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Effects Of Alcoholism On Family Essay

How drink can affect families

This page looks at the effects on the rest of the family when someone in the family is misusing alcohol or other drugs. In some cases the drinker is not dependent or alcoholic. He or she is just drinking in a way that upsets the others.

We look at the effects on a family under these headings:

  • When a parent is misusing drugs or alcohol
  • How the “misusing” parent affects the spouse or partner
  • How the “misusing” parent affects the sons and daughters
  • How a son or daughter using drugs affects the family
  • Family Support

When a parent is misusing alcohol or drugs

It is well known that a parent with an alcohol or drug problem can have a marked effect on the other family members. The person with the problem is like someone stuck in a bog. The others, in their efforts to help, often get pulled down into the bog too. The first step in putting things right is when the others start to get their own feet on solid ground. Only after they have done this, will they be able to help to tackle the addiction problem.

Sharon Wegscheider  (USA) pointed out some of the ways in which the other family members can be affected.  [Reference:  Sharon Wegscheider The Family Trap, Johnson Institute, Minnesota USA, 1976].

How a parent’s alcohol misuse affects the spouse or partner

It is not easy to live with a person whose drinking or drug use is causing problems. The drinker or drug user is often full of conflict, torn between wanting their drug or alcohol and not wanting the harm that always seems to follow. They often blame others when things go wrong.

The partner or spouse often doubts herself (or himself). Am I not a good enough partner? How can I get her or him to stop taking that drug? How can I protect my children? How can I hide this from my family and neighbours?

The partner often feels hurt, ashamed, fearful, with an overwhelming sense of failure.  Unfortunately, many partners then work all the more strenuously, taking on extra responsibilities, trying to cover up the mess …fighting a losing battle.

If you are that partner, the first step towards putting things right is to take some time for yourself, and get support for yourself. A good friend or a counsellor can be a great help. See “family support” below.

How the alcohol-misusing parent affects the sons and daughters

The son or daughter of a parent who misuses alcohol,  can also end up bogged down. They often adopt a role which helps the family, but they get stuck in the role and neglect their own needs. Sharon Wegscheider describes the following roles. Can you see yourself in one of these roles, or in a combination of a couple of them? You can change! It’s easier if you get support.

The Family Hero

This is often the eldest in the family. This person is responsible, works hard for approval, and often appears successful. But inside, this person often feels insecure, as if things are always going to go wrong, and feels incompetent, confused and angry.

The Scapegoat

This person feels blamed when things go wrong. Everyone focuses on this person’s faults, which provides the family with a distraction from the real problem. So this person often seems rebellious, troublesome, law-breaking, tough …and may be at risk of misusing drugs. Inside, this person is often full of fear, hurt, rejection and loneliness, feeling angry at the unfairness of how they are treated.

The Lost Child

This son or daughter appears as a dreamer, drifting above the troubled waters that bother other people. But inside, the person is not as contented as they appear. They are quietly hurt, angry, lonely with a feeling of being inadequate.

The Mascot

Sometimes also referred to as the clown, the person in this role is often charming and cute, fun to be with, quick to make a joke. Sometimes they are quite hyper-active and flit from one interest to another; sometimes quite fragile and easily hurt. But they are good at hiding the hurt, and other feelings of loneliness, insecurity, fear and low self esteem.

If you recognize any of these roles as being ‘you’, the first step to putting things right is the same as for the Partner – to take time for yourself, to talk to a friend or a counsellor. Stop thinking about the addicted person for a while (easier said than done!) and pay attention to your own real needs. See the “family support” section below.

There are more children who are badly affected by their parents’ drinking than there are parents who are upset by the children’s drinking. The sons and daughters of problem-drinking parents need support, and Crosscare Drug & Alcohol Programme offers support or referral.

A son or a daughter with an addiction problem

Whole families can seem to go to pieces when there is a son or daughter using drugs. Parents fall out with each other over how to handle the situation. Other sons or daughters get blamed for being a bad example. The drug user gets so much attention that others are neglected. Rows and bad language upset the peace. If peace and love are the oxygen of life, the whole family is gasping for breath.


