RESEARCH – July 2007

The mental health of alcoholic co-addicts


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Aim. The paper reports the concept of co-addiction and the results of a study of the mental health of the family members of alcoholic addicts as well as the opinions of specialists (medical doctors, social workers) about this topic.
Background. In Estonia, problematic alcohol use remains an issue that requires more attention – excessive alcohol consumption according to statistics (13.6 l per person in 2005), increase in the number of traffic accidents caused by drunken drivers, high death rates due to alcohol poisoning and so on.
Method. Qualitative research methods: interviews (15 co-addicts and 13 specialists) and observation were used to collect data; AL-Anon meeting and a summer academy on alcoholism for social workers were attended.
Results. Alcoholic co-addicts live in dysfunctional families with little psycho-social encouragement from relatives, friends and colleges. Their coping with everyday life is disturbed, they feel disregarded in society and live a double life – one at home and another at the workplace.  The majority of them admitted that they had tried to overcome their frustration by drinking alcohol. Co-addicts have many health disorders that were classified as psychosomatic by doctors. Alcoholic addicts are treated as aberrant people in society and co-addiction as a health risk factor has not received adequate attention.
Conclusions. The findings of this study elucidated the problems of alcoholic co-addiction. The mental health  of co-addicts is poor, they feel socially ostracized. Specialists underlined psychosomatic health disorders and social problems of alcoholic addicts family members and criticized the liberality of alcohol politics in Estonia. More attention should be paid to the problem of co-addiction in Estonia, also the present alcohol policy should be revised.