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September 03, 2021 Friday 07:27:51 AM IST

Booze is Not the Answer- Ways to Deal with Alcohol Addiction

Parent Interventions

Considering the scale of its consequences and the huge stress-related burden, COVID-19 pandemic can be considered as a mass trauma, which can lead to psychological problems, health, behavior changes, and addictive issues, including alcohol consumption. Alcohol abuse is the most widespread drug addiction in all geographical regions and in all population groups. World Health Organisation (WHO) experts say alcohol abuse during social isolation and lockdown is a dangerous way to deal with reality and discourages the use of potentially addictive substances to manage the burden of social isolation.

 Alcohol consumption also exacerbates psychological imbalance in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Alcohol abuse and alcoholism within a family is a problem that can destroy a marriage or drive a wedge between members. Alcoholics can blow through the family budget, causing fights, ignoring children, and otherwise impair the health and happiness of the people they love. In essence, alcohol abuse causes a person to make drinking the priority.

Agony and Ecstasy 

Following is the story of accompanying an alcoholic family, with all its varied ups and downs, pains and gains. Sojan (53 years) and Sona (43 years), married for 20 years, having two daughters, Sini (Passed + 2) and Sumi (X Std). Sojan works as a technical equipment operator, irregular at work, has alcohol use disorder, violent at home, no social life except with the fellow drinkers. He doesn’t have ‘enough’ money to drink, let alone supporting the family. It was five years ago that Sona came for counseling, mainly to seek support for surviving the daily abuse by her drunken husband. Out of a possible checklist of problems that alcoholic families might face, this family had almost all of them. The following are some of the most common problems that arise between spouses when one partner abuses alcohol:

•Marital conflict
•Domestic violence
•Unplanned pregnancy
•Financial instability

This family went through agonizing moments of the above-mentioned problems. Let’s take a closer view of the most distressful moments in the life of the family.

Domestic Violence

Violence towards one’s life partner is the greatest casualty of alcohol abuse. As Sona recalls she began to suffer from day one of their marriage. On the first night itself Sojan who was drunk, acted out and behaved inappropriately and caused a lot of grief and shame to Sona. In her words,” I wanted to go home that night itself, but unfortunately, my family wouldn’t accept me and was not in a position to accommodate me. So I had to put up with the miseries and abuses of an alcoholic husband”. As Sona recalls, violence was a way of life for her and her two daughters. The relatives didn’t turn up for support and they had condemned Sojan as an incorrigible drunkard; but, sadly, along with her husband, the relatives also abandoned the three hapless family members, struggling to survive the brutal mistreatment meted out by an abusive husband and father. As Sona recalls, “There were times when we three contemplated on ending life, because living was hell and dying would save us from that misery”.

Violence towards children 

The negative effects of an alcoholic parent are evident in Sini and Sumi. They are timid, fearful, without self-confidence, and full of shame. Whenever the girls took sides with mom, dad abused them physically and verbally. Their drunken father was full of abusive and filthy language, discounting them and putting them down relentlessly, resulting in diffidence, self-doubt, and shame in the daughters. As the children recall, “Dad, when he was drunk, was a vengeful man, and they shudder at the drunken brawl of the head of the family! Many a time he had either destroyed or contaminated the food they were about to share. When drunk, this dad turns out to be a destroyer of everything a family stands for.”

Social Outcasts  

As a consequence of dad’s foul mouth and verbal abuse of everyone around, Sona and her two daughters were isolated from society and from their own family social circle. In addition to financial and emotional toll, this miserable family had to undergo humiliating social isolation due to the drunken brawl and hostile attitude of their dad and husband.  As individuals are often part of social networks, it is easy to understand how alcohol abuse has a ripple effect across a person’s entire network of family, friends, employers, colleagues, and anyone else who depends on the person. Such social isolation and exclusion have long-term negative consequences, especially on the children.

Strategies for Change

Dealing with a family with complex and vexing problems due to the alcohol use disorder of one member, the strategic intervention was crucial. Immediate attention was given to preventing physical violence and intimidation of the children and their mother. After the initial reluctance by victims who were resigned to fate and despair and were unwilling to seek outside help; they gradually changed their mind to seek proper help. For this, law enforcement agencies were approached and with their cooperation and support, Sojan was restricted from hurting the family members, physically and verbally. He was clearly and sternly warned by police against child abuse and the consequent Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) cases, and their serious negative implications. With this intervention of law enforcement agencies, physical violence ceased, verbal abuse, though, continued but was less severe.  

Gender Equality

Empowerment was a mere mirage in the life of these three ladies. They could not dream of ever getting free from the alcoholic imbroglio the head (or tail?) of the family had continued for such a long time. Due to the financial constraints caused by the husband’s excessive drinking, and related destructive behavior, the family was tottering in debt, poverty, and misery. Sona was motivated to seek a job and she found one in the neighborhood. This was a great breakthrough for the family, not only financially but also emotionally. Sona was also encouraged to learn driving and she managed to get a driving license and bought a two-wheeler. Now, Sona was far more efficient with her work and other errands, bringing a lot more independence.

Social Re-integration   

It was time for social re-integration for the victimized members of the family. With strenuous efforts on the part of the counselor, and with the cooperation of the family members they started to integrate with family members and other social groups. In fact, the trio got so active in their faith community that they even won many prizes in competitions. This turned out to be a boost for the young children and they showed progress in their academic works also. Sini, the older one joined the student police and did function very well.           

Rehabilitation of Sojan

Sojan, with alcohol use disorder is in dire need of referral to, and rehabilitation in a professional center. However, the question is ‘who will bell the cat’. None of the relatives dare to intervene in Sojan’s case since they think his is a hopelessly lost cause and is beyond redemption. The law enforcement, the criminal justice system, or the women's cell, won’t intervene unless the alcoholic’s behavior is seriously harmful or life-threatening to the members of the family, and they must take initiative to approach the state system. 

However, the official establishment unwittingly condemns the addicts to deteriorate, disintegrate, and drown in their own bottles. The next stage of alcohol abuse is likely to be some sort of illness, such as cirrhosis, pancreatitis, cardiovascular diseases, cancer, etc.  The repeated attempts to include Sojan in counseling failed and the family had to retreat from such efforts. The journey with three members of an alcoholic family seems to have had some success. The main actor, Sojan was unavailable for any meaningful interaction, as is the sad story of most of the alcoholics. However, the interaction of the three suffering members with the mental health worker was meaningful, purposeful, productive, and to some extent, liberating.

Dr. Jose Cletus Plackal

Licensed clinical psychologist, BET-MRT, Jeevas Centre, Aluva, Kerala.

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