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Providing non-judgmental and non-criticizing support for family and friends of end-stage alcoholics through one-on-one coaching, support groups, blog posts, workshops and public speaking.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Fat lady singing...

Many people believe that once an alcoholic has stopped drinking that the worst is over. People also believe that going to rehab for 90 days means there are only sunny days ahead. The reality is a far different picture from what many people believe.

When detox begins in a medically supervised arena, the brain begins to divest itself of the accumulated toxins that have been stored in the frontal lobe. It is a slow process to get rid of all that poison. In fact it takes FOUR years for the brain to be toxin-free. Even if there is zero alcohol in the blood stream, the alcoholic will be under the influence (even if minimally) for the next four years. So that means, while the person may be able to go back to work, repair broken relationships, find peace and in general return to a somewhat “normal” life – there is always the pull back to the bottle or vestiges of the alcoholic personality on a daily basis.

If a person goes to rehab for 90 days and then immediately goes back to drinking, it may be because that pull from the brain is over-riding any logical thinking process. Alcoholism is an addiction and it is difficult enough to break the addiction even if there were no left-over toxins interfering with logic, reason and emotion.

After the 90 days in treatment there must be a continuation of treatment for the alcoholic to ignore those pulls away from rationality. Most people continue their journey in a 12-step program, but there are other programs – Smart Recovery is just one example. In my opinion, support groups are great, but there needs to be that one-on-one counseling in order to keep working on the more intimate issues. The therapy must dig deep to find factors that may have encouraged the drinking in the first place. Was there a traumatic incident? Was there some PTSD, child abuse, or any other major life change around the time the drinking stepped up in pace? What are some of the triggers that may put the alcoholic into a tenuous situation? Usually many of these issues are not uncovered in a group atmosphere because they can be too personal, too painful to discuss openly. There is often not enough time inside the rehab center of other support groups. When things do start to become clear, it will take a lot of work to resolve the discovered issues in order to reach full recovery.

It doesn’t happen overnight; within a month, year, or more. It’s long and hard. It could take four years. The good news is that once these issues are uncovered it will then be possible for the alcoholic to start to truly recover. Dr. Phil says, “You can’t fix what you don’t acknowledge.” No truer words have been spoken – in my opinion. I always say “Knowledge is power.”

Usually when a person comes out of rehab the family feels like they are on top of the world. There is hope; there is a promise of a normal life. It’s a “honeymoon” period where everything is sweet, loving and light. But for the family there is also the edginess of waiting for the other shoe to drop. They are cautious in their happiness. And that’s as it should be because it takes four years; it takes support groups; it takes counseling; it takes patience; it takes understanding; and sometimes it feels impossible.

In my case, Riley was once sober for just about five years – so what happened? He had gone over the four years so he should have been toxin-free. Rile was extremely active in AA. He had sober friends and attended booze-free activities. What Riley did not have was the one-on-one counseling. He did not ever reach a place where he could be completely honest about anything that may have contributed to his alcoholism. To this day, he will tell you the only reason he became an alcoholic was because he liked being drunk rather than sober. He did not care about destroying anyone else’s life – wife, kids, friends – and he openly admits this as the truth. But, he cannot tell you “why” he is this way. To top it off, he uses counseling sessions to convince himself that he is “not that bad.” He also thinks of his appointments as social events. As a result he is missing one of the key elements, in my opinion, to achieving life-long sobriety. It really isn’t over until the fat lady sings and for Riley, the fat lady is on stage without a microphone or a band – she’s not singing anytime soon.

Just a reminder – most of my posts are my opinion and based on my experience combined with research on the subject matter. I’m not a doctor, lawyer, therapist, or any other “professional”. I’m a survivor and that’s all I ever claim to be.


Karen E. said...

TRUTH. My Mother the A has not drank her vodka for 2 years. She fell was hospitalized, nursing center, now in an assisted living facility. She is a 30 yr alcoholic. She is 74 yrs old living with 90+ year olds and looks older than they do. She has alcoholic related dementia from frontal lobe shrinkage, falls to the head...encephalopothy copd, etc etc. She cannot live alone per doctors dx. She will remain where she is. I KNOW if she returned home she would drink...maybe not that day or the next week but she WOULD drink again. When she gets in a bad mood mood and is ugly to me I know its her craving a drink. I believe the 4 years is a good amount of time to reevaluate. She never had the one on one counseling never stuck with the AA because she just really likes drinking more than anything else. The drinking is over for now, but its still not roses to deal with. She is a pain and miserable to be around...sad but true. Hope things are bearable in your life with Riley. I think if your often. You were such a big help and let me know I wasnt alone in this journey!

Julie said...

Thanks for always keeping it real. My husband died just after Christmas, so I have had the serenity that comes after the chaos. My A never did the work either. Like you, I have investigated and learned so much. I have observed family dynamic clues about the origins of his self-esteem issues, but he would never even consider his childhood as a factor. Knowing how typical family- of-origin issues are in addiction, I understood my role, and was able to detach with love. Your blog helps me understand I'm not alone and my life is sacred.

Lise said...

Thank you for this post. I wasn't aware that alcohol toxins stayed in the brain for 4 years. Though it does not surprise me.

I knew teenagers who became heavy drinkers (and some who were addicted) and decades after they gave it up, they still have slurred speech, teeter more than they should while walking, seem to have memory issues. I don't know a single one of these teenagers who went to college; most are doing menial jobs.

Obviously their brains were effected (and maybe effected more severely than adult alcoholics that I knew).

I'm just wondering, do the toxins that are in the brain for four years keep working on destroying the brain even after the alcohol intake has ended? Or do they have a neutral role by then while the body flushes them out?

Rehab Resources said...

These are good points about about one on one counseling. There is one day at a time, but there is also one year at a time. If anything people should go to AA and use it as a tool if they can't get the individual help they need. If they feel they should not be going or they haven't gone in a long time and think 'What's the point?'... it's probably time to show up to a meeting. Thank you for educating. Most people have a hard time with addiction because they don't have the facts they need.

Rehab Resources said...

These are some good points on getting one-on-one help. There is one day at a time, and there is one year at a time. People should at least use AA as a tool if they can't get the individual help they need. If they are thinking it wont help or 'I haven't gone to a meeting in so long what's the point?' it's probably time to go to a meeting. Thank you for educating. Most people struggle with addiction because they don't have the facts that they need.

Kathy Hatch said...

Mine is still functioning, works 7 nights a week. He doesn't think he has a problem. BUT his body is falling apart. I'm dreading the next step. I'm praying that he dies fast and not put me and the family through what I too often read about. We were through him almost losing his job and the mess of that. He has no intention of stopping, or even slowing down. Death scares him, but not enough.