Friday, July 31, 2009

The 10:1 ratio

I've heard that for every alcoholic there are 10 family members and friends affected by alcoholism. I don't know if this is a true statistic or not, but it has made me wonder why aren't there more of "us" in the rooms of Al-Anon.

Here are some other statistics that I find interesting:
  • Of the two thousand male patients at nine outpatient alcoholic clinics, four times as many marriages had been dissolved among them as normally would be expected.
  • According to U. S. Department of Health and Human Services and SAMHSA’s (Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration) National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information, seventy six million American adults have been exposed to alcoholism in the family.
  • Alcoholism is responsible for more family problems than any other single cause. One of every four families has problems with alcohol.
Statistics are just numbers. I work on statistics daily. But I also know the human side and understand that these numbers translate into shattered dreams, disturbed children, economic insecurity, and raw human suffering.

So when I look at the list of meetings, I see that there are many fewer Al-Anon meetings than AA meetings. I see that our rooms are seldom filled up. I wonder where are all those who are out there and what are they doing. Are they doing what I did--trying to go it alone, toughing it out, putting on a false face for the world, and then struggling to get through the night?

I've worked the phone lines for our Al-Anon district and talked to those who call in. They are desperate for help for the alcoholic. When I would suggest that they go to a meeting, some didn't think that they needed help. They wanted a solution to stop the alcoholic from drinking.

I also know that some families allow heavy drinking to continue in exchange for keeping the family together. Denial is something that alcoholics and family members have in common. But denial comes with a cost. It can trigger emotional problems in all concerned.

One of these problems is co-dependency. That is what I learned from growing up in an alcoholic home. My mother denied that there was a problem, and I did everything possible to pretend that things were normal too. I wanted to preserve my family’s prestige and project the image of a “perfect family”. I didn't want my friends to come visit. I began to live with anxiety and developed a negative self image. I continued that behavior into my marriage, always feeling that there was something to hide, no where to run, confined in my own personal prison of unhappiness.

So I'm hoping that those of you who read this will make a decision to get to a meeting. There won't be strangers there but people just like you who have felt the same despair that you feel. And eventually, you'll come to realize that there is a better way to live.


  1. I had the same discussion with a friend last week.
    I guess people just decide to go it alone...forever searching for a way to stop their loved one drinking.

    Thank goodness for the Al-anon family.

  2. As the alcoholic, let me suggest this.

    When working the lines to hook the caller, trying telling them you right, you don't have the problem. BUT, you need to learn the tools to deal with THE problem.

    This way it takes the focus of the co dependent and puts it somewhere safe for them. Then when attend your meetings, you can slowly but honestly work with them.

    It helps to at least get them in the door. It's not deception abviously but it's not blame either.

    Oh, and you make a valid point about al-anon meetings.

  3. i didn't know al-anon existed. i too rather pretended as a kid, for 'the sake of the family'. i thought my feelings were not real, and i just had to get on with living and they would go away... so many things i didn't know. now i do. and hopefully others that need to know all this, will find the answers and help they need...

  4. Interesting that I read your blog TODAY as I pondered all day about my first steps into the first step and how hard it was to enter Al Anon. Blogged about it. However it is now 2 years ago and I am grateful that I made it there.
    Wish you well

  5. It took a long time before it dawned on me that it takes much more energy to pretend problems don't exist than to face them.

  6. Great post,thanks for sharing it.

  7. Wonderful post Syd. I hope that it will help others as it has helped me.

  8. I wish a lot more people could and would be helped by Al-Anon. As an alcoholic, Al-Anon has helped me greatly (I'm no longer a member as I'm not attending or working on that program).

    I share your curiosity at how few family members are willing and/or able to avail themselves of help that many can observe that they need. I try to suggest it wherever it seems useful and, as you observe, few can or will accept help.

    Glad it's worked for you...

    Blessings and aloha...

