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Alcoholism and Family Problems: Effects and Treatments

Author: Thomas Roth

Last Updated: 6/04/2023

According to several university surveys, about 11 million children under the age of 18 live with an alcoholic parent. Living with an alcoholic parent is a situation that results in lifelong complications like a higher risk for developing alcohol or substance use disorders. Alcoholism is a condition that develops over time as someone continues to abuse alcohol. The result of alcoholism is the inability to control the urge to drink alcohol.

While alcoholism has a significant effect on children it also strains intimate relationships with partners or spouses. Alcohol is not the sole factor but it’s reported that alcohol is involved in 55% of domestic abuse situations. Additionally, alcohol affects one’s ability to maintain steady work, ensure stability, security, or care for themselves or others in their household adequately. All of these factors strain families.

What is Alcoholism?

Alcoholism is a colloquial term that refers to the different types of alcohol use disorders. Alcohol use disorders range from mild to severe and include alcohol abuse, alcohol dependence, and alcohol addiction. Alcoholism is a serious disorder that affects anyone regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, and background. 

Additionally, alcoholism has the potential to hurt many aspects of life. Aspects of life include security/safety, personal relationships, physical health, and mental health. So, what is alcoholism? Ultimately, it’s an addiction to abusing alcohol.

How can Alcohol Cause Problems for the Family?

Within the household, alcoholism affects the relationships between parents, children, siblings, and spouses. Children of alcoholics are at an increased risk of developing PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). 

A significant number of children may be expected to act as a caretaker for intoxicated parents. While not all alcoholics are or will be physically violent, alcohol and anger can cause several potentially dangerous situations that may lead to an increased risk for physical or verbal abuse. Additionally, there is a risk that children may blame themselves or be blamed for their parent’s condition. 

For the spouses or partners of alcoholics, there is also an increased risk of experiencing or developing trauma. Oftentimes, spouses or partners feel responsible for their partner’s drinking problem. In more severe cases where domestic abuse or violence is involved, partners may hide their abuse from those around them. 

Typically pressure on the sober partners to support the family increases. Pressure may be social, emotionally or even financially. 

Additionally, there is an increased risk for other marital problems that we list below.

  • Fighting
  • Infidelity
  • Physical or verbal abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Unplanned pregnancies
  • Divorce 
  • Codependency

Alcoholism impacts every family in a unique way. While some signs of alcoholism are obvious, others are not.

What are the Effects of Alcoholism on the Family?

Alcoholism has several effects on the family. Different members of the family being alcoholics will often cause different problems. For example, alcoholic parents make life difficult for children but alcoholic children make life difficult for the parents.

Below we list the effects of alcoholism on the family.

  • Alcoholism affects families in damaged relationships
  • It affects developmental issues
  • Alcoholism affects domestic abuse
  • Alcoholic parents and children may drain family finances
  • Physical and mental health of family members will decline

These are only some of the effects of alcoholism on families. Learn more about them below.

1. Alcoholism Affects Families in Damaged Relationships

Children and partners may feel responsible for a parent, spouse, partner, or even child who is suffering from alcoholism. This has the potential to cause feelings of regret, resentment, loss of trust, codependency, emotional issues, and trauma. The experiences that family members have when living with someone who is suffering from alcoholism can put increased stress on the relationship at hand, or even end the relationship. 

2. Alcoholism Affects Developmental Issues

Children who grow up in a household where one or both parents are suffering from alcoholism face an increased risk of developing trauma disorders. These include being forced to mature, emotional or social problems, aggression, increased risk for substance abuse or hyperactivity. These children may also feel as though their sole role in the household is to act as a caretaker, or that they are responsible for taking care of other (possibly younger) siblings in the household. All of these aspects  lead to a lack of healthy coping mechanisms or a feeling of loss.

Children with developmental issues or disabilities have a higher risk for substance abuse. Unfortunately, the risk increases when a parent is suffering from alcoholism. Additionally, there may be feelings of resentment towards the child on the part of the parent, regardless of whether or not the developmental issues are a direct result of their actions. 

When a mother drinks during pregnancy, there is a high risk for the child being born with or developing developmental issues such as fetal alcohol syndrome. Children with fetal alcohol syndrome often require a higher level of attention and assistance throughout their life and may struggle with physical or mental ailments or disabilities. For these children, living with a parent who is suffering from alcoholism may result in their basic or additional needs not being met adequately.

3. Alcoholism is an Increased Risk for Domestic Abuse

Domestic abuse is a pattern of behavior where one partner attempts to gain power or maintain control over the other. Abuse is often physical, sexual, verbal, social, or financial. It’s crucial to acknowledge that domestic abuse occurs in any relationship, whether or not one or both partners are suffering from any type of alcohol or substance abuse. 

