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Progress by a farm family dealing with alcoholism

It's been since April 2017 that I reported how a farm couple, Dan and Darla and their two children (now 8 and 11) are dealing with Dan's excessive drinking, his poor management of anxiety and many related issues, as well as several treatment effo...

Michael R. Rosmann, Ph.D.
Michael R. Rosmann, Ph.D., FarmersÕ Forum columnist

It's been since April 2017 that I reported how a farm couple, Dan and Darla and their two children (now 8 and 11) are dealing with Dan's excessive drinking, his poor management of anxiety and many related issues, as well as several treatment efforts and legal issues. Today's article is an update.

Darla furnished most of the information during the 10-month span since last April. As has been the case since I first reported about Dan's alcohol problem in October 2013, the family members conferred with me with the understanding that I would not use their real names or identifying information.

Dan seemed somewhat open when we talked on the phone and occasionally in person during 2013 and up to the summer of 2016. Since then he has become increasingly guarded and closed off.

My role has been to suggest treatment options to the family. I am not providing them professional services for pay.

Dan's battles about using a breathalyzer to verify whether or not he was under the influence of alcohol when it was suspected could be the subject of a book. He destroyed five of the devices, which his outpatient counselor had recommended to provide objective information to Darla and others, as well as to Dan.

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During the most recent holiday period, Dan reportedly was inebriated much of the time, although he insisted he was never drunk. On New Year's Eve, Dan became incontinent while asleep on the living room couch; as his urine soaked the couch, he reeked of alcohol.

When Darla and the children talked about Dan at bedtime, both children declared how worried they were about their father. They insisted they would never consume alcohol as they became teenagers and adults.

Two weeks after school resumed, the children's first-semester academic grades were revealed. The daughter's grades had fallen from A's and B's at midterm to C's and an F by the end of the semester. Her younger brother's school grades didn't drop much but teachers reported his aggression problems on the playground to Darla when she attended parent-teacher conferences.

Darla took the children during the following week to see a psychologist who interviewed them and Darla. The psychologist thought initially that the children were being abused physically or sexually, but eventually she reached a conclusion that their father's alcohol misuse was adversely affecting them.

That evening when Darla shared the psychologist's report, Dan said everyone was overreacting. Darla demanded that Dan move out of the house that very evening, because he was likely drunk, belligerent and wouldn't use the breathalyzer.

Darla threatened to call the sheriff if Dan didn't leave the house. Dan reluctantly found a motel room in a neighboring town.

The next day Darla told Dan he couldn't return home until he was in an inpatient treatment program. She had "more than enough" of his false reports that he was attending Alcoholics Anonymous and outpatient substance abuse counseling.

Dan had sporadically attended AA and counseling meetings over the previous three years. He deceived his family into believing he was regularly attending therapy when actually he was visiting a bar.

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Darla had attended three joint counseling sessions with Dan and explained her side of the situation with his counselor. Dan insisted she caused him to drink and undermined him.

Several days after Dan had been "kicked out of the house," Darla met with the admission evaluator for an inpatient program that Dan had chosen. The evaluator had already recommended inpatient treatment for Dan.

For the past three weeks Dan has been in a residential substance treatment program covered by health insurance furnished by Darla's employment as a nurse administrator. The family is taking care of their farmstead, which involves shoveling snow, paying the bills and caring for their horses, dog, cats and chickens.

Darla said Dan claims he wants to be "a new man" by the time field work begins this spring. He has made similar promises previously.

Darla has been a tower of strength who has become even more dedicated to the wellbeing of her children and the survival of their farming operation over the past five years. Maybe her strength has become a problem for Dan.

However, he must recognize that she includes him in her wishes for the family's future if he "gets his act together." Besides never consuming alcohol again, Dan must learn how to stand up to Darla and others with whom he has been unassertive in the past. Dan must deal with problems during his own upbringing and establish core personal beliefs.

The average number of inpatient stints for alcoholism is three before most addicts make lifetime positive adjustments or decide they will continue to use alcohol as a necessary ingredient in their lives.

In the past I have shared recommendations that readers have made for Dan and his family. I invite your thoughts again.

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