Alcohol addiction can feel like an intensely private issue. In fact, many people living with alcohol use disorder go to great extremes to hide their problems from those around them. They might do the majority of drinking in private or away from the home, and they may make every effort to maintain their jobs, their appearances, and all other outward signs of normalcy. However, despite these efforts and the good intentions that lie behind them, alcohol addiction is guaranteed to affect everyone in the family.
Alcoholism is a Family Disease
Commonly referred to as a family disease, alcoholism changes a person’s ability to function effectively as a parent, spouse, child, and friend. Those who live around addicted individuals frequently alter their own behaviors as a means of self-preservation, and in an effort to help their loved ones avoid the most serious consequences of this disease. Enabling behaviors such as:
- Masking negative emotions like contempt or distrust
- Making excuses for an alcoholic’s behaviors
- Cleaning up after a person’s legal, physical, or financial problems
- Failing to set clear and reasonable boundaries
Although enablers mean well, their actions prevent addicts from recognizing the severity of their addictions. They may also keep them from seeking the help they need.
Given the many effects of alcoholism on families, everyone in the home is often encouraged to seek treatment. As alcoholics undergo addiction treatment for themselves, their loved ones can receive therapy for any emotional and psychological trauma that they’ve sustained. In many instances, family therapy can also provide long-term benefits for alcoholics.
When families take part in treatment programs or support groups of their own, they can learn to identify and stop enabling behaviors. They can start making their own lives and happiness a priority, and create comfortable, stable living environments that are conducive to long-term success in addiction recovery.
Here are some healthy ways to help an alcoholic in your family.
The Ways Families Are Affected by Alcoholism
The most common and obvious way in which alcoholism affects families is by undermining and ultimately destroying meaningful bonds. For an addicted individual, accessing and consuming alcohol is always a top priority. People who struggle with alcohol use disorder frequently break promises, fail to meet expectations, and struggle with mood balance issues. Although a person might be patient, thoughtful, and kind when sober, this same individual can become aggressive when drinking, and physically and emotionally abusive.
While forgiving loved ones for their shortcomings is often second nature, there are only so many times that an alcoholic’s family members can deal with hurt, anger, and disappointment before trust is lost. Sadly, sometimes with long-term addiction, this loss of trust is irreparable.
Negative Effects of Children of Alcoholics
Alcohol addiction can be especially detrimental to the children of alcoholics. Minor children living in homes in which one or more alcoholic parents have far higher rates of drug or alcohol addiction in their adult years when compared to children who are raised in stable, addiction-free households.
Throughout their childhoods, these youngsters also deal with a greater range of emotional, behavioral, and cognitive problems. Their performance in school suffers, and they can additionally struggle in their own interpersonal relationships. The children of alcoholics are more prone to depression, anxiety, and even suicidal thoughts and tendencies.
Unlike adults, children have fewer ways of controlling, mitigating, and improving their living circumstances. When the challenges of living with alcoholics are extreme, most children are filled with a sense of hopelessness. In addition to all of these struggles, the children of alcoholics are frequently neglected. When a parent’s first priority is getting intoxicated, and when a parent is facing the harsh legal and financial consequences that addiction commonly entails, children can miss meals, face homelessness, and deal with countless other forms of instability.
Effects on Spouses of Alcoholics
Spouses of alcoholics certainly suffer too. Alcohol use, in general, leads to lowered inhibitions. This makes those living with alcohol use disorder more likely to start and maintain extramarital relationships, more likely to lie, and more likely to engage in other behaviors that they wouldn’t normally engage in while sober. Being married to an addict can be both physically and financially draining.
The spouses of alcoholics tend to pull more than their fair share of responsibilities. Moreover, when alcoholism results in demotion, job loss, or other career-related challenges, spouses of alcoholics can eventually become the sole breadwinners in their homes.
The effects of alcoholism on families extend far beyond damaging everyone’s overall mental health. Not only is living with an alcoholic stressful, but it can certainly take a physical toll as well. Alcoholics themselves are more prone to developing or experiencing:
- Cirrhosis and other forms of liver disease
- Heart disease
- Brain damage
For both children and spouses of alcoholics, prolonged exposure to stress can lead to recurring stress headaches and migraines, high blood pressure, digestive upset, nervous tics, insomnia, and many other symptoms and health issues. Absent of a means for resolving or alleviating their stress, young children can suffer the worst. In some instances, those living with alcoholics eventually turn to alcohol themselves as a means for self-medicating their pain or alleviating their anxiety and stress.
Seeking help for alcohol addiction is one of the best things that alcoholics can do for themselves. When people living with alcohol use disorder are married, have small children, or live with other family members, it is also one of the best things that they can do for their loved ones. Families of addicts can also seek treatment. In fact, families of addicted individuals can even seek treatment for their trauma and stress before alcoholics commit to treatment.
At Mississippi Drug and Alcohol Treatment Center, we offer a variety of services for those struggling with addiction or substance abuse. Our treatment programs are designed to provide the seamless, end-to-end support that people need for successfully navigating the recovery process, and for maintaining their sobriety long-term. If you or someone you love has an alcohol use disorder, we can help. Get in touch with us today by calling 855-334-6120.