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Alcohol is not free. Although even the strictest accountant or budgeter will make an allowance for entertainment expenses, ongoing drinking can quickly cause people to spend beyond their allotment for socializing.It is well established that alcohol abuse can lead to serious financial problems, but not only because of the actual money spent on alcohol. Lowered inhibitions are a side effect of alcohol, and they usually set in while people still have control over their senses and motor functions, at least enough to buy things.
For instance, a person who is intoxicated may be apt to spend more money than planned at a bar. Even drinking at home does not provide a shield against spending when inhibitions are low. The Internet opens up an entire world of shopping possibilities. The “beer goggles”effect can make an item seem more attractive and the purchase price more inviting, and increase the likelihood of an unnecessary purchase.Work productivity can suffer from alcohol abuse. Finances are about more than the dollars earned; they also include earning potential. Studies show that drinking can affect work or academic productivity at every phase of working life. Students who binge drink in college may have lower grades, which can have a ripple effect across their employment prospects and salary potential. Employees who binge drink or drink heavily are prone to absenteeism or presenteeism (i.e., being at work but underperforming). Long-term drinkers may have to exit careers earlier than planned in order to manage health problems.

Drinking heavily is associated with a host of health consequences that will likely need medical attention, such as cardiovascular illnesses, pneumonia, cirrhosis, pancreatitis, and different forms of cancer.

In addition to the cost of health plans and the premiums paid to participate in them, the individual in need of treatment for alcohol-related conditions will likely have copays, transportation costs, and lost wages while being out of work. A loss of work income lowers social security contributions and contributions to employer-provided or independent retirement accounts. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, binge drinking results in $171 billion a year in healthcare-related costs and lowered employee productivity.Alcohol abuse can lead to an increase in debt, especially credit card debt, in numerous ways, such as:

  • An inability to pay down credit card bills as income from work lessens
  • Increased credit card charges to cover the gap between expenses and reduced income
  • Charges for alcohol or alcohol-related activities such as partying or gambling
  • Forgetfulness about when to make payments, resulting in late fees and other penalties
  • Most often, working-class Americans rely on a certain amount of base income. When a person begins to abuse alcohol, the gap between anticipated earnings and expenses and actual earnings and expenses can widen. As a result, the individual’s personal stability (if single) or family can be radically shaken. Although the cost of rehab treatment may seem like an additional burden, it is one of the most effective steps that can be taken to restore the individual’s sobriety and personal or family finances. Concerns about paying for rehab services should never be a barrier to treatment.

    Alcohol abuse causes an untold numbers of stresses within a family, whether the person drinking is a parent, child, extended family member, or an older adult like a grandparent. Spouses are uniquely situated vis- -vis one another, so if one is abusing alcohol, the other is likely to acutely feel the associated problems.By law, spouses are seen as a financial unit (but not in all instances; for example, a spouse is not usually financially liable for the other spouse’s student loan debt). In terms of religion, if the spouses observe one, they have made a vow to unconditionally support one another. When drinking causes a financial drain and/or leads to health issues, problems can flare up and threaten the very bedrock of the relationship.According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the following are some of the most common problems that arise between spouses when one partner abuses alcohol:

  • Marital conflict
  • Infidelity
  • Domestic violence
  • Unplanned pregnancy
  • Financial instability
  • Stress
  • Jealousy
  • Divorce
  • Regarding financial instability, the earlier discussion on the real and potential economic losses associated with alcohol abuse, as well as debt, can easily trigger profound problems in a marriage. A spouse’s alcohol abuse can also trigger a host of emotions, such as feelings of abandonment, unworthiness, guilt, and self-blame. These emotions can all collect into a disorder known as codependency.Marriage and family therapist Darlene Lancer is an expert on codependency. As Lancer insightfully explains, people may develop a maladjustment to a loved one’s drinking that causes them to enable it through the process of caring for it. Individuals who abuse alcohol experience physical impairments that can draw others into caring for them. While some individuals may be able to resist the urge to help, many will not, especially spouses, children, and other family members or concerned individuals in the person’s immediate environment.
    Over time, the caregiver can habituate to this rescuer and provider role, and even develop an identity based on it. Further, the caregiver grows accustomed to a relationship with the person abusing alcohol that is primarily based on caregiving. The line between helping an alcohol abuser becomes blurred with enabling the alcohol abuser to maintain the addiction. For this reason, literature on codependency used to refer to the caregiving person as a “co-alcoholic.”
    As with alcohol abuse, treatment for codependence is available and has been proven effective. One of the main goals of codependency treatment is to help realign caregivers with their own needs so they can live personally fulfilling lives, rather than being in constant service to a loved one’s addiction.

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