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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 aa.org.


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