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How Does Alcoholism Affect Families?
Author: Phil Kosanovich
Published: February 15, 2022

In our society, the family unit is the first point of contact for humans to form bonds, create relationships, socialize, and be nurtured. Alcohol abuse has a ripple effect on the individual and the whole family, which is why alcohol addiction is known as a family disease.

Alcohol abuse can come hand-in-hand with a range of negative consequences on all family members. When someone misuses alcohol, they may become secretive, emotionally unstable, violent, or even abusive. These behaviors can hinder trust within family relationships and impair each person’s mental health.

If one of your family members struggles with a substance use disorder, know that you are not alone. Help is available, and you do not need to suffer in silence.

What Does Alcohol Use Disorder Involve?

Alcohol use disorder, often shortened to AUD, is an umbrella term that covers alcoholism, alcohol abuse, alcohol dependence, and alcohol addiction. AUD is a medical condition that can appear mild, moderate, or severe.

Those with a mild alcohol use disorder may use alcohol in an unsafe way. For example, they may engage in risky behaviors and frequently consume an unhealthy amount of alcohol.

Those with a severe alcohol use disorder may feel out of control and unable to function without alcohol. They may also develop a tolerance to alcohol, meaning larger quantities of the drug are needed to achieve the desired effects. Not drinking alcohol may result in a series of unpleasant withdrawal symptoms, signaling that a physical dependency has evolved.

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How Can Alcohol Addiction Affect a Romantic Partner?

If you have a spouse or partner who is abusing alcohol, you will likely be experiencing a lot of different emotions. The struggle between your relationship with your partner and their relationship with alcohol may feel completely exhausting.

As your loved one engages in alcohol abuse, your mental health and self-esteem may reduce, and you may find it challenging to cope and support them while also taking care of yourself.

Know that it is okay to think of yourself and your well-being. Making sure that you have a support system and people you can talk to will help guide you through this difficult time. You do not need to go through this alone.

Alcohol and Intimacy

Intimacy, both in terms of physical intimacy and emotional intimacy, is essential for healthy relationships. However, this can become fractured if a romantic partner abuses alcohol.

If a spouse or partner abuses alcohol, affection and care may diminish because alcohol addictions can affect respect between people. Physical intimacy can decline because alcohol abuse can affect a person’s sex drive and because negative feelings toward your partner’s behavior or aggression may make you want to avoid this.

Alcohol and Trust

Alcohol affects trust. The secrecy and deceit which often accompany addiction can cause you to lose trust in your partner. This lost trust can take years to build back and may leave you feeling alone, depressed, and resentful of your loved one.

Your partner may become secretive in a bid to protect you against their addiction, but this often escalates until they go to great lengths to hide their problems. Without trust, a relationship can very quickly fall apart.

Alcohol and Intimate Partner Violence

Unfortunately, alcohol use can lead to an increased risk of domestic violence. Domestic violence can be perpetrated on a spouse or partner and other family members.

Alcohol can lead to what is known as intimate partner violence. Intimate partner violence is defined by the World Health Organization as a behavior that involves emotional abuse, psychological abuse, physical abuse, or sexual abuse.

Drinking alcohol can sadly increase the intensity and frequency of domestic violence. Situations may start as arguments before quickly escalating when alcohol is involved. Someone drinking alcohol may become violent, verbally abusive, and aggressive when they drink, which can severely affect your health and well-being.

Financial Problems and Alcohol Abuse

Serious financial problems and anxiety over money can result from substance abuse. It can affect the entire family and put a lot of strain on you, especially as you may feel incredibly stressed and have to work more in order to provide for your family.

A person who drinks frequently may neglect work, which ultimately impacts income. Drug abuse often damages a person’s ability to budget, and family money may be spent on sustaining the drinking problem.

How Does Alcohol Abuse Affect Child Development?

Growing up in a household where one or more family members abuse alcohol can have profound consequences on a child. Alcohol abuse is widespread, and it’s believed that over eight million children under 18 live with at least one adult who has a substance use disorder.

The impact of alcohol abuse on child development is significant. Due to the secrecy and deception that often accompany alcohol addiction, a child may have trouble forming bonds and relationships and find it difficult to trust others. This, unfortunately, can continue into their adult lives.

A child may blame themselves for the addiction of their family member, leading to low self-esteem, feelings of guilt, and low confidence. If a parent with an AUD behaves unpredictably or frighteningly, it can make a child feel unsafe and confused, leading to high stress and a higher risk of developing a mental illness.

Children of those with an AUD often feel frustrated, anxious, depressed, detached, and angry. You should look out for the following signs in children if you are to offer them support and help if needed:

  • Risky or impulsive behavior
  • Poor concentration
  • Low self-confidence
  • Social isolation
  • Attention seeking behaviors
  • Skipping school or failing class
  • Looking disheveled

What Help Is Available?

Although alcohol addictions can have devastating consequences on a family, fortunately, many forms of help and healthy coping mechanisms are available.

  • Remember not to blame yourself. It is important to remember that your loved one’s addiction is not your fault. Addiction is a disease, and you would not blame yourself if your loved one had a physical illness, so try to treat it in the same way. This will alleviate some of the guilt and self-blame you may be placing on yourself.
  • Accept the addiction. Accepting that your loved one has an addiction can be very challenging. You may be in denial and want to avoid thinking that this is the case. However, it is incredibly freeing and will help you get the necessary support.
  • Practice self-care. Prioritizing your own health and happiness may feel selfish when your family member is going through a tough time. However, it is vital to take care of yourself as doing so will help you to support your family member. You should remember that you do not need to be their only support system, though. There are many support groups and people who can help them.
  • Reach out for support. Across the country, many support groups exist to support family members of those with an addiction. Joining these support groups may help you feel connected to others going through a similar thing. Groups such as Al-Anon can help you feel less isolated. These groups can also provide you with healthy coping strategies. Talking to friends and family members can also be extremely helpful if you have a trusting, safe relationship with them.
  • Therapy. Seeking professional support in a non-judgmental space can feel like a weight is being lifted from your shoulders. Talking through your problems with a therapist can help you understand your feelings and take advantage of the help available. Family therapy or family counseling can also be very beneficial.
  • Do things that you enjoy. Rebuilding your self-esteem is important. Engaging in hobbies and activities that you enjoy will help you to improve your mental health.

To Conclude

If any of your family members are struggling with alcohol abuse or an addiction, we understand that this may be a very scary time for you. However, we would encourage you not to feel disheartened because help is available.

Although you may not think so, a fulfilled, sober life is entirely possible for family members struggling, and there is also support available for you.

Therapy, acceptance, seeking support, and rebuilding your confidence will all help you during this time and in the future. Asking for help is a big step, but it will be worth it, and you don’t need to go through this alone. Prioritizing your own needs is as necessary as helping your family members.

If you think a family member is abusing alcohol and you are worried about the health consequences, contact us today to find out more about the recovery process and treatment available. In doing so, we can talk you through what a typical treatment program looks like and help you refer your loved one to a rehab center.

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