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Effects Of Alcoholism On Families

How alcoholism can affect families

alcoholism impact on familyWhen a person drinks in a way that becomes a problem, their immediate family and those they live with are usually the first people to feel it. Not only is alcoholism destructive for the individual who is drinking, it can be destructive for their loved ones and the relationships they have built too.

Effects of alcohol on the family can range from the practical and economic to the emotional. The spouse or partner of an alcoholic can find themselves experiencing conflict every day, and many find themselves modifying their behavior to compensate for their loved one’s drinking.

Children who live with an alcoholic parent can develop low self-esteem, experience profound loneliness, or even be forced to take on the parenting role themselves if their parent is too unreliable to fulfill that role. This can lead to a lifetime of instability and fear of abandonment.

Alcoholism in the family can lead to the following problems:

  • Infidelity
  • Overspending and financial issues
  • Unemployment
  • Conflict between parents and children
  • Conflict between spouses and partners
  • Violence and domestic abuse
  • Fetal abnormality
  • Mental health problems

The signs and stages

Alcoholism in families tends to follow a pattern, and the family members will generally go through a number of stages.

  • Concern. The destructive drinking of the individual begins to cause initial concern. Many do not take action at this point because they’re unsure how it will develop or how much worse it may get.
  • Defensiveness. Ignoring the problem is also common, as many find themselves attempting to protect the alcoholic in their family and justify their behavior. Some may blame themselves or try to come up with increasingly unconvincing explanations.
  • Modifying behavior. To make life easier and compensate for the effects of alcoholism on the family, members change their own behavior in the hope that this will be enough to make the alcoholic change. This ultimately makes the individual’s dependency worse, however, because it’s easier for them to maintain their drinking habit if enabled by those around them.
  • Exhaustion. Relatives and loved ones can become very tired and defeated after the enabling stage, because it yields no positive results. It is crucial for family members to seek counseling and support at this stage.

The dangers of alcoholism in the family

Those closest to an alcoholic are the most likely to enable their behavior. The alcoholic will find it hard to recognize their own negative behavior clearly, such as they are being unreasonable or perhaps even abusive.

Enabling an alcoholic’s behavior as a form of ‘keeping the peace’ is counterproductive, and can consist of any of the following:

  • Cleaning up after them and hiding their habit from others
  • Giving them money
  • Picking them up or looking after them when they’re intoxicated
  • Making excuses for their behavior or lying to others about it to cover up the reality

Enabling an addict is a cycle that is very hard to break out of, particularly as it is primarily motivated by a love for that person and a fear of their alcoholism. Breaking that cycle is crucial for the family of alcoholics, and the alcoholic as well.

What to expect when getting clean

The process of getting clean is different for everyone and largely depends on the amount of time they have been heavily drinking, the amount they regularly drink and their medical history.

What to expect physically

The physical stages of withdrawal and recovery generally last for up to a week. It is important to monitor and control these in a proper facility. The first stage begins with anxiety, shaking, insomnia and perhaps abdominal pain in the first 8 hours after the last drink.

The next stage begins 24-72 hours after the last drink and consists of confusion, a higher than normal heart rate and a fever.

Hallucination and even seizures beginning 72+ hours after the last drink, is known as delirium tremens (DT), which is classified as a medical emergency.


A complete detox from alcohol can be extremely dangerous if done without proper medical treatment and attention.

What to expect emotionally and psychologically

Even when the physical side effects of getting clean have subsided, the psychological can remain for a while after without proper treatment. Some experience anxiety, depression and perhaps thoughts of harming themselves and suicide.

It is often the psychological symptoms which lead addicts towards relapse, so it’s crucial for the patient to have regular counseling and family support through this time to prevent it.

Alcohol abuse takes a serious toll on the family members of the individual and can result in many emotional and psychological problems. Detox and getting clean can restore the stability of the family unit and bring loved ones back together.

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