Friday, February 4, 2011

How to help alcoholics

Three weeks ago, Ted Williams was homeless, holding up a cardboard sign along a highway in Ohio begging someone to give him a chance to use his "God-given" gift to get himself out of his hopeless predicament.

A reporter posted on YouTube a clip of Williams using his "golden voice." The video went viral and a few short weeks later Williams was a national celebrity with lucrative job offers.

Williams was a radio personality before drugs and alcohol derailed him. He had lived in shelters for nearly 10 years. He had been sober for almost three. But the new attention proved too overwhelming. Last week, Williams reportedly checked into rehab for alcohol abuse.

As a pastor, I have counseled addicts and their families through repeated relapses. Part of the problem is that our society does not fully understand alcoholism. Some still refuse to accept alcoholism as a disease.

The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence defines alcoholism as "a chronic disease with genetic, psychosocial and environmental factors influencing its development and manifestations." The term disease indicates that the addiction is an "involuntary disability."

Because denial is so prevalent among alcoholics, many believe addicts simply lack willpower and motivation. Addicts must consent and commit to treatment and may need to change their environment and behavior, but self-discipline alone is not the solution. Williams had likely managed to subdue his urges several times during those three years but, as with other addictions, it can take just one moment of weakness to restart the cycle.

While alcoholism is treatable, it is not curable. I recently counseled an individual who relapsed after 20 years. Sometimes there is a trigger such as a divorce, a death or, perhaps in Williams’ case, a rapid change in lifestyle. Recovering alcoholics must be aware that they are always susceptible to setbacks. Williams should have received immediate counseling to help with his newfound fame.

Crucial to a recovering addict are loved ones who understand the disease and can balance tough love with patience. Dealing with an addict can be painful and frustrating. Relatives sometimes require their own support system. But perhaps if alcoholism were more widely accepted as a disease, family members would be less prone to embarrassment, which can prompt them to abandon the addict. There are times, to be sure, when all options have been exhausted, and the only step left is to sever ties. However, in many cases, with support and treatment, addicts can learn to live normal lives.

I celebrated Williams’ comeback and want him to succeed. Thankfully, he was able to get help before he slipped too far back.

On NBC’s "Today" show, Williams indicated things were different this time around because of his faith in God. I hope Williams emerges from rehab better equipped to deal with the pressures of life — which will be more valuable to him than fame and fortune. This time he has God.

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