DEMENTIA FROM ALCOHOL AND THE FAMILY IN DENIAL

Long before experiencing dementia from alcohol, the alcoholic has spent a life time trying to hide his alcoholism from family, friends and even medical professionals. So when the illness progresses to the dementing stage the  family who is in denial, now takes over not only the feelings of guilt and shame the alcoholic experienced. But also the active role of concealing the real cause of the dementia.  Dementia from alcohol doesn’t come on rapidly, but after a long time of alcohol abuse.

During those years of alcohol abuse the family maintains a code of secrecy, looking away and in so doing gives the abuser little reason to seek help. Family and friends are referred to as “co-alcoholics” due to their role in maintaining the alcoholic’s excuses, thereby promoting continued abuse.

Enabling, references the families efforts to protect the alcoholic from the consequences of their drinking. Supporting statements of needing “something to unwind,” ignoring odd or inappropriate behavior, and not identifying times when the alcoholic is not physically or emotionally available, are ways in which families protect the drinker. By not addressing the abuse the family gives the alcoholic little reason to seek help.

The alcoholic most likely, because he is enabled, will not seek help until he hits rock bottom. However more often than not, the abuser experiences dementia from alcohol and long term placement becomes necessary before he has the opportunity to make that choice. Once in long term placement the family and friends then continue the charade by finding a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease more acceptable than dementia from alcohol abuse.

The true numbers of persons with dementia from alcohol will most likely never be know because of the family continuing their role of “co-alcoholics.”  While healthcare professionals avoid questions about alcohol consumption so they are not seen as being “intrusive.”

Virginia Garberding RN

Certified in Gerontology and Restorative Nursing