Lean on Loved Ones

Battling alcohol dependency is a family matter

By Jason Santerre

Like it or not, imbibe or abstain, there’s no denying that alcohol is ingrained in our culture. From teenage rites of passage and college ‘keggers’ to sporting events, backyard BBQs and ubiquitous ads touting the “high life,” there’s no escape. Or so it seems.

Most Canadians manage to keep their consumption to a moderate level. In a 2010 survey conducted by the Centre for Addiction & Mental Health (CAMH), 77 percent of Canadians aged 15 and older reported drinking alcohol in the past year.

But for millions of Canadians, saying “when” isn’t so easy. In a 2013 study, Statistics Canada reported that over 5.5 million Canadians consumed alcohol at a rate that classified them as “problem drinkers.”

Whether it's due to genetic disposition or a slow, steady spiral, Dr. Ron Fraser says alcoholism doesn't discriminate. "It affects all ethnicities, age groups, genders, and socio-economic backgrounds," says Dr. Fraser, head of inpatient detoxification services at Griffith Edwards Centre.

He says the most common signs that someone might be developing a dependency are when they consume alcohol even though they physically suffer. “If you continue to imbibe despite experiencing severe withdrawal symptoms, there might be a problem.” Another clear sign, he says, is getting in trouble with the law, your boss, or loved ones and yet continuing to drink in secret to avoid said trouble.

Chris is a man who can relate to all of the above. The recovering alcoholic says he wants to share his story in the hope it will help someone else. “I lied, cheated, and manipulated just to get drunk,” says Chris. “What’s the expression? One is too many and a thousand is never enough. That was me for years.”

And then one day, Chris woke up to the “worst hangover ever.” He went for a walk to try and clear his head. “As usual, I was looking down the whole time to avoid eye contact, but when I decided to look up, I realized I had made it all the way back to my apartment. The sun was setting over my building and it just hit me: All the worry, fear, and anger I had caused over the years had to end, then and there. I’ve been sober for nearly four years now.”

Chris says he owes so much of his recovery to family members like his partner, Marie, also an alcoholic. A family situation can often be the key to recovery, says Dr. Fraser. “For some of the worst cases I’ve encountered, the patient is alone. They don’t have that support system,” he says. “The alcoholic who is part of a family has a better chance because a spouse or child will confront them and give them that extra push to seek help.”

For Chris's partner, Marie, it was more complicated. "I moved away from home early on. I immersed myself in the bar scene and partied every night, blacking out each time," says Marie. "I lost touch with family and friends. I was in denial. To me, the addict was the old guy passed out on the park bench, not me. I eventually got really sick of being sick and tired. I was 5'9 and barely 100 pounds. I turned to my family doctor and she gave me the number for a government-subsidized rehab program. It helped me put my life back together. After seven years of sobriety, I met Chris. Obviously, he understands my situation, and we support each other in ways other couples can't."

"The best part is waking up on a Saturday with no hangover and money in my pocket," says Chris. "I'm trying to be the man I was always meant to be. Having a great partner, a daughter, a good job, and a home to call your own all help with that."

Dr. Fraser says that if anyone thinks they have a problem, they should start by doing what Marie did: Consult a family doctor. "Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is another great resource, plus it's free, readily available in the community, and conducted in all languages," he adds. "But you might want to start with a frank, open discussion with loved ones, the people you depend on most and who depend on you."


Getting help
Al-Anon is for friends and family of alcoholics (www.al-anon-montreal.org); Alcoholics Anonymous (www.aa-quebec.org) Griffith Edwards Centre, Addictions Unit (1547 Pine Avenue West; 514-934-8311).


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