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Pike, Brigid (2011) Living with a problem drinker. Drugnet Ireland , Issue 36, Winter 2010 , p. 15.

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Thousands of Irish families are trapped by one family member’s alcohol-related patterns of behavior, with devastating effects. Relationship breakdown, illness, child abuse and neglect, domestic violence, sexual problems and mental health problems such as depression or suicide are some of the consequences of living in alcohol-fuelled unhappy relationships. 

After more than 30 years’ experience working as an alcohol and addiction counsellor in Dublin, Rolande Anderson has written a short jargon-free book on how those trapped in such relationships can go about improving their situation.1
 
Recognise the signs of an unhealthy alcohol-fuelled relationship
For those trapped in unhealthy alcohol-fuelled relationships, the first and most challenging task can be to recognise that there is a problem and that it needs to be addressed. Anderson takes the reader through a range of scenarios showing how a person’s alcohol-related problems may be concealed, either wittingly or unwittingly, and gives a checklist of possible signs that a person has an alcohol problem. Both partners in a relationship may be contributing to the problem drinking as a partner’s actions can reinforce inappropriate drinking patterns. Anderson devotes a whole chapter to the plight of children in alcoholic homes, including a list of specific conditions that they may develop and which might indicate the existence of an alcohol problem in their family.
 
Focus on the broader context
Labelling a person is unhelpful, according to Anderson. To call someone an alcoholic or a binge drinker does not help find a solution. He suggests it is more useful to focus on the consequences, to explore how alcohol-fuelled anger, hatred, fear, abuse and neglect lead to a state of uncertainty, unpredictability and anxiety. This approach allows those involved to focus on what is rather than on what should be; it strips away the preconceptions and leaves the way open for clear, unprejudiced thinking. Anderson discusses how problematic drinking may be a symptom of a deeper issue, such as living in an unhappy relationship or suffering some other unspoken unhappiness; it is necessary to bring these underlying sources of distress out into the open in order to address the alcohol-related behaviours effectively.
 
Take practical steps to help the person with the drinking problem and other family members
Finally, Anderson provides practical advice – how people living with a person who has an alcohol problem can look after themselves, develop coping skills, and make changes in their way of life that will provide psychological and emotional help both for themselves and for all the members of the family. He also outlines the types of help available, e.g. counselling, self-help groups and treatment centres, what to expect from a professional service provider and how to get the best out of the service.
 
Anderson’s ‘final summarized message is that people are very resourceful and can live with all sorts of difficulties, but you do not have to accept behaviour that is unacceptable and you certainly can access help. That process is not usually quick, but if you stick with it you can “unstick” yourself from the worst aspects of alcohol problems. The goal is to live rather than to survive.’ (pp. 99–100) 
 
1. Anderson R (2010) Living with a problem drinker: your survival guide. London: Sheldon Press.

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