Choose Alcohol over Family?

choose alcohol family walking on beach


One of the most challenging questions for those recovering from an alcohol use disorder is, “Why did you choose alcohol over me?” No matter how often you tell the family of a person in active addiction their loved one has a chronic, progressive brain disease, someone will stand up and say, “Yes, but they decided to pick up that drink in the first place.”

It’s difficult to explain why someone chooses alcohol over family and friends. Addiction changes the brain’s work, making it nearly impossible for someone in active addiction to resist the urge to drink or use drugs. No single answer is why a person chooses alcohol or drugs. However, getting help from Sanford Behavioral Health can help an individual struggling with their addiction and help them make healthier choices.

Sanford Behavioral Health treatment centers offer a variety of programs, such as group therapy, individual counseling, 12-step meetings, medication-assisted treatment, and relapse prevention. The family program at Sanford Behavioral Health teaches family members and friends of a person in recovery how to support them, remain healthy themselves, and set boundaries. Reach out to us today at 616.202.3326 to learn more about how we can help your family during this challenging time.

Why Does Alcohol Ruins Relationships?

It is the million-dollar question. And not easy to answer. If you never pick up a drink, you will never have an alcohol problem. Consequently, a daughter might ask, “Why now? You’ve always been a drinker. Why did you become addicted now?” Or a spouse might say, “I’ve read all the literature, but there had to be a time when you could have stopped – before it escalated into this mess.” A child might ask, “Do you love wine more than me?” A parent wonders aloud, “What did we do wrong?”

How Do We Answer All the Questions?

All these musings and questions stem from the same emotional wellspring: anger, hurt, resentment, and the personification of alcohol. Unfortunately, for those in treatment or long-term recovery, questions like the above are often met with a dry mouth and an empty head. We’ve read the books, know the facts, and have done the required self-analysis. But we get tongue-tied when trying to explain ourselves. It seems we end up saying, “I’m so sorry.” Or a bit defensively, “Do you think I wanted this to happen?”

Alcohol-related problems—which result from drinking too much, too fast, or too often—are among the most significant public health issues in the United States. Many people struggle with controlling their drinking at some time in their lives. According to National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, more than 14 million adults ages 18 and older have alcohol use disorder (AUD), and one in 10 children live in a home with a parent with a drinking problem.

Three Good Answers – “Why Did You Choose Alcohol over Me?”

Three experts at Sanford Behavioral Health answer the question for us. Their quotes help provide some perspective on the correlation between alcohol, relationships, and families.

“F. Scott Fitzgerald said, ‘First you take a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes you.’ In other words, I chose that first and second drink. I crossed a line at some point, which was beyond my control; alcohol hijacked my rational thoughts. I have a chronic brain disease that controls reward, motivation, memory, and related circuitry. I have chosen abstinence from alcohol to manage my disease, and I could use your support.”–Rae Green, JD, LPC, CAADC, Sanford Behavioral Health founder and president

“When a person learns to swim, they cannot unlearn to swim. Their brain is programmed. I chose to learn to swim, not the inability not to swim. Similarly, when I became addicted to alcohol, I decided to take a drink, not the inability to quit drinking. As a result, I have been impacted for life. I can wade in the water if I don’t want to swim. But being knee-deep is like taking one drink – tempting and potentially triggering an emotional response to dive in fully. Better I should stay out of the water entirely.”–Lynnel Brewster, RN, LPC, LLMFT, CCTP, Sanford Behavioral Health clinical director

“My relationship with alcohol may look like a threat to our relationship. It may look like a love affair with a substance, but I assure you, it is not. I do not choose alcohol over you, especially knowing my drinking hurts you. It is not a choice for me. It is an addiction, an illness for which I need help and support. I hope you can support me.”–Christine Walkons, LPC, CAADC, CCS-M, Sanford Behavioral Health clinical director emeritus

Alcohol Abuse Ruins Relationships

Alcohol abuse destroys relationships. It can affect every aspect of life, from career and finances to physical and mental health. But it can have an especially devastating effect on the interpersonal relationships in a person’s life—especially those closest to them.

Family members and friends must understand that alcohol use disorder is an illness, like any other addiction. People with AUD cannot just “just stop” drinking as much as they may want to. Getting support from a family program can help with the following:

  • Developing coping skills to manage cravings and stress
  • Understanding the disease of addiction and its effects on relationships
  • Finding new ways to connect with family members and friends in a healthy way
  • Learning how to set boundaries and keep them
  • Creating an action plan if relapse occurs

As a family, it’s crucial to understand better the struggle that comes with alcohol use disorder can be the key to strengthening relationships and providing support for those struggling to overcome their addiction. You can help someone on the road to recovery with understanding, empathy, and compassion.

Get Help and Support from Sanford Behavioral Health

Family members can be powerful allies in the recovery process. At Sanford Behavioral Health, we begin the education process in our family program while a loved one is in treatment. Treatment is the perfect time to involve family members in the recovery process. Family members may begin recognizing their non-productive behaviors during their loved one’s care. These behaviors might have developed while trying to cope with addiction in the family. Often, family members have spent so much time putting the person with the substance use disorder ahead of all others they have forgotten how to prioritize themselves.

Our loved ones deserve answers. We have been through a lot together. Properly articulating the reasons for alcohol misuse helps everyone feel more resolved, less hurt, and less angry. And it puts the responsibility where it belongs. It allows us to draw back the curtains and shine a positive, unabashed light on recovery. To learn more about Sanford Behavioral Health and our family program, contact us at 616.202.3326 to get the help your family needs.

Sanford Behavioral Health is licensed and accredited as an addiction, eating disorder, and co-occurring mental health treatment facility, serving all of Michigan and beyond. Each of Sanford’s facilities in Greater Grand Rapids is carefully and diligently crafted to create a welcoming and comforting environment. Sanford is led by a psychiatrist-led team of medical, clinical, and support personnel providing medication-assisted, evidenced-based treatment to residential, outpatient, and telehealth patients. For more information, visit