There is no concrete evidence that suggests alcoholism directly causes or results in domestic abuse. Additionally, alcoholism is never the sole cause of a domestic abuse situation as it is often a prolonged pattern of behaviors. If you are struggling with domestic abuse, please seek help or assistance immediately. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is 1-800-799-7233.

It’s also reported that in roughly 55% of domestic abuse cases, the perpetrator has consumed alcohol before the assault. While not definitive, those who are suffering from an alcohol use disorder are often more prone to anger, memory issues, and lack of judgment which may lead to cases of domestic abuse. There are higher odds for abuse in a relationship if one or both partners are dependent on alcohol.

Women who are abused are 15 times more likely to develop an alcohol use disorder in response to patterns of abuse perpetrated against them. 

4. Alcoholism Depleted Family Finances

Alcoholism, like other substance use disorders, is an expensive habit to maintain. Alcohol prices, coupled with the increased risk of job instability that many alcoholics face, puts a financial strain on households. Alcoholism often refers to anything over 8 drinks a week, or 3 drinks a day, for women or 15 drinks a week, 4 drinks a day, for men. Depending on what type of alcohol someone is drinking, moderate estimates range between $400-1000 per month being spent on alcohol. 

As mentioned, many alcoholics face additional struggles such as job instability. With this, there may be strained finances, housing instability, or basic needs being neglected as a result of the disorder. In severe cases, alcoholism can result in several additional expenses. We list these expenses below.

  • DUI fines
  • Court or lawyer fees
  • Alternative transportation fees
  • Medical bills

It’s often hard to recover from the financial problems of alcohol because of the career instability alcoholism creates.

5. Alcoholism Affects Physical and Mental Health

Alcoholism results in a significant number of medical problems including anemia, cirrhosis, cancer, seizures, and high blood pressure. All of these conditions result in an increased need for treatment and medical bills. These costs further the potential financial strain someone experiences when abusing alcohol. Cirrhosis, scarring of the liver, and other types of liver damage are major concerns for those who are suffering from alcoholism. 

Those who are being treated for pre-existing or new medical issues with medications may have added complications due to drug interactions with alcohol. If you’re taking medication read the information available. Also, consult with a healthcare professional to see the potential side effects and dangers of mixing the medication with alcohol. Unfortunately, many interactions between alcohol and medication are fatal.

While less often discussed, alcoholism is often a comorbid disorder and may be used as a coping mechanism for the unpleasant side effects of untreated psychiatric conditions such as unresolved trauma, PTSD, depression, or anxiety. In cases where alcoholism causes someone to neglect their responsibilities, duties, or basic needs, medical and psychiatric concerns compound to create more complex problems. These problems often seem daunting or impossible to manage.

How to Help an Alcoholic?

When you confront someone about alcoholism, they will often be defensive or in denial. It’s important to acknowledge that you can’t force someone to seek help for a problem. This is especially true in cases where they may not feel as though they have a problem. 

Confronting a loved one about their relationship with alcohol may take multiple conversations over some time. 

We list some tips for helping an alcoholic parent or alcoholic below.

  • Using “I” statements to express your concern for their drinking habits or health
  • Being empathetic and understanding about their situation and the potential triggers 
  • Let them know that you would like to support them on their journey towards sobriety
  • Come prepared with information on alcoholism and its dangers, as well as potential treatment options

Depending on the situation, it’s possible to admit someone to an inpatient facility without their consent. In these cases, the court needs to force it.

What are the Treatments for Alcoholics?

There are several treatment options available for alcoholism. The most common treatments are therapy and detox. Therapy helps identify the cause of alcoholism and detox helps with alcohol withdrawal. 

Below we list several treatment options for alcoholism.

Recent research shows that a combination of treatment options is often the most successful in treating those who are suffering from alcoholism. 

Alcoholism treatment is often a lengthy process and most treatment plans are a combination of therapy and detox. The addition of aspects such as counseling, support groups, and therapy is also effective as alcoholism rarely develops without co-occurring disorders. 

It’s also important to note that alcoholism is not cured the moment someone becomes sober. Treating alcoholism becomes a lifelong effort to remain sober. The process of remaining sober is different for everyone.

What is it Like to Have an Alcoholic Parent?

Children who grow up in a household with one or more alcoholic parents face several potential struggles. 11 million children under the age of 18 live with at least one alcoholic parent. In cases where the basic needs of a child are significantly neglected, there is the potential that Child Protective Services (CPS) step in. CPS will often remove the child from a house that has alcoholic parents.

While these programs are designed with the best interest of the child in mind, the removal of a child from a household leads to psychological complications. The child and/or parent may have feelings of anger, loss, or resentment towards one another.

There are also higher rates of depression, anxiety, and trauma-related disorders, such as PTSD. While not all children of alcoholic parents will develop alcoholism, the risk for developing alcoholism or other substance use disorders is high.