Alcoholism is a ‘family disease’, it affects the whole family. It affects each member of the sufferer’s family differently – from the unborn child to their closest relatives: children of all ages, wives/husbands, brothers and sisters, parents and other close relatives are all negatively impacted by their drinking problem.
Negative effects of alcoholism upon the family include:
- Foetal alcohol syndrome
- Low self-esteem
- Domestic violence: living in fear of verbal, physical or emotional abuse
- Children may have to ‘grow up’ quicker and learn to take care of the household and other family members
- Infidelity – alcohol lowers inhibitions and partners are more likely to cheat while under the influence
- Co-dependency – where a family member adopts the rescuer and caregiver role and this becomes part of their identity.
The impact on home life can be immense:
- Debt and financial instability
- A dangerous environment for children – broken bottles, knives lying around
- Disruption to the healthy, stable routine that children need
- Lack of support to children
- An unhygienic environment
- Embarrassing social situations
- Legal problems
Effects upon Babies and Children
Women who consume alcohol during pregnancy are putting their babies at risk of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), one of the top three causes of birth defects. The concentration of alcohol in a drinking pregnant woman’s bloodstream is the same in her unborn baby’s bloodstream and can cause immense damage.
Parental alcoholism also seriously affects young children or teenagers. Many of these children develop psychological problems such as low self-esteem, feelings of guilt and helplessness, loneliness and fear of abandonment, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and chronic depression.
This can lead to:
- Difficulty forming healthy relationships and friendships
- Eating disorders
- Self-harming tendencies
- A greater risk of developing addictions themselves
- Academic failure
- Engaging in illegal activities such as shoplifting
Children of alcoholics (COAs) often feel responsible for their parent’s drinking and may think they caused the problem. As they grow, the stressful environment at home influences their emotional development: they may find it difficult to make friends, develop phobias, have problems in school. Statistics also show that fewer children of alcoholics go to college compared to the national average.
Some COAs develop certain survival mechanisms which include lying, stealing, fighting, and they are more exposed to child abuse and incest. Because they live in extremely unstable home environments, they have intimacy issues and behavioural problems as they constantly feel in danger, threatened and they don’t know how to behave themselves. They often believe they are to blame for the alcohol addiction and think they can stop their parent by pleasing them or by hiding alcohol.
The problems do not go away in time without treatment. Adult children of alcoholics continue to have a bad self-image which leads to other poor choices in their social, family and working lives. They experience relationship difficulties, inability to trust people, depression, aggression, even PTSD.
Effects upon Spouses or Partners
The alcoholic’s change in behaviour and drinking habits will affect the spouse or partner. They might experience psychological trauma and physical health problems. As family responsibilities shift from two parents to one, financial difficulties may arise. The spouse will start to feel hatred, self-pity and exhaustion as they have to cover for the alcoholic’s actions or passivity.
Divorce rates are much higher than average among couples with an partner suffering from alcoholism. This can be down to poor communication, stress, increased distress at seeing one’s partner decline, intimacy issues and marital abuse be it verbal abuse, emotional abuse, physical abuse or even sexual abuse.
Spouses often become codependent. They become compulsive caretakers, increasingly tolerant of their partner’s drinking. According to Melody Beattie, codependency is “a physical, mental, emotional and spiritual condition similar to alcoholism that appears in many non-alcoholic or non-chemically dependent people who are close to an alcoholic”.
Spouses and children of people suffering from alcoholism are trying to help, but what they are doing is enabling, a term that describes the family’s protective intentions: they are shielding the addicted person from the consequences of their behaviour by denying the drinking problem and helping cover the problems caused by his/her alcoholism. But this cannot stop the alcohol drinking patterns. By trying to keep the family together they are contributing to the cycle of addiction, instead of addressing it as a family problem and looking to break the cycle. Their efforts are well-intentioned but misguided.
Alcoholism Treatment for the Family at Castle Craig
At Castle Craig we involve the family in the process of treatment. We organise family therapy and invite members of family to our residential family programme. We educate family about the disease of addiction, and help them to understand the behaviours of the addict. We also teach coping skills and support family members in rebuilding their lives.
We introduce patients to 12-Step support groups, like Alcoholics Anonymous, as this is going to be a valuable resource in their ongoing recovery and relapse prevention.
We also recommend that family members attend self-help groups like Al-Anon for spouses of alcoholics or Alateen for children of alcoholics. These groups are Twelve Step Recovery Programs which help family members understand that they are not responsible for their loved one’s drinking problems and that they too can recover from what they have been through.
30 Years of Treating Addiction
Castle Craig Rehab has over 30 years of experience in treating alcoholism and drug addiction. Our integrated residential rehab programme starts with a personalised detox process and medical care. In parallel, patients attend the therapy programme, which is made up of specialist and complementary addiction therapies.
This includes individual therapy and group therapies that help each patient address their own personal history and psychological issues. Some of the specialist group therapies that our patients attend include PTSD therapy, Eating Disorders group therapy, Women’s group therapy, Grief-therapy, Cross-Addiction therapy.
Get Help for Drinking Problems
Early recognition and treatment can help reset the damage addiction has on families. If you think someone you love has a drinking problem, contact us to get help.
Reference: Codependent No More: How To Stop Controlling Others And Start Caring for Yourself – Melody Beattie, Second Edition 1992, Hazelden.
Page last reviewed and clinically fact-checked | January 8, 2020