Alcohol Use Disorder and Impacts on Family 

People who consume excessive amounts of alcohol and those who want to cut down but are unable to control their drinking suffer from alcohol use disorder (AUD). Alcohol use disorder, or as it used to be known, alcoholism, is a mental health condition that has wide-ranging consequences. Alcoholism is a behavioral condition that changes the way people behave influencing all aspects of their lives.1

The US is fighting an ongoing battle against excessive use of psychoactive substances, with alcohol being the most popular choice among people who engage in substance abuse. According to the CDC, each year alcohol misuse puts an end to 140,000 American lives with almost 3.6 million years of potential life lost. More than 40% of these deaths were caused by binge drinking. It is estimated that roughly 17% of adult Americans binge drink, while more than 6% resort to heavy drinking.2

In addition to being a serious issue that may result in a fatal outcome through alcohol poisoning, alcoholism has a detrimental effect on the family and people who are close to an alcoholic. Luckily, much has been done over the years to help people who struggle with AUD find and access the right treatment. Medical professionals have developed numerous proven solutions for those who want to quit alcohol and retake control over their lives.3 

How Alcohol Addiction Impacts Family Relationships? 

Besides people who struggle with AUD, alcohol dependence lays the heaviest burden on the shoulders of their family members. Since alcohol alters the way people think and act, in some cases family members are the first to recognize that a person suffers from alcoholism. The relationship between alcohol use and marital problems is illustrated by the fact that alcohol use is ranked third, after infidelity and incompatibility, as a reason for divorce.4

When one member of the family is suffering from alcoholism, other family members are forced to make a difficult choice. They can either try to help them or turn a blind eye and act like the issue doesn’t exist. Ignoring the seriousness of the situation is not a good choice and will only serve to enable and excuse the alcoholic. Even though ignoring the issue may help make the whole ordeal more bearable at first, it isn’t a good long-term solution and is bound to backfire at some point.5

Alcoholism disturbs family life in multiple ways. It alters interpersonal dynamics, influences communication styles and patterns of conflict, and disrupts the cohesion of the family unit. Families that are affected by alcohol misuse develop dysfunctional patterns and relationships start to get strained as family members try to adapt and keep their lives as normal as possible.6

Here are some of the most common damaging effects that alcohol use disorder has on the family:7

  • Problems with trust and communication
  • Lower levels of expressiveness, independence, and intellectual orientation among family members
  • Breakdown of family rituals, rules, and boundaries
  • High levels of friction and conflict
  • The constant threat of economic insecurity
  • High risk of chaos and disorganization
  • Increased likelihood of divorce
  • High potential for emotional, physical, or sexual abuse and violence
  • Increased risk of fetal alcohol effect

How Does Alcoholism Affect Family Financially? 

One of the biggest issues that families of alcoholics face is the threat of economic instability. Alcoholism represents a significant drain on the family budget. People who struggle with AUD may not risk their family’s future willfully, however, alcohol alters the way their brains function and they are unable to realize the consequences of their actions.8

Maintaining alcohol addiction is expensive since an addict always has to have a steady supply of alcoholic beverages to keep his addiction going. Severe and long-term alcohol users face a great risk of suffering from an agonizing and life-threatening alcohol withdrawal if they abruptly reduce or put an end to their drinking.9

Individuals who suffer from AUD are at constant risk of destroying their career prospects due to alcohol misuse. Alcohol may cost them the desired promotion or career advancement they worked so hard to earn, or they may lose their jobs altogether and put their loved ones in a precarious position. Some people can’t resist drinking at work, which can have dangerous and in certain professions life-threatening consequences for customers or people who work with the afflicted individual.7

How Alcohol Addiction Affects the Development of Children? 

Parental alcoholism has a negative effect on the family and especially on the development and everyday lives of kids. The effects of alcoholism diminish parents’ capacity to use their parenting skills to have a positive influence on their children’s upbringing. Alcoholics are easily provoked and can be unpredictable or harsh when disciplining their kids. This type of severe and arbitrary parental behavior may result in children getting alienated from their parents.6

Available research shows that more than 1 in 4 children (28.6%) in the United States are exposed to alcoholism in the family. By the time they reach young adulthood, they have nearly double the chances of developing mood disorders and AUD compared to their peers. Issues among children of alcohol-abusing parents show a strong familial pattern. They tend to co-occur with and even aggravate other mental and physical health issues.10

Children of alcohol-abusing parents exhibit:10

  • Higher rates of anxiety and depression
  • Frequent conduct and behavioral challenges
  • Conflicting or aggressive behavior
  • Poorer academic achievements
  • Lowered self-esteem
  • Diminished social competence
  • Greater risk of emotional numbness
  • Tendency to initiate substance use earlier

How to Talk to an Alcoholic Family Member? 

The first thing to keep in mind is that you have to wait for alcohol intoxication to wear down. Talking to a person while they are under the influence of alcohol is unpredictable and may easily backfire. Ideally, you’d want this conversation to be conducted in a sober and serious manner. These types of conversations are not easy so emotions should be kept at bay.11

Even when family members are trying their best to approach the subject of addiction, there is a great chance that their actions will only aggravate the situation. This is why preparation is so important. In most cases, people with AUD struggle with deep underlying issues so it’s important to avoid triggers that may cause them to turn inward and close potential pathways of communication.5

There are a few things you should avoid when talking to an alcoholic, including:11

  • The use of labels such as “alcoholic” or “addict”
  • Having a negative attitude about their chances of recovery
  • Judgmental or lecturing posture
  • Blaming, shaming, and scolding
  • Threats and emotional blackmail
  • Making excuses for their alcoholism
  • Unless things have gotten out of hand, remember not to be too pushy and aggressive
  • Engaging in alcohol consumption with them

How to Help an Alcoholic Family Member Who Refuses Help? 

