Alcoholism is often thought of as a problem affecting only the individual who drinks. While it is true that alcoholism is a personal struggle for the sufferer, it is also true that alcoholism affects everyone who loves and cares for the alcoholic, particularly his or her family members. When an alcoholic seeks treatment, it is not just the alcoholic who requires help and healing. The person’s family members should also seek counseling as well to understand how the alcoholism has affected them and the dynamics of the family as a whole.
Common Behaviors Seen in Alcoholic Families
Alcoholism affects the entire family unit and really everyone who comes in contact with the alcoholic. Some very common behaviors seen in families in which a member is an alcoholic include:
- Trying to protect the alcoholic family member via downplaying his or her addiction or hiding his or her addiction from others
- Blaming oneself or another family member for the alcoholism but avoiding blaming the alcoholic
- Enabling the addict
- Becoming dependent on the addict, (e.g., addicted to caring for him or her, worrying about him or her, etc.)
- The adoption of new and dysfunctional roles by each member of the family; a child, for example, might become a caregiver
It takes time and effort, even after the alcoholic has recovered, for his or her family to resume normal behaviors and to begin functioning in a healthier way.
Children and Alcoholism
While alcoholism can take its toll on every member of a family, it is particularly detrimental to young children who witness its effects. In addition to being more likely to develop alcoholism themselves, children of alcoholics often take on inappropriate family roles. Some children may become their own caregivers or caregivers to the alcoholic parent. Some children experience anger and disgust over the addiction and may distance themselves from the family unit entirely. Before and after a parent seeks treatment for alcoholism, it’s important to discover what role the child has assumed to cope with the alcoholism. Therapists and other caregivers can then help the child to step back into the role of being a child once again.
Spouses and Alcoholism
In addition to its incredibly negative effect on children, alcoholism also affects the spouses of alcoholic partners. Spouses of alcoholics may blame themselves for their loved one’s addiction or feel intense resentment and anger toward the addicted person. Many enable the addiction and allow it to continue by providing financial or emotional support. Many people who are involved with alcoholics are codependent on the alcoholic and the emotional rollercoaster his addiction creates. Studies show domestic violence and spousal abuse is more common when one person in the pair is an alcoholic.
A Family Affair
The most important thing a family can do to recover from addiction is to seek help for their alcoholic loved one. After the alcoholic is in treatment, family members must seek help for themselves in order to recognize the impact the disease has had on them. Contact us at Michael’s House today to learn more about how we help your addicted loved one heal and address the issues and needs of everyone in the family through support, education and ongoing recovery.
 The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc. “Family Disease,” February 4, 2016. Accessed April 4, 2017. https://www.ncadd.org/family-friends/there-is-help/family-disease
 The Mayo Clinic. “Alcohol Use Disorders- Risk Factors,” July 25, 2015. Accessed April 24, 2017. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/alcohol-use-disorder/basics/risk-factors/con-20020866
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