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How Families Are Affected By Alcoholism

Editor Dan Schimmel, LCSW, CAP
Created On
Updated On

Alcoholism is not a self-contained disease that only affects the person who drinks. Addiction overtakes an entire household and creates destructive relationships, which shape the future behavior of partners and children. While the person with the addiction fights an internal battle against alcohol, the rest of the family often suffers physical or emotional damage that makes it difficult for them to form healthy relationships outside the home. The only road to recovery is to quit alcohol consumption and work together as a family to communicate and rebuild connections in uplifting ways.

Patterns of Emotional Deterioration

Alcoholism affects people of all ages, races and economic levels, leaving a trail of broken families in its wake. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism( NIAAA), more than 16 million adults suffered from alcohol use disorders in 2013, while only 7.8 percent of those people were treated at specialized facilities. For the millions of families living with an untreated addict, every day is a horrific experience as they cope with abusive behavior, ranging from outright neglect to degrading language to violent, physically harmful outbursts.

Alcoholism perpetuates dishonest and manipulative relationships in which the addict tries to control and blame others. In many cases, family members feel compelled to hide these problems and maintain a facade of happiness, preventing them from getting the help they need. Both children and adults are traumatized by the constant stress and unpredictability, as an addict’s erratic behavior can easily destroy any attempts to establish a balanced family routine.

In his famous guide “The Laundry List,” Tony A. profiled the troubling characteristics that are common among children of addicts. Faced with constant rage or criticism, children and partners often lose their sense of self-worth and feel responsible for problems they have no control over. Neglect forces many children to become self-sufficient while desperate to find love and nourishment, making them susceptible to deeply abusive relationships in the future. Children learn to communicate by watching parental behavior, so ongoing exposure to alcoholism often causes them to develop this disease or another form of addiction as adults.

Threats to Physical Health

Alcohol addiction can trigger aggressive or reckless behavior, putting family members at risk of serious injuries from physical fights, car accidents or neglect. Children who are left unattended are vulnerable to household hazards and may not have a sober adult available to care for wounds and illnesses. Expectant mothers who drink increase the risk of fetal alcohol syndrome, which interferes with the baby’s normal development.

At the same time, people suffering from alcoholism inflict a constant war on their own bodies. Addicts endanger themselves and others every time they choose to drive or go to work under the influence. On a daily basis, alcohol abuse dulls the mental faculties, and prolonged alcoholism can permanently impair liver function. An addict who passes away prematurely may leave children or spouses without a home or financial stability, adding to the cycle of familial breakdown.

Living as a slave to alcohol prevents a person from being actively involved in the family, and deep-seated resentment between hurt family members can make recovery even more difficult. Realistically, overcoming alcoholism does not guarantee forgiveness and acceptance from family members, but the commitment to quit alcohol consumption can show others that an addict wants to take responsibility and make lasting changes. It’s important to remember that alcoholism affects people differently, and individual family members need personal self-reflection, love and support to change their patterns of behavior.


“Alcohol Facts and Statistics.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. March 2015. Accessed March 24, 2016.

A., Tony. “The Laundry List: The Adult Children of Alcoholics Experience.” Adult Children of Alcoholics World Service Organization. 1990. Accessed March 24, 2016.

“Family Disease.” National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence.February 24, 2016. Accessed March 24, 2016.

“How Do You Know If You Are Affected By Someone’s Drinking?” Al-Anon Family Groups. Accessed March 24, 2016.

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