Alcohol Use Disorder, or AUD, covers a broad spectrum that relates to a person’s alcohol consumption.
AUD might refer to someone that drinks more than the recommended amount (14 units per week) or someone that engages in heavy drinking.
Someone with severe AUD refers to alcohol dependency; that is, someone that needs alcohol to function both psychically and mentally.
AUD is about patterns of drinking, such as struggling to stop drinking, becoming preoccupied with drinking, or using alcohol regardless of negative health and social consequences.
According to the latest data, 57% of people aged over 16 in the UK drink alcohol.
Of these, it was recorded that 586,780 adults were dependent upon alcohol.
For more information about alcohol statistics in the UK, see here.
Unfortunately, AUD has many serious, negative consequences.
The most obvious is the damage that it does to the user. People with AUD are at high-risk to experience many health problems.
However, AUD also has a negative impact on the person’s loved ones.
But how does AUD impact the family? This article will discuss the impact of AUD on spouses, children, and family life in general.
It will also highlight what help is available and how to access it. (1)
How Do I Know if I have AUD?
Before discussing AUD and family, however, it is worth discussing the signs and symptoms of AUD.
Some of the most common symptoms include:
- The inability to stop or reduce alcohol consumption
- Spending increasing amounts of time drinking and engaging in unhealthy drinking patterns
- Experiencing cravings to drink alcohol
- Experiencing withdrawal (headaches, shakes, sweats, or flu symptoms, for example) when not drinking
- Alcohol has a negative impact on work
- No longer interested in hobbies or socialising unless it involves alcohol
- Drinking alcohol at inappropriate times, such as when at work or when driving
- Developing a tolerance to alcohol and needing to drink more to gain the desired effects
- Engaging in unusual behaviours, such as being paranoid, irrational, or unhygienic, for example
If any of these signs become commonplace, people may have developed AUD.
Regardless, it is always recommended that people speak with a medical professional, such as a GP.
A GP will be able to best determine if AUD has occurred and provide useful information and possible treatment. (2)
How AUD Impacts Spouses
The has been much research conducted showing the negative impact that alcohol can have on a marriage.
For many homes, alcohol consumption is a normal part of life. Drinking alcohol in moderation and as part of a balanced and healthy diet is okay.
However, when AUD occurs, this can lead to many marital problems.
Examples of this include:
- Marital conflict
- A lack of intimacy
- Domestic violence
- Financial problems
- Unplanned pregnancy
- Stressful home environments
- Spouses becoming angry, jealous, or worried
One study found that AUD can affect intimate relationships in various negative ways.
Firstly, when a person suffers from AUD, alcohol tends to take precedence in their life.
This means that the person becomes uninterested in many things, such as having a healthy romantic relationship.
Secondly, AUD can change a person’s behaviour and appearance. This might be due to not being hygienic or not having a healthy diet as a result of AUD.
As a result, partners of people with AUD might not be attracted to them.
Finally, AUD, for men, can lead to impotency and a lack of sex drive.
In addition to intimacy, AUD can lead to drastic behavioural changes, such as the person experiencing paranoia and intense mood swings.
For a spouse, this can be difficult to navigate. In one study, wives of husbands with AUD reported feeling afraid and worried about their partner’s aggressive behaviours.
Other behaviours might include neglecting important marital duties, such as working and paying bills.
Recent research has found that people with AUD are not only likely to spend a lot of their money on alcohol but are at risk of impulse buying.
The stress of financial responsibilities can impair a romantic relationship. (3)
Facts and Statistics on Alcohol and Marriage
Data collected regarding the impact that alcohol has on marriages is worth mentioning.
Some interesting examples include:
- Verbal aggression is 2 times more likely to occur when either individual has consumed alcohol
- Physical violence is 3 to 4 times more likely to occur when either individual has consumed alcohol
- AUD can lead to a 20% increased chance of divorce
- Substance misuse accounts for 40 to 80% of family violence
- Children of parents with AUD are more likely to develop AUD themselves
How AUD Impacts Children
As highlighted in the last bullet point, AUD does not just impact spouses.
Many married couples have children. When one parent, or both, suffers from AUD, this will have many consequences for their children.
