September 23 – Our Families: Alcoholism

Alcohol Addiction is a Family Affliction

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The third century B.C. philosopher Aristotle first coined the phrase “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” How does this apply to families?

The relationship and interaction between complex individuals creates something new and more complicated in combination than alone. The interlocking and influencing dynamics that make up a family and the way they function in relation to each other create the family system. Each member functions in relationship with the others to the benefit or detriment of the whole group.

Families in general are far from well-oiled machines. When one family member, a parent for example, is overly controlling, this shapes the attitudes and behaviors of other family members. When a family member struggles with an addiction, it influences the decisions and actions of other family members. The equilibrium or balance of the family system shifts as each member changes and adjusts. The changes usually occur incrementally, subtly, and unconsciously.

According to the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), nearly 15 million people ages 12 and older in the U.S. had Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD).  The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines AUD as uncontrolled and problematic drinking. The common word is “alcoholism.”  The NSDUH also reported 414,000 adolescents ages 12 to 17 have AUD, with females outnumbering males nearly 2:1.

They say that less than 10 percent of adults ages 18 and older with AUD had received any treatment, and less than 4 percent had been prescribed a medication approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat their disorder.

Since 1956, the American Medical Association has identified alcoholism as a disease, saying it is biological in nature, does not go away or heal on its own, exhibits observable signs or symptoms, is progressive if left untreated, and has a predictable timeline of development and recovery. The American Society of Addiction Medicine states that “addiction is a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. Dysfunction in these circuits leads to characteristic biological, psychological, social and spiritual manifestations.” They continue, “This is reflected in an individual pathologically pursuing reward and/or relief by substances and other behaviors.”

According to the Betty Ford Clinic, many of the same treatment approaches and therapies are used to address alcoholism and mental health disorders. Both addiction and mental health treatment are approached comprehensively. While there are differences in the treatments, both the treatment for alcoholism and for mental health disorders share a focus on mind, body, and spirit.

A large portion of the millions of Americans being treated for alcoholism is advised to cultivate a spiritual life. The Twelve Step program of Alcoholics Anonymous centers on a person’s “Higher Power” and how a spiritual experience is important for people with addiction. According to the National Library of Medicine, research findings suggest that AA leads to “better alcohol use outcomes, in part by enhancing individuals’ spiritual practices,” with an emphasis on increasing spiritual practices to facilitate recovery from AUD. As with any behavioral or medical therapy, the participation, or lack thereof, by the addicted person determines the benefits of the treatment. 

For people with a lifetime of extreme alcohol dependence, recovery rates are less than 35 percent. But the majority of former alcoholics who remain sober for five years and more usually stay that way.

Families can play a key role in recovering from alcoholism, and recovery also has a positive impact on family members and family functioning. Family-involved treatment aims to improve how the family system functions, increase family-related incentives associated with reduced alcohol consumption, and the implementation of proven techniques for long-term abstinence. However, it is critical to be aware of the challenges to a strained family system. Research continues to involve increased collaboration between clinicians, investigators, funding systems, and AUD treatment centers, all seeking to reduce barriers to treatment that will improve long-term outcomes for individuals and families.

Drunkenness is frequently cautioned against in God’s Word. The Lord calls His people to be sober-minded (1 Peter 5:8). He laments those for whom drink has become a problem. “Woe to those who rise early in the morning, that they may run after strong drink, who tarry late into the evening as wine inflames them! They have lyre and harp, tambourine and flute and wine at their feasts, but they do not regard the deeds of the Lord, or see the work of his hands” (Isaiah 5:11-12).

How then should we pray? 

  • For healing for each American who struggles with alcoholism and restoration for their families.
  • For Director George Koob as he heads the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism within the National Institutes of Health.
  • For Acting Director Lawrence Tabak as he oversees the National Institutes of Health.
  • That Secretary Xavier Becerra would seek the Lord’s guidance as he leads the Department of Health and Human Services.
  • For Director Patricia Flatley Brennan as she administrates the National Library of Medicine.
  • For members of the NIAAA as they advise the leaders of HHS, NIH, and NIAAA.
  • For those who run recovery programs that work with individuals and their addictions in fellowship and with a focus on their spiritual condition.

See previous Pray 7 daily featured readings.

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