Reading Together Blog

Addiction and the Family

Alcohol and its devastating effects is a theme that runs through Rick Bragg’s memoirs. The author´s daddy, Charles, died in 1975 at the age of 40, a victim of alcoholism. In 2009, it is estimated that some 350 people die every day from this disease.

 “We can no longer allow addiction to trump the family,” said author and addiction therapist Debra Jay on March 10 at First Baptist Church. “I’d like to see the day when we have zero tolerance for untreated addiction.”

The victims of addiction are not just the addicts, but their loved ones who often struggle to understand why their friend or family member continues to behave in a self-destructive manner. Jay said that one in eight people become alcoholics. One in three either lives with or is related to an alcoholic.

Debra Jay worked clinically with Hazelden before going into private practice 16 years ago. She and her husband Jeff Jay work nationally to help families of alcoholics by facilitating interventions.

She’s the author of three books: Love First, co-written with Jeff, is the top selling book on interventions, and one of Hazelden’s all-time top four bestsellers. Her most recent book is No More Letting Go: The Spirituality of Taking Action Against Alcoholism and Drug Addiction. Debra has been a frequent guest on The Oprah Winfrey Show.

During her talk, Debra frequently read passages from All Over But the Shoutin’, a book she praised for its honesty. Here are some key points from her fascinating presentation:

1. Alcoholics drink because they are alcoholics. The why doesn’t matter anymore. Society thinks it can come up with a reason — grief, low self-esteem, social ineptness. Those may be reasons why someone abuses alcohol, but not everyone who abuses alcohol will become an alcoholic.
2. Alcoholism is a brain disease, not a choice. No one chooses to be an alcoholic.
3. Genetics matter. Alcoholism is one of more complex of all genetic diseases, not a learned behavior. Some people are genetically predisposed to addiction. If you’re born into a family of alcoholics, you have a 50-50 chance of becoming one yourself.
4. The addicted brain is changed. It’s hijacked. The addicted brain works for the survival of the addiction. You can’t talk logic. The addicted brain atrophies. Debra showed images of brain scans. The difference between a normal brain and one of an alcohol or drug addict was startling. The addicted brain was riddled with holes, showing how drugs and alcohol cause degeneration. But when an addict stops drinking or abusing drugs, and begins engaging in meaningful conversation (such as with a sponsor or counselor or during Alcoholics Anonymous meeting), the brain will regenerate.

Debra Jay also shared what she called the “most damaging myths that stop us from helping an alcoholic.”

• You can’t help an alcoholic unless he wants help. This could mean decades of personal tragedy. The question, Debra said, is what will get him to want help?

• Treatment won’t work if he doesn’t want it. Jay said it’s not how you get into treatment that counts. It’s what happens once you’re there.

• The alcoholic must hit bottom. If this is the case, then the alcoholic will take along everyone — even the smallest children — on the trip to bottom. For Charles Bragg, the bottom was an early death.

Addicts may think they hurt only themselves, but children suffer profoundly. Little ones who are abused or neglected run a higher risk of suffering from mental illness later in life. Not only that, but children stressed by too much noise, abuse or violence will use all their brain power for survival, not for learning.

The goal of intervention, Debra said, is to “raise that bottom level,” getting the addict to want help, to accept help.

Here is a list of fiction and non-fiction books about alcoholism. From our Local Organization Database, here is a list of organizations that can help.


Addiction and the Family

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