You are about to meet Bruce, 19, Ben, 33, and Jacob, 51, three men who share the following facts: all three will, at first, enjoy the effects of alcohol; all three will cross the line into alcohol abuse; all three will come face-to-face with the destructive power of alcohol. Of the three, only one will escape the devastation caused by out-of-control use of beer, wine and hard liquor.
As you read, try to keep these questions in mind:
1. What protected Bruce from progressing into full blown addiction?
2. What factors increased the likelihood that Ben and Jacob would become severely dependent on alcohol?
3. If one of these men were your son, brother, father, spouse or friend, what could you do to help him?
Bruce grew up in a rural setting, about 10 miles outside a large city. As a child, he fished and hunted with his dad, and his dad’s two brothers. His father, a police officer, along with his mother, a secretary at the nearby university, raised him to be responsible, hardworking and to value education. As an only child and first grandson, he was spoiled. But his parent’s clear and consistent rules taught Bruce basic values such as a strong work ethic and honesty. His family attended church and Bruce went to a Christian school.
When Bruce turned 16, he and a friend began to drink beer on the weekends. Bruce would go to his friend’s apartment where a pattern of binge drinking emerged. As his tolerance to alcohol increased, he found he could drink 12 beers in one setting. His pattern of binge drinking stopped abruptly when his parents returned home early from a trip. With the house overflowing with beer cans, Bruce admitted to having a party with alcohol. His parents did not overreact, but clear consequences were put in place: 1. Loss of car for six months. 2. Weekly counseling which included education about drugs/alcohol. His father began to increase his time with Bruce, and now hunting and fishing trips occurred almost every weekend. At the end of six months, Bruce had stopped all contact with his beer drinking friends and his parents decided he could have his car back. Bruce never again abused alcohol.
Ben was the youngest child in a family of six. At birth, he almost died from a brain hemorrhage, and consequently, his parents relaxed the strict rules his older siblings had experienced. At 10, his father and mother divorced. His mother re-married soon after the divorce, but Ben did not get along with his stepdad. When Ben turned 12, he began to have anger explosions. He started drinking beer at 14, and by 18 he was drinking alcohol three to four times a week. For Ben, alcohol became a friend who always gave him two important things: First, like water poured over hot coals, Ben’s anger evaporated when he was buzzed on beer. Second, alcohol was his bridge spanning over his shy and anxious nature. When he drank, he could connect with others. Ben’s parents did not detect his drinking problems. By 33, he had become a full-blown alcoholic. With the support of his family, Ben admitted himself into a specialized hospital where he began the process of learning to live without alcohol.
Jacob’s life started rough and ended rough: Jacob’s father and paternal grandparents were severe alcoholics; Growing up, Jacob experienced emotional and physical abuse. By 12, Jacob was filled with rage and hate. By 16, he began to have episodes of severe clinical depression where his thinking became black. At 18, he left home, and for the next 30 years he became caught in a vicious cycle: find a job, work hard, get into an argument with his boss, get fired, go on a drinking spree, sober up, find a job. At 51 Jacob’s health was ruined and his alcoholism killed him before he turned 60.
Alcohol use turns into addiction, whenever risk factors outweigh protective factors. Bruce had no risk factors, so his protective factors (family support, religion, strong connections with extended family and early treatment) helped him stop the progression of alcohol abuse.
Ben’s risk factors — chronic anger, social anxiety, overly lax parenting, outweighed his protective factors of family support.
Jacob’s risk factors of alcoholism in his family, severe and chronic anger caused by his abuse, early onset of depression and the absence of family support pushed him into the most severe type of alcoholism.
If you have a family member who is struggling with an alcohol problem, you can help by doing this: Tell them your concerns, give them literature on addiction and draw the line if they bring alcohol problems into the lives of your children or your marriage.
The content of this article is for educational purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for treatment by a professional. The characters in this story are not real. Names and details have been changed to protect confidentiality.
Dr. Richard Elghammer contributes his column each week to the Journal Review.
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