The Rhetoric of Alcoholism by

The Rhetoric of Alcoholism

The rhetoric of those who wax poetic about how to handle an alcoholic incites feelings of anger within me. Mostly, because mere words don’t reveal the breadth of emotions felt by family members. Advice by experts tells people to “let them hit rock bottom.” Such advice only gives consideration to the healing and recovery of the alcoholic. When one part of the family lets the alcoholic “hit rock bottom”, there is always another willing and complicit friend or family member that will give them a place to crash or some money to burn. The construct of “rock bottom” is loosely defined as a loss of resources, such as mental and physical health, money, friends, housing, and employment (

Several years ago, I worked at a printing company in Akron. The owner’s brother was a homeless alcoholic who often stayed at the Haven of Rest shelter. Even in the shelter, the alcoholics had to meet certain requirements to earn their stay. The most significant requirement was they couldn’t come and go as they pleased- for everyone’s safety and consideration. Also, they couldn’t stay at the shelter if they were intoxicated.

The alcoholic in my family constantly lets his kids down and has been absent from their lives for many years. Sometimes he decides to play Santa Clause, and throw some money around when he’s feeling fine. At this time, he makes many promises of material nature because spending money is easier than spending time and energy. His energy is devoted to consuming alcohol. He needs plenty of sleep to recover from the damage he has inflicted upon his body and mind.

The alcoholic in my family had to leave my house, or I threatened to take legal action. His parents believed him when he told them I was the crazy one, and that he needed a place to stay. That was 4 years ago, and he still lives at their house, despite the fact he is in his forties. Now, his parents tell me he hurls verbal abuse upon them several days each week. They tell me it is overwhelming to have to live with his unhinged tirades, spending-sprees, and his all-nighters. None of this information comes as a surprise to me, as I thought about the time he unleashed a barrage of insults at me during my daughter’s 11th birthday. She had specifically begged her father to not drink that day.

I don’t want to be callous, but I’m consumed by my own hostility towards this man who can’t make time to call his kids to check on them or ask about school. I’m angry when I see other families enjoying normal lives. This makes me feel defective. It feels disrespectful too. He diminishes the needs of others to satisfy his own cravings.

Many experts tell me to not let the alcoholic inflict any more pain. I have set down boundaries with him, but he charms and deceives, and promises to do better. Like a fool, I agree to drive my kids to see him, but he is still out from the night before our visit. Waiting, emptiness, disappointment, and anger. The only thing I can do is put even more distance between my family and him until he starts respecting our time and feelings. We keep hitting rock bottom, but it never happens for him.


  1. Patterson, E., & Ncc. (2017, October 31). The ‘Hitting Rock Bottom’ Myth | Drug Abuse & Treatment. Retrieved May 13, 2019, from