FOR most of us, 'going for a drink' is a nice way to relax or socialise. But what happens when alcohol becomes an addiction?

Alcoholism can not only have a devastating impact on the addict. It can also have a devastating impact on their families.

November 13-19 is Alcohol Awareness Week and brave readers whose loved ones are alcoholics have shared their story with us. They hope that by doing so, they can help relieve the stigma of alcoholism and encourage others to seek help.

David's* story

I couldn’t pinpoint exactly when I began to think my wife’s drinking was a problem, but I remember when we first met we both enjoyed life and we both drank a lot.

Sometimes drinking would make her fun, energetic and loving, but sometimes she’d be mean, cutting and filled with hate.

I always imagined it was just ‘one of those things’ and the good times outweighed the bad.

We married after a few years together and started a family, it felt like the normal thing to do.

After our first child was born certain patterns of behaviour started to intensify - erratic and volatile out-bursts at minor incidents; starting an argument and then changing the topic mid flow to another argument, then suddenly becoming very vulnerable.

At that point I still did not think alcohol was the cause of this, I thought it was baby blues or the effect her family had on her, but I did know whenever she drank it was 50/50 which person I would get.

I would turn on myself and think ‘Why don’t you do something?’ but as a new dad and with no knowledge of the disease of alcoholism, I assumed it was natural and this is what married life was all about.

We ended up in a pattern of calm then chaos and, whilst there was no physical violence on either side, we would be emotionally and psychologically abusive to one another.

The kids didn’t know what to expect from either of us. It was impossible to predict when a flare up would occur particularly as, alongside my wife’s drinking, I had ups and downs with my own emotions. When I was up I could handle it better, but if I was down then it was hell.

A typical row might start over something as simple as me getting stuck in traffic on the way home from work because she’d be there and the kids would be playing up. Or there’d be a misunderstanding about who was doing the ironing and we’d end up not talking for days, or worse, being passive aggressive in our attitude and language towards each other.

Alcoholism tortured my wife, creating a great sense of alienation within her but it also confounded me to the point where I didn’t know what was normal behaviour and what wasn’t.

There were times when I was convinced I was the problem and that they would all be better off without me. Because of the disease within me, those self-pitying thoughts degenerated.

It got to the point where I’d be driving in to work, imagining my car tearing off the road and flying into a ditch.

The alcoholism also separated me from my friends. How could I possibly tell anyone what was going on at home? It was the shame of how weak I was and the guilt of ‘why can’t I fix it?’ Eventually we settled into a cycle where we would drink in the evening to combat life.

Sometimes we’d share a bottle of wine or I’d drink a beer and leave her with the wine. I remember thinking that drinking her wine was taking away from her the one thing that managed to calm her down.

What I didn’t realise was that my wife was drinking earlier and earlier in the day, so when I’d get home and join her in a glass, she was already several glasses in.

I carried on in denial, hoping it would work out.

Then one day my wife told me she was going to Alcoholics Anonymous which stunned me.

I assumed alcoholics lived on the streets and were not functioning members of society, but I was proven completely wrong.

While my wife worked on her recovery I got steadily worse in my own thinking, eventually I found Al-Anon, a group that helps the families of alcoholics. I was so dazed and confused by life when I walked in to my first meeting.

Al-Anon really did save me, it gave me a place where people understood what I was going through and provided the love and support I felt deprived of. I know without that group I was on the way to a mental break-down.

When I look back, it all seems so obvious - my own descent into insanity could have been prevented so much earlier.

But alcoholism is a cunning, baffling and insidious disease.

It uses your own mind to convince you there is nothing wrong with what is happening and that your will-power can control events, and even your loved one’s malady.

Its key strength is to trick you into shutting up shop and saying nothing, so you feel ever more isolated and alone.

For me, the secret to starting to conquer it is to seek support and help from people who understand and can give you the guidance to find your own peace of mind.

I really don’t know what the future will bring for my family but I do know that by asking for help, we give ourselves the best chance of making it the best we can.

Lucy's story

ALCOHOLISM is indiscriminate. It doesn't care who you are, what job you have, if you have children. My mum is an amazing, educated woman with a heart of gold. But she is an alcoholic. And that has not only had a serious impact on her health, it has affected her marriage and her relationships with her children.

I can't really begin to explain what it's like to be the child of an alcoholic. There is such a stigma attached that rarely, outside of our core family unit, do we discuss mum's addiction.

I don't remember when mum's drinking started to become a problem. But regular patterns of behaviour started to emerge - she'd go to a social function and have one or two glasses, yet somehow would be incredibly intoxicated. She became sneaky - she'd buy alcohol and stash it away. She'd drink spirits out of mugs, as though that would fool us in to thinking she was having a cup of tea. And mum became incredibly nasty when she was drunk. She'd say incredibly hurtful things, things she'd never dream of saying had she been sober. She was also violent, particularly towards dad. He never retaliated and stuck by her through it all, trying to help her get better. After particularly bad episodes I'd confront her, sometimes even show her recordings of herself when she was drunk, but she'd have no memory. She was in denial.

That's the worst part- the denial. Because as a loved one of someone with addiction, you feel helpless. Unless that person is willing to confront their demons, there is very little you can do. All you can do is offer them support and love, as hard as it sometimes is, and be there when they are ready to seek help.

And there's no shame in seeking help for yourself. There are charities, such as the National Association for Children of Alcoholics (freephone 0800 3583456), which offer guidance and support.

The strain of mum's addiction took its toll on all of us. I felt guilty for going to university and leaving my younger sister at home; she began to act out and got into trouble. Neither of us really drink because we're scared of being susceptible to alcoholism.

Mum is finally in therapy for her addiction following a serious health scare last year, which resulted in a breakdown. Having lived with this addiction for over 20 years, I wish I could believe this will be the end, but I know the work will have to continue for the rest of mum's life. So we are taking it day by day.

*names have been changed to protect identities - If you are concerned about someone else’s drinking or worried about how it is affecting you and would like to find out more about Al-Anon, call the national helpline on 0207 7403 0888 (10am-10pm) or visit the website to find your nearest meeting.