Alcoholism Is a Progressive Disease

A Family in Crisis

Man Drinking Beer
Changing His Drug of Choice. © Getty Images

Alcoholism is often called a progressive disease. Over the years -- slowly and insidiously -- alcohol begins to take more and more control in a subtle and stealthy manner until it finally comes to dominate all aspects of the drinker's life. The alcoholic may still view his drinking as a harmless relief from stress or a casual recreational activity, but gradually it can begin to affect his decisions, job, relationships, and quality of life.

Because the change is so gradual over a long period of time, few alcoholics notice the point at which their drinking metamorphoses from occasional abuse into full-fledged dependence. Such is the case of David, the alcoholic in our series of articles on "A Family in Crisis."

David grew up working in his father's construction-related business and continued to work there most of his adult life. The job paid very well, but that was not the only benefit David found in working for his father. Because he was the foreman and the boss' son, he could get away with drinking and drugging on the job.

He could take off early if he wanted and head for the bar. No one was going to fire him if he showed up late because he was hungover, or if he kept a six pack in the ice cooler. Because most of the work crews he hired also drank and drugged, no one said anything if he smoked a joint on the job.

Making Decisions

But David hated the hard, labor-intensive work.

About 12 years ago, he decided to go back to college and get a degree so that he could escape the family business. He got the degree and the state license that went along with it, but he never worked a day in his chosen field.

What David came face-to-face with after graduation was: if he got a job as a white-collar worker, he would no longer be free to drink whenever he wanted.

He would have to punch a clock. He couldn't show up late, stoned or hungover. Faced with the choice of working in an office and not being able to continue his substance-abuse lifestyle, or working at a back-breaking manual labor job at which he could drink if he wanted, he was soon back to work in the family business.

When his father died two years ago and he sold the business, David bought a bar, which also allowed him to continue his lifestyle. But when that venture didn't work out, he was back to facing the prospect of getting a "real job" again.

He simply refused to do it. He did everything possible to avoid going to work, using up all his assets in the process. His third wife Julia pushed him to get a job and take responsibility for his family to no avail. After 18 months of David refusing to work, she decided to divorce him.

Arguing with a Disease

What Julia didn't understand was that she was trying to argue with a disease. She did not realize that David's dependence upon alcohol had become so strong there was no way that he would put himself in the position of not being able to drink for 8 hours straight.

She knew David was having "a few beers" daily, but because she did go to work every day, she didn't realize that he was drinking all day, every day.

Plus, she was faced with David's denial. He was hiding his drinking from her and giving her all kinds of excuses why this job interview or that one didn't work out.

When she would pressure him into doing something, anything to take responsibility, he would fly into a rage and become violent. She finally gave up in frustration, divorced him, and kicked him out of the house.

Now David is back in the life of his first wife Glenda, who has her own home and a successful business. He is playing the same game with her -- pretending to go to work at various odd jobs during the day while she is working, but in reality drinking all day, every day.

A Crisis in the Making

Because David is no longer into the heavy cocaine abuse that Glenda blamed for the break-up of their marriage in the first place, she thinks that he has made great progress, since now he only drinks "a couple of beers." They are in the "honeymoon stage" of their new relationship and she is blind to the truth and shielded from it by David's denial and covering up.

More significantly, David probably does not realize that his alcoholism has taken such control of his life. He blames everything and everyone else for his circumstances. The reason he never got a job with his degree, he says, is because his dad got sick and he was needed in the family business -- when in fact he jumped at the chance to go back to that lifestyle.

He provides himself with one excuse after another for not now being able to get a job with his degree, when in fact, there is an acute shortage of qualified employees in that particular field. He doesn't see the patterns or cycles that have repeated over and over during his lifetime. He would adamantly deny that he has used the women in his life as enablers and would also deny that his renewed relationship with Glenda was anything but true love.

When the "new" wears off their rekindled love affair, and the cycle moves into the "tension building" stage, as David becomes bored and restless, reality will begin to immerge. What we have here is "A Family in Crisis," but sadly no one in the family knows it's a crisis. No one sees that it is about to explode in their face.

"Do you think David has changed?" Glenda asked me after inviting me to come for a visit.

"Changed what," I replied, "His drug of choice?"

Next: Passing It On

Previously in 'A Family in Crisis'

Part 1: A Family in Crisis
Part 2: An Alcoholic in Denial
Part 3: A Family Disease
Part 4: The Cycle of Violence
Part 5: The Cycle Continues
Part 6: Why Do They Stay?
Part 7: A Progressive Disease

Has your relationship crossed the line to become an abusive one? Take the Abuse Screening Quiz.

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