Support For Families of Alcoholics

Medically Reviewed By Kayla Loibl | Last Edited:  August 20 ,
| 3 Sources

Having a loved one struggles with addiction can be difficult. Thus, support for families of alcoholics is also an important aspect in an alcoholics' path to sobriety.

Recognizing that someone you care about is struggling, and/or damaging their health by continuing to drink can be unbearable. Additional information about living with an alcoholic, please follow the link.

While everyone’s situation will be different, there are some similar experiences shared by family members of alcoholics. Many family members find that living with an alcoholic can be isolating and lead to feelings of:

  • loneliness, 
  • hopelessness  
  • sadness. 

There are also similarities in the way that alcoholism influences the family member. The alcoholic may be moody, not truthful, distant or withdrawal from family events just to name a few.

As a result, support for families members of alcoholics are strongly encouraged to find support for themselves.  Knowing that your intentions are coming from a place of love and concern, can make it challenging when the alcoholic is in denial or not willing to listen to concerns about their drinking behaviors.

It is also important to know that you are not alone in dealing with the stress of supporting an alcoholic loved one. There are many alcoholism support groups available, as well as online chat rooms and forums to help you connect with others who can relate.

If someone close to you has alcohol problems, realize that their addiction affects everyone they come in contact with. When family members try to communicate about suspected drinking problems, it's often viewed by the alcoholic as meddling or nagging. This makes it more difficult for them to seek help before the problem escalates.

While you cannot control when the alcoholic is ready to accept help, you can make sure that you maintain a healthy mental health status yourself, including the use of healthy coping skills.

Where is the line between enabling and supporting the alcoholic? For some, this line becomes blurred over time. Working with a therapist can help clarify healthy boundaries and see where you can make changes to best support your loved one.


Ways That Families are Impacted by Alcoholism

Today we recognize how important support for families of alcoholics is, particularly support for children of alcoholic parents. Alcoholism affects the entire family, not just the alcoholic. The immediate family is affected the most, but the extended family can be affected as well.

Some of the ways alcoholism affects the family include:

  • Family members may feel ashamed of the alcoholic’s behavior.
  • Family members may lie about the alcoholic’s behavior to “outsiders,” making excuses for the alcoholic.
  • The alcoholic may lie to family members about his or her drinking, causing issues with trust.
  • The alcoholic may withdraw from the family, spending time alone drinking and/or spending time with “drinking buddies” instead of with family, causing distance in the family relationships.
  • There may be frequent arguments about the alcoholic’s drinking or behavior while under the influence.
  • There may be financial problems due to the alcoholic’s drinking.
  • The alcoholic may suffer health problems due to his or her drinking, which can cause worry for family members.
  • The alcoholic may experience legal problems that can cause worry for family members.
  • The alcoholic may experience mood swings.
  • The alcoholic may be irritable and/or argumentative.
  • The alcoholic may become violent when drinking.

These are just some of the ways alcoholism affects the family. You can see why support for families of alcoholics is so important. And alcoholism can affect children of alcoholic parents in even more ways.

Children of Alcoholic Parents

Having an alcoholic parent has a tremendous affect on a child. We are only now beginning to understand all of the ways children of alcoholic parents are affected by their parent’s drinking.

In addition to the things listed above, some of the ways children of alcoholic parents are affected by their parent’s drinking include:

  • “Role reversal” – children may feel the need to be a “caretaker” of their parent.
  • Lack of a good role model.
  • Children of alcoholics often do poorly in school.
  • Children of alcoholics are more likely than their peers to be diagnosed with things like ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder).
  • Children of alcoholics are more likely to experiment with drugs and alcohol than their peers, and at a younger age.

Support for Families of Alcoholics

So it’s clear that families of alcoholics need support. But what kind of support is available?

Most drug and alcohol treatment programs, whether residential or outpatient, include a family component. The family component generally includes education about the disease of alcoholism and the addiction and recovery process as well as support for families of alcoholics.

However, if an alcoholic is not involved in a treatment program, there is still support available to his or her family. A wonderful support system for families of alcoholics is Al-Anon.

Al-Anon is a 12-Step program modeled on the well-known program for alcoholics, Alcoholics Anonymous. It provides wonderful support for families of alcoholics.

At Al-Anon meetings, family members share experiences and talk about how they have dealt with the stress of living with an alcoholic. Al-Anon helps family members focus on their own behaviors and making positive changes, for instance, no longer lying to protect the alcoholic.

There are also support groups called Alateen for teens living with an alcoholic family member. These are similar to Al-Anon groups. Teens will respond well in a group setting.

There are no 12-Step groups providing support for young children. However, young children living with an alcoholic family member will also need support. Seeing a therapist who specializes in treating young children will be the best step for them.

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

More support for families of alcoholics on our effects of alcoholism page

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