dysfunctional families learn to cope with the disease by adapting to minimize the effects. Ultimately the members within a family structure behave like this to survive, therefore they are not living. At Eden we believe that it is vital to educate the families and spouses on matters like denial and family denial. At Eden Recovery and Rehabilitation Centre our Addiction Counsellors help the addict and their families come to terms with their problems, the real problems. Our goal is to eliminate any form of denial from the family’s side as they are ultimately the ones wanting change. The sad reality is that addiction doesn’t just kill the addict. It kills the family, kids and people who tried to help.

-Shaun Pyper, Counsellor, Eden Recovery Centre (011) 244 9916