The first thing you should look to do is try to learn as much as you can about substance use and the mechanisms of addiction. This will help you get a clearer picture of what is at stake. Having a better knowledge of what an alcoholic may be thinking will help you develop a better understanding of how they are feeling and what their motivations are. One of the best and easiest ways to learn more about alcoholism and the family is to call a specialized alcoholism hotline.7

If you’ve approached them before but the conversation didn’t have the desired effect, it may be the right moment to try setting certain boundaries. When deciding on the clear boundaries that will make them sit and think about their actions, it’s important to be firm and stand behind your decisions. Otherwise, they will try pushing the boundaries and the whole process will turn into a failure. Taking away their car keys, reducing their budget, grounding them, and withdrawing certain privileges is a good way to let them know that their behavior has consequences.7

How To Cope with Addiction in the Family? 

While there is a consistent link between excessive alcohol use and marital dissatisfaction and divorce, it’s also true that married individuals exhibit much lower rates of alcohol consumption in general. This shows how beneficial the family unit is in providing support and understanding to people who are struggling with addiction issues. Try organizing alcohol-free family activities that will strengthen familial bonds and provide further motivation for change.4

Since there is a great deal of emotion at stake, people find it hard to exercise control. It’s important not to let strong personal feelings, resentments, and disappointments get the best of you because they can have a negative effect and potentially create a wedge between loved ones. Sometimes people get carried away and start venting about past wrongs and frustrations. This can exacerbate the situation and make the addict retreat into further abuse.12

How to Help an Alcohol Addict Family Member

Like any other addiction, alcohol misuse starts as a personal choice before turning into a behavioral issue that affects the entire family. Since alcoholics are preoccupied with their addiction challenges, they are rarely aware of how damaging their choices are for their loved ones. Besides immediate concerns that an alcoholic creates for a family unit, there are also long-term issues in a child’s emotional and intellectual development.13

The most important step you can do for an addicted family member is to encourage them to turn to professionals for help. Counseling may be a good option to start with. Be supportive of the positive decisions they are trying to make. Every step in the right direction should be celebrated and encouraged. If honest conversations and family involvement aren’t showing results, then it’s probably time to stage an intervention with the help of professionals.11

Alcohol Addiction Treatment Programs for Family Members 

Alcoholism is a serious mental health condition that requires professional help. People may try to quit on their own, but this usually ends in disappointment and a return to old ways. Alcoholism is stubborn and requires that people tackle their mental health issues which made them drink in the first place. Recovery usually involves ups and downs so it’s important to stay positive and determined to continue with treatment.1

Another problem people encounter when they stop drinking is alcohol withdrawal. Withdrawal is a dangerous and in some cases life-threatening ordeal. Medical professionals use proven medications that manage withdrawal symptoms and eliminate the dangers associated with sudden cessation of drinking.3

Some of the most popular and effective forms of recovery from alcoholism include:1

  • Alcohol Detoxification Detox is a short-term procedure that lasts for a few days or up to 2 weeks at the most. Detox uses specialized medicines that help people get clean in a pain-free way without the painful experience of suffering alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Even though detox is not a treatment in itself, it is an important step for alcoholics who are looking to enter into alcohol rehab.
  • Behavioral Therapies – Almost all modern rehab approaches utilize some type of behavioral treatment. For people who are at a mild stage of alcoholism, behavioral therapy may be enough. In the case of more severe users, behavioral therapies will be combined as a part of other rehab approaches.
  • 12-Step Programs – This type of rehab relies on the power of group therapy, beneficial peer support, and the importance of belief in a higher power that can help people overcome addiction challenges. These programs help people find new meaning through faith, which provides them with the platform for a life of sobriety.
  • Outpatient Treatment – This is the most popular form of rehab in the US today. It is a very adaptable form of treatment that is adjusted according to the needs of individual patients. The number of weekly appointments and the duration of sessions can be adjusted according to the patient’s condition and the severity of the addiction.
  • Inpatient Rehabs – Inpatient programs utilize all the benefits of specialized rehab centers. Availability of medical professionals, a trigger-free environment, 24/7 medical attention, state-of-the-art amenities, medical tools and equipment, structured programs, and attention to detail are just some of the benefits that make inpatient rehab the golden standard when it comes to addiction recovery.
  • Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHP) – These programs can in many ways mimic the intensity of inpatient care. They are ideal for people who require an inpatient level of care but are unable to afford staying inside a rehab facility. Patients spend their days inside a rehab center but sleep at home, which cuts down the cost of treatment significantly. This is why PHP is also called a day hospital.
  • Treatment of Co-Occurring Disorders (COD) – Individuals who in addition to having an alcohol use disorder suffer from one or more mental health conditions are diagnosed with a co-occurring disorder, or dual diagnosis. COD is a severe and dangerous issue because of the overlapping of two or more mental health conditions that may aggravate one another.
  • Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) – MAT programs use FDA-tested and approved medication that eliminate the negative effects of alcoholism and help people with severe issues reclaim their lives. MAT combines medication with behavioral therapies in order to enable patients to come to terms with deep-seated issues that made them turn to alcohol use.

Frequently Asked Questions