ALCOHOLISM – A FAMILY FERTILITY DRUG FOR DEPRESSION?
Alcoholism is a problem afflicting hundreds of South Africans, and persistently results in debilitating effects to social, occupational and personal life of the substance abusing or dependent person. The alcohol abuser retains centre stage, receiving much of the attention. However, who is backstage? People do not exist in isolation but rather, form part of relational systems such as a family, societal or community system. it is here, in this family ‘breeding ground’ that more focus deserves attention.
What disease or social epidemic is perpetuated within this family context, where members are subjected to the roller-coaster highs and lows, together with the alcoholic? The abuser chooses to relinquish control, while the family, devoid of choice, are subjected to life in an ‘out of control’ arena. Coupled with this, there is often an element of secrecy, which the alcoholic family engages in, as a protective measure, which actually proves detrimental in the long run. Large amounts of energy are utilised by family members to ensure their ‘secret’ is maintained. These efforts result in the adoption of abnormal patterns of interaction and behaviour which become very stressful. As the alcohol abuse ‘grows’, so too, do the ‘weeds’ of verbal, emotional and physical abuse often take root. Thus, in combination, these factors, can result in psychological and physiological problems to the family. The ‘seeds’ of the substance can now sprout and grow into depression and anxiety.
The term used by some of the professional fraternity in dealing with non-abusing family members is Co-dependency. CO-DEPENDENCY can be summed up as adopting a way of living that is focused on other people, while one’s own self is neglected or disregarded. One becomes so focused on the other person within a relationship that healthy functioning becomes hindered. A person can be co-dependent before entering into a relationship with a chemically addicted person (arising out of their nuclear family) or can develop co-dependency within the substance afflicted family.
So how then does this relate to depression and anxiety? The SOUTH AFRICAN DEPRESSION AND ANXIETY SUPPORT GROUP in Benmore, Sandton, are of the opinion that the destructive effects of depression and associated problems in co-alcoholics, are in need of increased public awareness. The Depression and anxiety Support Group call centre, which also manages the SANOFI-SYNTHOLABI SUBSTANCE ABUSE HELP-LINE (0800 118 392), regularly attempts to assist callers and provide them with referrals of helping professionals. What is it rally like for partners and children who become ‘planted in the fertile breeding ground of alcoholism?’ Debbie from Gauteng, who has lived with an alcoholic partner for more than 14 years, likened it to: “a silent, lethal predator, which creeps up on you unaware and before you realise what has happened, you’ve become a huge delicious monster of dysfunction, despair, anxiety and depression. Frantically busy with coping, compensating, being overresponsible in a hugely dysfunctional setting, helps one become oblivious to one’s own needs. Constantly adapting to an abnormal life eventually becomes so normal than one would not even recognise normalcy, if it hit one straight in the face.”
Depression can often result from huge amounts of anger which, instead of being directed at their source, are turned inward upon the self. The family members living with an alcoholic experience enormous amounts of frustration and anger with no appropriate outlet. The intermittent ‘rains’ of the alcoholic can ‘embed’ the development of compulsions, hypervigilance, anxiety and other stress or chemical related problems. Inconsistency and unpredictable daily life, erratic behaviours, various types of abuse, feelings of hopelessness and powerlessness, have also proved to be excellent ‘fertilizers’ of depression. Secrecy is the ‘manure’, which keeps the breeding ground fertile, while denial provides the rocks that prevent ‘mud slides’.
While the alcoholic denies the existence of a problem, so too, the family members often deny or downplay the fact that substance abuse is polluting the healthy functioning of their lives. They furthermore, may resist the idea that they could be co-dependent or are living in an anxious state. To emerge from this state of denial, may mean that they, who are often super-responsible, perfectionists and able to cope with any blow that life may deal them, have failed. Due to a number of variables such as low self-esteem, over-responsibility, and a need to please, co-dependents often take on the world. Failure of any kind falls squarely on their shoulders and is viewed by them as being due to their limitations.
Understanding and education in dealing with such a problem is necessary. Recommended treatment management is varied, depending upon the professional diagnosis. Should you identify with this topic or feel that an associate, friend or family member may need assistance.