The effects of alcoholism on families can cause more damage and pain than any other internal or external influence on the family unit. The impact of the drinker’s abuse or addiction is usually manifested differently with each member of the family and has long-term implications.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that more than one-half of adults in the U.S. have a close family member who has abused alcohol or is addicted to the drug.
Unborn Babies: Women who drink during pregnancy pass the drug to their unborn children each time they consume alcohol. Maternal drinking causes babies to be born with irreversible physical and mental birth defects.
This condition is called Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) and these children grow up with facial abnormalities, growth retardation and brain damage that inhibits their ability to live normal lives.
According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, severe damage from FAS affects around 5000 babies every year; additionally 35000 babies are born with milder damage from FAS.
Children: Children who are born without birth defects and live with a father and/or mother who is an alcohol abuser or addict experience severe effects that may include:
They may believe that their parent’s drinking is their fault and frequently cry, have nightmares and wet their beds. Once they get older, children may not easily make friends. They may hoard things, develop phobias or exhibit perfectionist traits.
Through the effects of alcoholism on families, children often feel they are different that other people and develop a poor self-image that they carry throughout life.
They have difficulties in school and establishing relationships with friends and teachers. And fewer children of alcoholics go to college compared to the national average.
In addition, living in an alcoholic family also suggests that children are more susceptible to child abuse, including incest and battery.
Adult Children of Alcoholics: Once children become adults, the effects of alcoholism on families continue to impact their lives. They experience difficulties trusting others and have relationship issues.
Depression is common, as is anxiety, aggression and impulsive behavior. Adult children of alcoholics continue having a negative self-image, which causes them to make poor choices and accumulate failures in their work, social and family lives.
Alcoholism has a transforming effect on the spouse or partner that can create significant mental trauma and physical health problems. Divorce rates among couples where one or both partners drinks is much higher than average.
As alcohol abuse or addiction progresses, the non-drinking spouse often grows into a compulsive care-taking role, which creates feelings of resentment, self-pity and exhaustion. The marriage suffers from:
Often the spouse and children become codependent, as one of the effects of alcoholism in families. Codependents, who are also referred to as enablers, further the alcoholic’s drinking problem by trying to protect them and keep them out of trouble.
This may include telling an employer a lie about why the individual didn’t come to work, telling friends stories to explain the alcoholic’s behavior, or handling a responsibility that should have been taken care of by the drinker.
Codependents make the problem worse by permitting the drinking to continue.
Treating alcoholic families is difficult and complex. Often treatment is not entirely successful for family members, even when the alcohol abuser or addict eventually reforms.
The effects of alcoholism in families are difficult to overcome; yet without treatment, they can be devastating for the long-term. With the right approach and support, positive steps can be taken to improve lives.
Healthcare professionals may recommend a multi-faceted treatment approach that includes group family therapy, as well as individualized treatment for each family member Treatment may take the form of one or more of the following:
AllPsych Journal, Alcoholism and Its Effect on the Family by Tetyana Parsons, http://allpsych.com/journal/alcoholism.html
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, http://www.niaaa.nih.gov
National Healthy Marriage Resource Center, http://www.healthymarriageinfo.org
Alcoholism Symptoms - List of signs and symptoms that are common to someone with a drinking problem.
Dealing With Alcoholism - Help preventing alcoholism. The key for most people is early education.
Alcoholism and Youth - Information on underage drinking, the factors that contribute to it, health risks and prevention.
Al Anon - Information about Alanon, a self-help group for people who live with or are affected by an alcoholic.
Support for Families of Alcoholics - Find out how alcoholism affects the family, especially the children of alcoholic parents. Resources for support of family members.