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Hidden Alcoholism and Family Denial

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It appears by all accounts that Diane Schuler was a hidden alcoholic.

Diane Schuler

Dr. Michelle Golland: It is painful to see the family of Diane Schuler going on television disputing the autopsy report, claiming that she was not drunk or stoned while driving her car, which crashed and killed seven people, including Diane's daughter and three nieces. Unless we learn that she had been abducted and forced to drink the bottle of vodka and smoke pot at gunpoint, any rational person can see that this woman must have had a drug and alcohol problem.

It appears by all accounts that Diane Schuler was a "hidden alcoholic." The hidden alcoholic is a person who controls their drinking enough to live a functional life, and maintains a semblance of normalcy in their marriage, social, and occupational worlds. From what we know, this appears to have been the life of Diane Schuler. We do not know if she was a binge alcoholic regularly, or if something in particular set her off that fateful Sunday morning. What we do know is that she reached for the bottle of vodka and drove and killed herself and seven others. 

We can only hope that the family really had no idea about her alcoholic or binge-drinking tendencies. But the sad fact is they may simply be continuing their denial behavior, which is very common in alcoholic families. The complete denial by Diane's family and their unwillingness to even consider that she made some horribly poor choices that morning which led to this tragedy further perpetuates the myth of "what an alcoholic looks like," or the belief that a "mother would never do this." As a clinical psychologist, I can tell you alcohol and drug addiction knows no race, class, or gender. Any person, even a loving and devoted mother, can struggle with alcohol dependency.

There are five types of alcoholics: 

1. Young Adult: This accounts for 32% of alcoholics. The average age is 24 years old. They tend to binge drink and not seek help for alcohol issues.

2. Young Antisocial: This accounts for 21% of alcoholics. The average age is 26, and over half have antisocial personality disorder. They tend to use multiple drugs.

3. Functional: This accounts for 19% of alcoholics. They are middle-aged and tend to be in stable relationships, and have higher education and higher incomes than other alcoholics. They tend to drink every other day and consume more than five drinks on drinking days.

4. Intermediate Familial: This accounts for 19% of alcoholics. They are middle-aged and have a family history of alcohol abuse. Nearly 50% are clinically depressed and 20% have bipolar disorder.

5. Chronic Severe Type: This accounts for 9% of alcoholics. They are middle-aged with an early onset of drinking. They are the most prone to psychiatric problems and drug abuse issues. This group is the most likely to receive treatment for their alcohol dependency.

Do you wonder if you have an issue with alcohol? Here are 12 questions to help you find out if you may need some help.

Answer Yes or No:

1) Have you ever decided to stop drinking for a week or so, but only lasted a couple of days?

2) Do you wish people would mind their own business about your drinking and stop telling you what to do?

3) Have you ever switched from one kind of drink to another in the hopes that this would keep you from getting drunk?

4) Have you had to have an "eye-opener" upon awakening during the past year?

5) Do you envy people who can drink without getting into trouble?

6) Have you had problems connected with drinking during the past year?

7) Has your drinking caused trouble at home?

8) Do you ever try to get "extra" drinks at a party because you do not get enough?

9) Do you tell yourself you can stop drinking any time you want to, even though you keep getting drunk when you don't mean to?

10) Have you missed days of work or school because of drinking?

11) Do you have blackouts?

12) Have you ever felt your life would be better if you did not drink?

If you answered "yes" four or more times, you probably have trouble with alcohol. To start on the road to recovery, please go to

next: Pot Parents: Smoking's Better Than Drinking!
206 comments so far | Post a comment now
Shirley August 10, 2009, 1:51 PM

I have an addiction problem (not alcohol) and not one person in my family knows about it. I think they would be totally shocked.

ame i. August 10, 2009, 7:06 PM

Mothers have let their cars fall into a lake with her 2 sons strapped into carseats to drown. Mothers have shot 3 children & herself in the arm so it would look like a stranger committed the crime. Mothers have put their baby in a microwave. Mothers have chopped off the head of their infant, eaten parts of that infant and claimed that Satan told her to do so.
I think we tend to hide our heads in the sand when it comes to mothers’ behavior. We just don’t want to accept that a mother can be anything but responsible, caring, loving.

ame i. August 10, 2009, 10:26 PM

I want to send well wishes to Shirley b/c I have been there, maybe not the exact same place (not alcohol for me either) or the exact same problem but I have been “there”. My family did find out and helped me climb out of the hole I dug and fell into while trying to make myself feel better after my husband died. I hope the same happens for Shirley.
It’s easy to judge this poor woman and point fingers at her family for not knowing she had such a serious problem. As someone who had a serious problem I can say it is easy to hide it. It was a fluke or the grace of God that I “got caught” and had to realize what I was doing to myself. I am sure I would be dead right now if my friends and family hadn’t noticed.
Take care of yourself, Shirley.

sheyanne  August 11, 2009, 10:35 PM

i also hav an addiction problem that noone knows family wouldnt want 2 believe it either..they would be shocked as well..wen ur shamed of sumthin u can b very good at hiding it

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