Examples of this include:
- Child abuse
- Family conflicts
- Psychological and emotional trauma
- Cognitive impairment
- Struggling at school
- Finding it difficult to socialise and make friends
- Experiencing physical ailments, such as stomach issues or headaches
- The child engages in disruptive behaviour, such as using substances, being more aggressive, or bullying
As can be seen from this list, the damage that AUD can cause a child is extensive.
A child with a parent that suffers from AUD will likely be subject to, and experience, alcoholic behaviour.
For example, the parent being incoherent, aggressive, irritable, or for example.
Children with AUD parents are also likely to experience a range of emotions.
They might feel guilty, believing that the alcohol use is due to them or something that they have done.
They are also likely to feel anxious from living in an unstable and unpredictable environment.
This type of environment can lead to increased stress which has been found to cause damage to children’s executive function.
This is the part of the brain that is responsible for problem-solving, attention, planning, emotional regulation, and social interaction.
Studies have found that children that live in high-stress environments are at risk of having underdeveloped cognitive functions.
Children are also likely to grow up feeling embarrassed about their parents’ drinking.
This might impede their social needs. For example, the child might be concerned about having friends visit them or being seen in public with their parents.
Anger and depression are also common in children that have parents with AUD.
Finally, research has found that children often experience many issues in adult life as a result of their parent’s drinking.
What Help is Available for Families?
In the UK, there are many great, free services that help families dealing with AUD.
Examples of this include FRANK, Adam, DrugFAM, Families Anonymous, and Release.
Organisations such as these offer services such as advice and support relating to AUD.
For more information on these organisations and the help that they can provide, please learn more here.
This might include one-to-one therapy (individual therapy) or family therapy.
One-to-one therapy will involve family members speaking to a trained professional, such as a psychiatrist or psychologist.
During the sessions, people will be expected to talk about how their loved one’s behaviour/substance use has impacted them.
People might discuss their emotions, trauma, or issues related to AUD.
Family therapy focuses on reconciliation and accountability.
Families will meet with a professional and discuss the impact that AUD is having.
This provides families with a chance to confront their loved ones and explain the impact their dependency is having.
It is also an opportunity for the person suffering from AUD to be accountable for their behaviours. (5)
What Help is Available for People That Suffer From AUD?
For those suffering from AUD, in the UK, there are also many free drug and alcohol services.
People will also have access to local services in their area. To find out about these, it is recommended that people speak with a key worker, such as GP.
Services that such local organisations provide include:
- Advice relating to addiction
- Help to access treatment
- Detox and withdrawal support
- Counselling and therapy
- Support during the recovery process
- Rehab and treatment aftercare
Alternatively, the UK is home to many private rehab facilities.
However, these are often expensive, ranging from £300 to £500 per day.
It might be possible for people to either access outpatient treatment or receive funding for residential treatment through the NHS.
With regards to the former, people should speak with their GP.
An outpatient program does require people to stay overnight at a facility and can be fitted mourned other requirements, such as work or childcare.
People will be expected to attend treatment each week (usually 12 to 14 hours) and this can often be accessed for free.
Funding for residential treatment is difficult to obtain. An application must be made to the local council for review.
Funding is usually revered for extreme cases and people meeting strict criteria.
For more information about NHS funding, people should speak to a key worker. (6)
(1) Schuckit, Marc A. “Alcohol-use disorders.” The Lancet 373, no. 9662 (2009): 492-501.
(2) Carvalho, Andre F., Markus Heilig, Augusto Perez, Charlotte Probst, and Jürgen Rehm. “Alcohol use disorders.” The Lancet 394, no. 10200 (2019): 781-792.
(3) Rodriguez, Lindsey M., Clayton Neighbors, and C. Raymond Knee. “Problematic alcohol use and marital distress: An interdependence theory perspective.” Addiction Research & Theory 22, no. 4 (2014): 294-312.
(4) Sher, Kenneth J., Emily R. Grekin, and Natalie A. Williams. “The development of alcohol use disorders.” Annual Review of Clinical Psychology(2005) 1, no. 1 (2005): 493-523.
(5) Goldenberg, Herbert, and Irene Goldenberg. “Family therapy: An overview.” (2012).
(6) Lu, Mingshan, and Thomas G. McGuire. “The productivity of outpatient treatment for substance abuse.” Journal of Human Resources (2002): 309-335.