  9. This post addresses something I've been thinking about a lot as someone who just started attending meetings. I think our problem is harder to see, especially since we are masters of disguise. Alcoholism is easier to point to as a tangible problem. Most people think we are just really nice, helpful, strong people. As I shared some of the revelations I've had since beginning recovery from ACoA issues, some of my good friends tried to comfort me by saying that they didn't think I had a problem. They didn't mean any harm by those comments. It just made me realize how deeply isolated I was that even my close friends didn't suspect a thing.

    What delayed my own recovery was my and my family's deep denial that the environment I grew up in affected me long-term, the notion that Al-Anon was for people married to alcoholics and a lack of understanding of Al-Anon in general. Even my mom, who attended Al-Anon for 5 years before leaving my dad, was surprised when I told her I wanted to attend a meeting because, as she said, our dad wasn't a violent drunk and he didn't beat us. There are a lot of misunderstandings around what Al-Anon is and who it's for.

    It doesn't help that the word most commonly used to describe our problem is "co-dependence" which is much more complex than the definition most people associate with the word (being attached at the hip to a romantic partner). It's hard to describe co-dependence. In the book Co-Dependent No More, there is an entire chapter dedicated to the definition. There is just not much awareness in our society of the ways alcohol permanently alters the thinking and feeling processes of those engaged in close relationships with alcoholics. Now that I've started recovery, I see people all around me who exhibit co-dependent behavior. There are millions of people who are just like I was before attending meetings: in pain but have no idea what the source is. What can we do to change that? How can we spread awareness and understanding of co-dependence and Al-Anon?

  10. Good post. My therapist often says that people who need the most help fail to see that they need it. I think it is hard for codependents to see that they have a problem also, that it is easier to look at the obvious alcoholic for the blame. It reminds me some of how my parents wouldn't go to family counseling even when the point was to understand what was going on with me in my alcoholism.

  11. Alcoholism is a family disease. It affects everyone in the family.Like alcoholism the denial of the family members is very strong. I gave classes to the families of our patients at my old job. Most family members I met did not think they had a problem. I would point out that being willing to stay with someone in active addiction is not a healthy decision. Not taking care of yourself is not healthy.Only the addict or alcoholic is seen as the one with the problem. People become so invested in the other person's issues that they don't have to look at their own, and the cycle continues.Great post.jeNN

  12. I'll never forget my first Al-Anon meeting. I was so disappointed because I wanted answers! I left wondering what good Al-anon did- I simply didn't get it. I went to a few more and still felt the same way. I quit going for a while. When I started up again I remember telling my husband that I was forcing myself to go, but by the end of the meeting I felt better and was glad I went. That was the beginning for me! Here's to hoping that more newcomers stick it out longer until they finally feel it working for them!

  13. Great question Syd. I think that in my case it has taken me a long time to admit that I need help and support because I have been so focused on healing my son. I almost feel guilty for taking time for myself and feel like I am not going to help my son through helping myself. I am slowly beginning to realize that these beliefs could not be further from the truth, and indeed, until I begin getting the support I need, I may never be able to help my son.
    I think you are right in that most people just try to go it alone as long as they can. I only reached out for help when things became absolutely desperate and I was so tired of hiding our problems.

  14. Our double-winner (Al-Anon and AA) meetings are packed. They can't be listed in either directory, so it's word of mouth. I suppose once you realize the benefits of a 12 Step fellowship, you just can't get enough! We are truly blessed!

  15. I think it is just so difficult for the persons not drinking, not screwing up under the influence, not so obviously out of control to see their own selves, their own behavior. They are totally focused on the alcoholic.

    Loved this post.

  16. .....what???....I!! ?? need to go to a meeting ?? ...I'm!!. (beats my chest with fists here)..not the one causing all these problems !!!...I'm..(stomps feet here) the one trying to LIVE with the problems....< THAT! was my reaction when my A tried to convince me I was co-dependent and maybe I sould work on my own problems...which sounded a lot like pointing the finger of blame at me.Luckily for me a very wise counselor(a court appointed one for my A ironically) wouldn't let me hide behind my excuses and picked me up at my house and transported me to my first Alanon meeting aaaaand .so..I..began to hear my story over and over and over ...aaand..gradually I didn't feel so alone anymore...Sometimes it's just hard to take that first baby still remember the first thing I could really relate to was when someone said ...these aren't worry lines on my's from peeking thru the blinds at 3 a.m. ...then 4 a.m..etc.,etc.,to see if that was my A coming up the walk or driving by ...or...well ...u get the picture...After my first meeting ...I went home with a little less desperation in my life and felt a little less empty....Thank you again Syd for your reminders of steps steps..

