Alcoholism in the Family:
What You Can Do

Medically Reviewed By Kayla Loibl | Last Edited : August 23, 
| 2 Sources

Having alcoholism in the family is like having an unwanted guest that never leaves. The way this guest affects each person is different, and often unpleasant.

The idea of alcoholism and family “life” remaining somewhat normal is truly a contradiction. Until an alcoholic gets help, life will never quite be the same, and even afterwards the damage takes time to heal.

In the early stages of alcoholism, it may seem like life remains fairly consistent. In fact, people may not know for a while that anything is wrong. Alcoholism in the family is a slow disease – the awareness of it comes gradually as do the slowly progressing warning signs.

As the disease progresses, those signs become easier see, especially as drinking becomes more important than everything, and everyone else. At this juncture it becomes more difficult to know what to expect from problem drinkers, leaving the rest of the family to come up with coping mechanisms for daily life issues.

Roles for Non-drinkers

Studies of alcoholism and family reactions indicates that the people around an alcoholic generally fit into a specific role. One such role is the hero – the person who achieves and makes the family feel good, but who may do so out of a low self-esteem.

Another role is the scapegoat – often the trouble child who feels that they’re at fault for a parents or siblings drinking. A third role is that of displaced individual, who prefers to simply disappear rather than watch the on-going struggle.

Beyond these three you’ll find caretakers who do for others, but are often left with unmet personal needs, a facilitator who somehow enables the drinker, a protector who tries to safeguard the drinker from negative consequences, and the clown who tries to restore laughter and positive feelings.

Sadly, nearly no one is truly “happy” or “content” in these roles, and may grow to resent them over time.

Indiscriminate Alcoholism in the Family

Alcoholism and family lifestyles span the spectrum. King and commoner, mother and sports hero, CEO and welfare recipient, old and young – alcoholism can affect anyone.

Once this disease touches a family, it not only disrupts daily life, but can become a generational issue. Children born to alcoholics have a far greater risk of becoming alcoholic. Recent surveys show that alcohol abuse accounts for about 25% of all family problems.

Alcoholism and Family Ramifications

Alcoholism in the family has a lot of residual side effects impacting the people in the drinker’s life. These can include:

  • Children of alcoholics having more problems in school and with the law due to the unhealthy and potentially unsafe home environment.
  • Family violence. Current figures say that 2/3 of domestic violence cases have alcohol abuse as part of the underlying causes.
  • Intimacy issues (due to lack of trust) or sexual dysfunction between couples.
  • Financial impacts due to job loss (and the cost of alcoholic beverages).
  • Codependence (becoming accustom and even liking the alcoholic behaviors).

Children may feel that their parents prefer the drinkers company over them, leaving them alone with feelings of guilt or anger.

The most common reactions for most children are fear and insecurity about their own life patterns. Their world is turned upside down when they discover that their parents are not infallible, making it difficult to trust anything they say again

Parents too have many fears when alcoholism is part of their lives. They fear being judged by others for situations beyond their control, having financial problems, losing lifelong relationships due to drinking events, and ending up alone because of alcoholism.

While all children in alcoholic families have reactions to the addiction, not all react in the same manner. Academic failure, low self-esteem, and depression are just a few behavioral manifestations that can result from growing up in an alcoholic family.

For some teenagers this is when they experiment with alcohol and drugs, making it difficult to break out of this trap. One study shows that adults who came from an alcoholic family had triple the chance of meeting the criteria for at least one psychiatric diagnosis than those whose parents were not alcoholics.

This doesn't spell doom for anyone born into such a situation; rather it points out how much work must be done to avoid the continuing cycle of alcoholism. However, social pressure is not the only driving force behind addiction, and some who grew up with an alcoholic parent may still become drinkers regardless of what others think or say.

Getting Help

When you’re facing alcoholism in the family, it’s important for everyone to seek help together, as well as for couples to have marital counseling and children to have a private sounding board that’s not emotionally involved.

Alcoholism creates a lot of stress in the home. Even as the overall problems from alcohol didn’t manifest over night, it’s going to take time, patience and effort to help both the alcoholic and the family’s recovery.

What’s most important is understanding that the drinker’s behavior is not any one person’s fault. If need be, the family can get on the road to recovery even if the alcoholic is not.

This happens by getting supports in place and by refusing to enable the problem any further. In some cases families get professional help with an intervention to get things moving in the right direction.There are dedicated treatment providers who can determine the best treatment options and programs for an alcoholic family member. Please reach out to a treatment provider or facility today.


Alcoholism in the family is more common than you might think. It can impact everyone, even if it isn't an addiction they personally struggle with. If you're looking for help dealing with alcoholism in the family, please reach out to a treatment provider or facility today. They have experience in helping families deal with drinker issues and are aware of problems before they become unmanageable.

Lead Writer/Reviewer : Kayla Loibl

Licensed Medical Health Professional 

I am a Mental Health Counselor who is licensed in both New York (LMHC) and North Carolina (LPC). I have been working in the Mental Health field since 2015. I have worked in a residential setting, an outpatient program and an inpatient addictions program. I began working in Long Island, NY and then in Guelph, Ontario after moving to Canada. Read More

If you’d like to know more about alcoholism and family health, feel free to contact us.

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