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Agression, Violence & Abuse   ::   Mental Health   ::   Alcohol & Drug  ::   Living Together   ::   Resources

Alcohol & Drug Abuse

"A family with a drinking [or substance abuse] problem is always a family in trouble."
- Marcia and Thomas Lasswell

Discussion: Prevalence of Substance Abuse

Substance abuse or dependence refers to using a potentially dangerous substance (alcohol, illegal, prescription, and over-the-counter drugs) in a way that puts you, and possibly others, at risk. Researchers estimate that from 28 to 31 million people in the U.S. suffer from alcohol related problems. The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence estimates that anywhere between 180,000 to 200,000 U.S. citizens die each year from alcohol-related problems. Alcohol is the leading cause of death in people between the ages of 16 and 24 and it is a contributing factor in almost half of the murders, suicides, and accidental deaths in the U.S. Alcohol also contributes to half of all fatal motor vehicle crashes.

Discussion: Substance Abuse and Poor Relationships

Substance abuse by one or both partners in a relationship can cause a variety of problems. Approximately 70% of all cases of violence and sexual abuse between couples involved the use of alcohol or drugs. Both partners abusing substances is problematic in relationships because it makes partners who are the perpetrators of violent acts less capable of controlling themselves and those who are the victims less able to perceive the threat or find ways of escaping it.

Substance abuse is commonly associated with domestic violence, emotional problems, marital disruptions, low levels of marital quality and satisfaction, and a host of other problems. In fact, researchers estimate that half of the divorces and half of juvenile delinquency arrests each year in the U.S. occur in families with at least one substance abusing member.

Discussion: Warning Signs

Researchers and substance abuse counselors have identified several warning signs that serve as indicators of an existing or worsening substance abuse problem. The more warning signs that apply to you or your partner, the greater the severity of the problem. If you think a problem may exist, please contact a qualified substance abuse counselor in your area for help.

  • Regularly getting drunk or high, or doing so more often than in the past.
  • Drinking or using drugs in the morning or other unusual times.
  • Drinking or using drugs in risky situations (e.g., before driving, before work, or while at work).
  • Drinking or using drugs more than your normal pattern.
  • Drinking or using drugs alone or secretively.
  • Feeling uncomfortable if alcohol or drugs are not available.
  • Drinking or using drugs just to "get through the day."
  • Experiencing family, legal, work, or school problems as a result of alcohol or drug use.
  • Expanding your use to new or different drugs and alcohol.

Discussion: The Effect of Marriage on Substance Abuse

Researchers have found that substance abuse, as well as most risk-taking behaviors, diminish after marriage. That is because many partners settle down to some degree after marriage. In fact, married men drink only half as much as single men of the same age. However, if you are dating someone who struggles with substance abuse, don't be seduced into thinking they will automatically or easily change once you are married. Giving up drug or alcohol use is an exceptionally difficult habit to break, and recovering from substance abuse or addiction is a life-long process. Many marriages and families are destroyed as the result of an addiction that people thought would simply go away.

If you are not yet married, it would be wise to deal with and eliminate substance abuse issues in your relationship prior to getting married. However, even if your partner seems to have overcome his or her substance abuse problems, and has been clean for several years, they may struggle with the addiction throughout their lives. If you are already married, substance abuse issues must be dealt with as a couple.

Discussion: Prevention and Treatment

Education about substance abuse and its damaging effects on family life, work life, and society is the best way to prevent problems. However, for millions of Americans, substance abuse is already a part of their lives. In his book, I'll Quit Tomorrow, Vernon Johnson outlines a basic 5-step process for treating substance abuse.

  1. Alcoholics need to be confronted about their problem by someone they know and trust in a manner in which they can receive it.
  2. If/when the alcoholic is willing to receive treatment, start them in a formalized treatment/detoxification program.
  3. Educate the alcoholic about the effects of alcoholism.
  4. Have alcoholic participate in individual and group therapy in an effort to understand and break down their defense mechanisms.
  5. Through the help of counselors and support persons, help the alcoholic become re-established in the community.

For people dealing with a substance abuser, The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, recommends the following:

  • Recognize that alcoholism and drug dependence is a disease.
  • Learn as much as possible about the disease.
  • Do not become an enabler (someone who allows the drinking/drug use to continue by denying there is a problem or protecting and lying for the abuser).
  • Get help for your loved one from professionals and support groups designed to work with substance abuse issues.
  • Get help and support for yourself.

Luckily, most towns throughout the U.S. have resources in place (professional counseling and support groups) to help both substance abusers and their family/support persons. If you feel like you or a family member may have a problem with alcohol or drug use, check your local phone book for substance abuse counselors or for one of the following support organizations.

  • Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is a self-help and support group for alcoholics.
  • Narcotics Anonymous (NA) is a self-help and support group for drug users.
  • Al-Anon is a self-help and support group for families of alcoholics,
  • Alateen is a self-help and support group for young people with alcoholic parents.

Copyright 2008, by the Contributing Authors. Cite/attribute Resource . admin. (2005, December 07). Things to Watch Out For. Retrieved January 08, 2011, from Free Online Course Materials — USU OpenCourseWare Web site: http://ocw.usu.edu/Family__Consumer____Human_Development/Marriage___Family_Relationships/Things_to_Watch_Out_For_4.html. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License Creative Commons License