There is a reason why alcoholism is often called a family disease. Although alcoholism causes physical and psychological problems for the person with the drinking problem, the alcoholic’s family members suffer intense and far-reaching problems as well. Because of the alcoholic’s inability to perform functions that are essential to a healthy life, their family members are left to clean up the mess they’ve made. In the process, many of those family members develop deep-seated emotional (and sometimes physical) issues of their own as a result of the stress and abuse they’ve had to endure living with an alcoholic family member. This type of trauma can prove to be too much for families to take, and as a result the family unit is often completely destroyed.
Alcoholism Runs in Families
It has been proven by study after study that alcohol and substance abuse is often passed down through the generations. Researchers have been able to show that:
- Children with parents who are addicted to alcohol have the highest risk of becoming substance and alcohol abusers themselves because of both environmental (family) and genetic influence.
- Adolescent drug and alcohol use and abuse has a strong correlation to parent substance and alcohol abuse. In general, children will come to abuse drugs and alcohol when they know that their parents do the same, and adolescents who have problems with drugs and alcohol are more likely to have at least one parent with the same problem.
- It is possible that there is a genetic component involved in early onset alcoholism in boys. In fact, males who have alcoholic fathers are four times more likely to become an alcoholic compared with males who do not have alcoholic fathers.
- Those who have parents who are addicted to alcohol are much more likely to suffer from some type of mental or social disorder than others.
- Kids who have parents suffering from alcohol or drug dependence tend to develop depression (or at least show warning signs of depression) more often than those who do not have one or more parents addicted to alcohol. This depression can, in turn, lead to a higher risk for alcoholism.
Alcoholism destroys families because it puts a child’s healthy development at risk. The role of parents and other older family members is to ensure that the children in the family have the proper tools to live the best life possible, but growing up in a family with an alcoholic can sometimes destroy that possibility.
Alcoholism Can Lead to Abuse
Alcoholism can also destroy families through abuse. Because of the altered state of mind that comes as a result of their heavy alcohol consumption, alcoholics can sometimes be physically and/or emotionally abusive towards their family members.
- In some research that studied parents who treat their children poorly, alcohol abuse is definitely a root cause for the poor treatment.
- Almost three-quarters of child welfare workers have indicated that alcohol and substance abuse is the number one cause for the sharp rise in child abuse and maltreatment since 1986.
- A majority of welfare professionals indicate that alcohol and substance abuse contributes to, or outright causes, at least one-half of all child maltreatment cases. Almost forty percent indicate that it is a factor in over 75% of their cases.
- Nearly 30% of incest cases that occur between a father and daughter and 75% of domestic violence cases involve at least one alcoholic family member.
In many cases, family members become anxious around the alcoholic because they never know what may trigger their abusive behavior. It is difficult for those who are abused to cope with what is happening to them, and many family members of alcoholics tend to have intimacy and relationship problems with others because they have learned to mistrust those who claim to love them, and some may even develop more severe, clinically diagnosed psychological disorders.
Alcoholism Puts a Strain on Marriages and Family Relationships
Unfortunately, families are also torn apart due to the sheer stress of “walking on eggshells” all the time. Interaction between family members in a family where there is an alcoholic tends to become defined by that addiction. Statistics report that:
- Families who deal with alcoholism generally indicate that they have more conflict than families that do not deal with alcoholism. Research indicates that this family disruption is due to drinking as the primary factor.
- Children in alcoholic families do not get the chance to see effective parenting, home management, communication, or relationship skills modeled for them, robbing them of having examples to go on when they start their own families.
- Physical and emotional violence, family conflict, lack of family organization and cohesion, family isolation, and increased stress (including illnesses, issues at work, strains on the marriage, and financial issues) are frequently associated with families dealing with alcoholism.
- Parents who are addicted to alcohol generally are not able to provide a structured or disciplined home for their children, but they usually expect them to be high achievers in a wide variety of activities at an earlier age than parents who are not addicted to drugs or alcohol.
It is easy to see how these types of problems can cause family members to become resentful of the alcoholic, and sometimes of one another. These emotional and psychological side effects of resentment, anger, and sadness are responsible for tearing many families apart.
Alcoholism Causes Adjustment Issues for Kids
Though an alcohol-addicted parent may want a good outcome for their children, many do not understand the profound effect that their drinking and addiction can have on the children who live with them. Children have a more difficult time coping with the traumatic life that they live as a result of having an alcoholic parent, and the negative feelings and issues that they develop can lead them to have serious issues in school, and in some cases lead to trouble with society and the law.
- A study that compared children of alcoholics between 6 and 17 years old with children who do not have alcoholic parents found that children of alcoholics tend to have a higher occurrence of ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder).
- Those with parents that struggle with alcoholism often have a difficult time relating well to others and have an overall negative view of themselves.
- It has been indicated that those who have alcoholic parents have attitudes and behaviors that will lead them to have a negative life experience because of the inability to cope with stress and relationships.
These behavioral issues put even more strain on already over-stressed family members and can lead to even further breakdown of the family unit.
To put it simply, it is not the alcohol that tears families apart. Rather, it is the behavior of the alcoholic that is the culprit. Heavy alcohol consumption causes a host of negative behaviors in the alcoholic which, in turn, wreak havoc in the lives of those charged with caring for the alcoholic person. Worry, anxiety, anger, depression, and other issues come about because of the trauma that families with alcoholics endure, and the result of this excessive stress is more often than not a family torn apart.