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How Does Alcoholism Affect Families?

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In our society, the family is the starting point for attachment, bonds, nurturing, and socialization. A family member who abuses alcohol will have a negative effect not only on themselves but also on members of the entire family.

Alcohol abuse can put a strain on relationships, causing fractures within the family unit and affecting the mental health of the entire family. This is why alcoholism is known as a family disease.

Secrecy, loss, fear, emotional instability, violence, or abuse are all factors that can emerge when substance abuse is present within a family. Understanding the effects that alcohol abuse can have on family members will help you to understand the necessary steps you should take to care for yourself.

What Is Alcohol Use Disorder?

Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) is a medical condition that involves feeling unable to control alcohol use, despite its negative consequences. It is also known as alcohol addiction. AUD can be mild, moderate, or severe. Some things that characterize AUD are compulsive alcohol use, losing control over alcohol intake, and lacking emotional stability when sober.

Alcohol Addiction and Child Development

It is thought that more than eight million children under the age of eighteen live with at least one adult who has a substance use disorder. Children of alcoholics often develop emotions and thought patterns as a result of their parent’s addiction which continues into their adult lives. It is important to know what signs to look out for in a child in order to support them if a family member has an alcohol addiction.

Growing up around family members who are abusing alcohol leads to a tangle of complex emotions in a child. It can have dire consequences on their healthy emotional development. They might feel guilty as if it is their fault. Due to being in an environment where lying and denial are normalized and ever-present, children often feel distrustful of others. This has a tendency to continue into adulthood, negatively impacting friendships and relationships. They also may feel anxious, depressed, detached, frustrated, and angry. They may be worried about domestic violence and feel unsafe at home. This is incredibly confusing and is a lot to be dealing with as a child!

Teachers, relatives, or other adults in contact with children with an alcoholic parent should look out for the following behaviors:

  • Low self-esteem
  • Isolation
  • Risky behaviors
  • Missing school, failing classes, or seeking attention
  • Disheveled appearance
  • Lack of concentration

How Does Alcohol Abuse Affect a Spouse or Partner?

If your partner abuses alcohol, it can be a very scary time. Your loved one’s addiction will likely come between you, with your partner prioritizing drinking over your relationship. Alcohol abuse within romantic relationships often results in lower marital satisfaction and poor self-esteem. It can also cause more serious mental health problems such as anxiety and depression.

Alcohol and Trust

A partner who is abusing alcohol can seriously damage trust within a romantic relationship. Someone struggling with AUD may be secretive and deceitful in order to hide their addiction. This may start as a way to protect the partner, but the lies often get bigger and more frequent in order to disguise the addiction. This is normally due to feelings of guilt, shame, and fear.

Trust is vital in healthy relationships and once it is broken it can be extremely difficult to fix. This can lead the partner to feel isolated, upset, and resent their significant other.

Alcohol and Intimacy

For intimate relationships to function healthily, there of course needs to be a level of intimacy. Unfortunately, this can become hugely impacted by a spouse or partner with alcohol problems. It can impact levels of respect, which can put a huge strain on your relationship. This can affect levels of affection and care. Physical intimacy can also be impacted as alcohol can affect sex drive. Stability within the relationship as well as expectations are also frequently fractured as a result of alcohol abuse.

Alcohol and Finances

Alcohol affects many aspects of a relationship, one of which is money. Serious financial problems often result from a family member who suffers from alcohol abuse. They may blow the family budget and spend all of their money on drinking.

They may also neglect work or studying in order to feed their addiction, resulting in lost wages. This can take a toll on their romantic partner, making them feel stressed and anxious.

Alcohol and Intimate Partner Violence

Intimate partner violence is defined by the World Health Organization as behaviors involving physical abuse, psychological abuse, or sexual harm to those in intimate relationships.

Drinking alcohol often contributes to this and there is evidence to show that drinking can increase the severity and frequency of domestic violence. Domestic disputes can quickly escalate when drinking problems are involved. This can have a detrimental impact on the health and wellbeing of the victim. Not only may their physical health be affected but their mental health is often severely damaged.

It is important to note here that domestic abuse is not solely limited to violence within romantic relationships, but it can also be perpetrated on other members of a family.

How Do I Cope With One or More Family Members Struggling With AUD?

If you are affected by alcoholism, there is help available. It’s important to be aware of a variety of different coping mechanisms so that you are able to deal with problems you might face in numerous situations. Below are some practical tips you can implement which will help to ease the emotional strain of the situation.

  • Understand that their addiction is not your fault. There can be a lot of guilt and self-blame when it comes to addiction, but know that your family member’s addiction is a chronic disease. You would not blame yourself if they got cancer, so try to treat it in the same way.
  • Support Groups. Support groups such as Al-Anon will help you to feel understood and supported by others going through a similar situation. In these groups, you can learn helpful coping skills and feel less alone.
  • Take care of yourself. It may feel hard to take care of yourself at this time when you can see that a loved one also needs to be taken care of. However, it is incredibly important to look after yourself and prioritize your own needs. It is important to protect your own well-being.
  • Therapy. Seeking support from a professional therapist will help to guide you through your thoughts and feelings in a non-judgemental space. You will be free to say whatever you like and be one hundred percent honest about how you feel. This can be extremely liberating.
  • Accepting addiction. This can be a tricky step but is very freeing. Accepting that your family member is suffering from alcohol abuse can help to give you clarity and acceptance that they may need professional help.
  • Reach out to friends and family members. Seeking support from other family members or loved ones is important for providing you will support and a space to talk things through.
  • Rebuild your self-esteem. Your self-esteem may be very low due to your loved one’s drinking. Rebuilding self-esteem by doing the things for yourself that you enjoy will help to improve your mental health.
  • Family counseling. Talking things through as a whole family in family therapy can be extremely helpful. It allows you to work on rebuilding broken bonds between family members and to talk honestly about feelings in a safe space.

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