  17. Al Anon has saved my life...what's left of it. But, now I have faith that I'll have a whole life again some day!
    Ok, so one alcoholic affects 10.
    I have 2 alcoholic sons and then alcoholics in the categories of frist husband, both inlaws, brother, sister, aunt and uncle....and more than a dozen former inlaws (immediate in that family), 3 first cousins who are sisters. Sigh.
    Al Anon has saved my life.

  18. So few alcoholics make into the rooms of AA, and even fewer stay sober. Just like alcoholics I would imagine those affected by alcoholism would have to reach their bottom, to finally be sick and tired of being sick and tired. It would also seem to me that focusing on an alcoholic as the problem would be hard in seeing that there would be a separate place for help for loved ones and friends. That helping oneself would be the solution.

    If we could just plant a part of our brain in theirs that would show them how much easier it is to have a program of recovery instead of fighting. But that is not how it works--we have to be beaten to a pulp and then some and then find the humility and the surrender. It's painful.

  19. Great topic!

    I'm beginning to think that the illness of alcoholism/co-dependency is a matter of 6 degrees of separation & if the truth were told, more people are affected by the disease than not. Alcoholism is a family disease and the history of people and families and problems with alcohol goes back, well, waaaaaay back, probably to the dawn of Time and so does the history of alcohol.

    I have 4 siblings and 7 cousins who are all affected by our parent's alcoholism/co-dependency as our parents and their spouses were affected by their parent's alcoholism/co-dependency. I'm the 'black sheep' of my family, the one with a 'problem', and the only one who has stuck with therapy and a 12 step recovery program, Al-Anon. The 11 cousins produced 16 children of their own. They are affected by the illness, too. And I imagine their children will be as well.

  20. Interesting post, and thoughtfully written. So many to be helped, and yet nobody can be helped until they know they NEED help. Getting late, gotta go.

  21. I tried CODA meetings.They were great people.But my codependency recovery truly starts each day with my daily reading.It's what works for me.And if more people could identify the symptoms of codependency-they may see how they need to find what will help them rather than them trying to help others-before them.

    Once again..Another selfless post..
    With healthy ;)

  22. ...methinks if they had more alanon meetings at ...say...hmmm.. 3 or 4a.m....the rooms would probably be bursting at the seams!.....By dawn's early light...after my A would stumble his way home and "retire"..I could always convince myself ...things aren' t so bad...he's home now...and breathe a sigh of relief ...amid such turmoil...all is right with the world ...almost peaceful...until the next time....and there would be a next time....eventually...yes am thinking I would definitely attend the wee hours meetings.

  23. A lot of family members are like that ... pretending it isn't happening, or they are ashamed because they 'fail' in handling the situation. I know the CODA meetings (for co-dependents) in this city are always full. xx

  24. Awesome post and uplifting photo!
    Thank you
    PS I am starting a 1hr 'unofficial' 11th step meditation telephone conference Sunday 7pm eastern with guest host.Post email on my blog if interested and I will send free conference telephone number. Ciao!

  25. Great post. I could relate to every paragraph. I would highly encourage people who live with addiction ruling their homes to go to Alanon. Change begins with those around the obviously ill person. There are no words being used that help people to understand that. "Alanon" sound like "give up already". And "co-dependent" sounds like someone else's problem.

  26. That is a great post, and some awesome comments. Thanks for making me think about this. No one in the family ever attended AlAnon, it could have something to do with denial.

  27. I can apply that statistic to my son's addiction and off the top of my head think of at least ten people that are/were affected by his problems. I am glad Al-Anon has people like you out there advocating how important meetings are.

  28. I think we think we can just get "rid" of the person, and therefore get rid of the problem... not knowing the problem is within ourselves. If we get rid of that person, we will find another to fill up that need.


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