Q I have a brother and an uncle who enjoy drinking alcohol almost every day. They say that they do it primarily in the evening as a way to enjoy being with the family and relax from the workday. However, I see them neglecting certain family responsibilities, missing work on certain days, and making drinking a central part of some of their evenings. I wonder if there is an addiction issue here. If I bring my concerns up with them, they say I should mind my own business, and that they’ve got it all under control. “Just relax,” they say, but I can’t “just relax” because their behavior is getting out of hand. Please help me to understand if they are addicted and how to deal with it.
A This is indeed a difficult situation and I am glad you are addressing it. There are physical addictions to alcohol and drugs and psychological dependence to activities like compulsive gambling, sex, work, and shopping. Does your family have any history of addictive behavior?
Common characteristics of addictive behavior include constantly thinking of an object, activity, or substance and compulsively engaging in the activity while finding it difficult to stop. If they do stop, withdrawal symptoms of irritability, craving, restlessness, or depression often occur. An addicted person loses control of how much, when, and for how long they continue drinking, shopping, gambling, etc. Although others see the negative effects of the behavior, the person denies that there is a problem. At times he or she will hide the addiction after being confronted—bottle in the closet, not showing credit card bills, and eating privately.
There is often an underlying issue of self-worth, lack of agency in life, and even childhood abuse or trauma. Does this sound familiar?
From your description, there are definitely some of these behaviors in your brother and uncle, which could be signs of alcohol dependence. If the denial is strong, you’re not going to get very far by yourself. Instead have others observe them and start to assess what could be going on here. Unfortunately, a male figure may have to be the one who asks the questions and begins to intervene. Otherwise, they may get belligerent. Letting them know how their drinking is affecting you all will be key. This can be said firmly and kindly, opening up space for them to possibly reveal what’s beneath the surface, such as depression, loss of control, fear, money concerns, social awkwardness, too much responsibility, and not enough support. Immaturity and a kind of adolescent acting out is possible here as well. Let them know you care and are concerned and want to be with them without drinking of alcohol. I am also curious about your brother’s and uncle’s relationship and how they have bonded through alcohol. There will be some shifts in their connection, as they begin to look at this problem. If one of them is more mature, honest, considerate, and willing to look at the issue and talk, then he’s the one to talk with first. There are programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) where friends and family can also get help.
Alzak Amlani, Ph.D., is a counseling psychologist in the Bay Area. 650-325-8393. Visit www.wholenesstherapy.com