Alcoholism’s Effects on Families
Alcoholism affects more than just the sufferer of addiction. Any person that comes into close, regular contact with the sufferer can be affected by the addiction in many ways. Financial problems, relationship breakdowns and stress are just some of the ways in which family members can be affected by alcoholism.
Families tend to rely on each other for support, be it emotional or financial. When alcoholism gets in the way of that support, it can cause a range of problems for the family.
The effects of alcoholism on children
When a parent or carer is struggling with alcoholism, it can greatly affect any children under their care. Children often feel guilty and blame themselves for their parent or carer drinking too much or being unable to stop. As they try to make sense of why their parent is drinking excessively, they can become frustrated and angry.
This can lead to a fluctuation in their mood and general behaviour. They may start to lash out as a way to vent their frustration, or they may retreat into themselves as a way to become unseen or unheard by anyone else. They can begin to show signs of behavioural problems, and as a result, they may find it difficult to make friends or to maintain existing friendships.
A lack of routine can also be stressful for a child. A parent’s alcoholism might mean that the child misses’ school often or does not have set mealtimes at home. This unpredictability at home can lead to unpredictable behaviour and great anxiety for a child.
As a child of an alcoholic gets older, they may suffer from deeper emotional trauma from years of neglect due to alcoholism. They tend to become incredibly self-conscious as they realise that their family is different from everyone else’s and can struggle with perfectionism as they try to right the wrongs of the parent.
Some often become hoarders as they find that the only control they have at home is over the inanimate things they own.
This can greatly impact their school life and make it difficult to concentrate on schoolwork or study, which can lead to them getting into trouble often at school.
These negative emotions are often carried over into adulthood, further affecting adult relationships and job prospects long after they have moved out of the family home.
The effects of alcoholism on a spouse or partner
Addiction takes over many aspects of a person’s life, and in turn, has a negative impact on their relationship. As alcohol begins to take precedence over the relationship, the spouse will begin to feel unloved and neglected.
As alcoholism often leads to job losses, the spouse then has to deal with the loss of income into the home and may need to take on extra work outside the home as well as extra responsibility inside the home to make up for what the alcoholic is not doing. This often leads to stress or depression.
Alcoholism also increases the risk of domestic violence and sexual abuse, as well as emotional and psychological abuse due to the person not being in full control of what they say and do. Up to 49% of divorces in 2019 occurred as a result of addiction (1).
The lack of interest from the sufferer towards the spouse, coupled with the increased stress levels, can also lead to infidelity.
How to cope with addiction in the family
If you are dealing with alcoholism within your family, there are certain steps you can take to overcome it and make things easier for not only the person suffering from addiction but the entire family unit,
1. Accept the addiction
Sometimes it is better to take a step back and look at things from an outside perspective. While you may want to help your family member, you might also be enabling their behaviour by being understanding. Accepting that addiction is a medical condition that needs professional help can help relieve some of your stress.
2. Manage emotions
You might feel anger and resentment towards the person with the addiction, but it is important to understand that they are suffering as well. Learning to manage your emotions in a healthier way can help you be more understanding of the issues at hand.
3. Breaking patterns
It is helpful to look at your own behaviour and look at the patterns you can change to help the sufferer on the road to recovery. It is also helpful to recognise that you can not change the behaviour of the sufferer, they need to make these changes on their own.
Think of your own needs
You have likely spent a long time focusing all of your attention on the person with the addiction. It is time to start thinking of yourself and the rest of the family and allowing yourself time to heal. You will be a better pillar of support if you also take care of your own wants and needs.
4. Seek support
Finding someone who has gone through what you are currently going through can help you find some new ways to cope and support your family member. They can suggest some strategies that they found useful as well as provide you with some emotional support. You can also find support in someone close to you who hasn’t gone through troubles with addiction but can be there when you need someone to lean on.
Once your family member is in treatment for their addiction, some therapies may include bringing the family in to learn to better communicate with each other and to help rebuild the trust and relationships that suffered as a result of the addiction.
If you fear that someone in your family may be dealing with an addiction to alcohol, it is important to get them to help sooner rather than later. The longer someone’s addiction lasts, the harder the impact it has on the family. Also, long-term addiction can lead to long-term effects on children that last into adulthood. The sooner an addiction is tackled, the easier it is to treat, and the family can begin to focus on healing.