Alcoholism affects more than just the individual. Alcohol abuse and addiction can strain relationships with loved ones, affect the emotional and psychological development of children, and affect the mental health and well-being of family members.
The good news is, anyone can move away from alcohol abuse. Addiction recovery programs and family interventions can support individuals in lifelong recovery, heal family bonds, and lead to better well-being for all.
This blog outlines five effects of alcoholism on family members and the steps on the road to recovery.
What Is an Alcohol Use Disorder?
An alcohol use disorder is a medical diagnosis that encompasses other medical and colloquial terms including addiction, alcoholism, and alcohol dependence. Medical institutions prefer to use alcohol use disorder instead of alcoholism because of the stigma associated with the latter word.
Someone with an alcohol use disorder (AUD) uses alcohol in a way that is harmful to themselves and/or others. The most severe AUDs involve addiction, a chronic disease characterized by physical changes in the brain that make someone continue to use alcohol despite any negative consequences. AUDs can be destructive to both the individual and their family – but effective treatment offers a way out.
Alcohol addiction is known as a family disease because of its pervasive impact on the home. Here are five ways that alcohol affects the family.
Child Development and Well-Being
Many parents who abuse alcohol may not be aware of the effect it has on their children. Children may be affected because:
- their parent is preoccupied with drinking and doesn’t give the child the attention it needs
- the parent tends not to invite friends home, causing the child to feel isolated
- the child has to care for other family members, such as younger siblings
- the child experiences emotional abuse or physical abuse
- the child witnesses strained relationships between their parents
All of these factors can affect a child’s development and attachments later on in life. Experience of early life adversity – including neglect and abuse – makes children more likely to develop mental health disorders, including a substance use disorder. Children may experience feelings of abandonment, anger, and general mistrust which can affect them for the rest of their lives. It may make it more difficult for them to form stable relationships when they are older, prevent healthy emotional development, and even affect the way they act as parents.
According to the World Health Organization, alcohol use and addiction can exacerbate patterns of domestic violence. It reports that survivors of physical assault in intimate relationships regularly report recent alcohol consumption by their partners. Alcohol affects cognitive function, making violent and aggressive behavior more likely and putting partners at an increased risk of physical abuse.
Remember, there is never a reason you should have to tolerate physical, sexual, or emotional abuse. If you are experiencing domestic violence, you are not alone. Contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline for free and confidential support.
Sustaining heavy drinking habits is expensive. Problem drinking may strain the family’s finances, making it difficult to cover other costs. In some cases, financial troubles can lead to stealing or lying as the person drinking attempts to cover up their spending.
People who live with alcohol addiction often find it hard to have a stable job. They’re more likely to be late to work or miss days altogether. This lack of stability can affect the entire family, causing stress, worry, and straining relationships.
Studies show that couples where at least one member struggles with alcohol addiction experience higher rates of relationship dissatisfaction, instability, and verbal and physical aggression.
Couples can find themselves in destructive cycles where alcohol abuse causes relationship conflicts, in turn leading to emotional distress that further drives alcohol misuse. Here, couples therapy can play an important role in reversing the destructive cycle into a constructive one of supportive relationships and addiction recovery.
Alcohol Addiction Treatment
For someone struggling with alcohol addiction, the best thing they can do is to seek treatment. With professional support, anyone can recover from addiction and begin to heal as a family.
In recent years, advances in medical science have led to the development of a range of addiction treatment methods, proven to promote lasting recovery. Effective addiction treatment programs are individualized to match each person’s needs, addressing the underlying causes of addiction and taking steps to overcome them.
Addiction treatment options may include:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy
- Medication-assisted treatment
- Group programming
- Support groups
- Family therapy
- Dual diagnosis
- Yoga and mindfulness
- Creative art therapy
- Life-skills development
Family therapy is often an integral part of the recovery process. It aims to heal relationships between family members while helping to develop a strong, stable support system that promotes addiction recovery.
Family therapy may involve education about the nature of addiction, the development of conflict resolution strategies and interpersonal skills, and the provision of a safe space for honest and open communication.
Al-Anon Support Groups
Al-Anon support groups are recovery meetings specifically for the family members of someone who abuses alcohol. Al-Anon meetings are a place to share advice, listen to one another, and take comfort in a shared experience. They are free and accessible and can be an essential source of support for families living with addiction.
Sometimes it can be clear to an individual and those around them that they have a problem with alcohol. However, at other times family members may feel less sure. Here are some signs to look out for.
- Alcohol becoming the priority in their life, dominating their thoughts and daily routine
- Losing interest in activities they previously enjoyed
- Continuing to drink alcohol despite negative consequences
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms if they try to stop drinking
- Neglecting responsibilities at home or work
- Lying or acting secretively to hide alcohol use
If you recognize any of these symptoms in yourself, your spouse, or another person, you should seek the advice of a medical professional.
Supporting A Spouse With Alcohol Addiction
If your spouse is struggling with alcohol addiction, it can be hard to know where to start. You might want to seek the advice of a mental health professional for expert guidance. You could also explore the next few steps.
Have An Open Conversation
Try having an open conversation with your spouse about their drinking problems. It’s a good idea to prepare a bit beforehand so the conversation goes as you would like. Be non-judgemental, listen to what they have to say, and make sure you come from a place of love and care. Explain to them your concerns, the effects of alcoholism on you and the family, and options for treatment.
If the conversation is difficult and they are unwilling to change their habits, you may want to stage an intervention, perhaps with the help of a medical professional.
Living in a home with alcohol addiction can be exhausting and takes its toll on your mental health. Make sure that you look after yourself too, concentrating on self-care practices such as regular sleep patterns, healthy eating, and exercise. Speak to your friends for emotional support, and see a therapist yourself if you need to.
Remember that there is never a reason for you to tolerate abuse, and if your spouse’s behavior remains unacceptable, it may be time to leave.
Alina Lodge is one of the country’s leading residential addiction treatment centers, offering top-tier programs that combine exceptional care with clinical excellence. Our diverse range of modalities is continually evolving to reflect the latest advances in addiction science, offering clients the very best treatment available.
At Alina Lodge, we involve the family unit at every stage of the treatment process. We may invite family members to take part in our assessment procedures, to gain a deeper insight into the person’s addiction and its effects on those around them. We keep families updated as treatment progress and continue to liaise with their feedback and advice.
We understand the importance of the family as a person’s closest and strongest support system, and offer family therapy to help rebuild stable and strong bonds. We want the whole family to heal, and give you the support you need to get there.
If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, contact us today. We’re here to help.