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What Effects Can Alcoholism Have on a Family?

14 million adults abuse alcohol or have an alcoholism problem, according to Project Know.

That’s one in 13 adults.

Alcoholism is a serious problem. In addition to affecting the individual alcoholic, alcoholism can negatively impact the entire family.

Today, we are taking a closer look at some of the effects alcoholism can have on a family.

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Financial Strains

While there are many people who are considered high functioning, many others are not able to maintain employment consistently. Some spend any money they have on supporting their addiction to alcohol. This means the financial resources of the family suffer.

Alcoholics sometimes find themselves misusing the family’s money. For instance, money that was being saved to pay bills, may be spent on obtaining beer or liquor. The alcoholic does not usually feel good about their behaviors but find it difficult to stop.

These actions leave the family in dire predicaments, like losing their residence.

Legal consequences incurred by the alcoholic can also affect family finances. DUI charges can take several thousands of dollars to pay off fines, and complete community service hours.

Emotional Abuse

Alcoholism is related to several types of abusive behavior and can turn a nice person into a mean one. Alcohol affects the brain and how you think, feel and act. Alcohol can take an ordinarily happy person and make them become abusive towards the ones they love.

Emotional abuse can mean stating insulting or belittling comments to another person. It can also mean an alcoholic will try to be intimidating, manipulative, humiliating or even threatening some type of abuse.

Emotional abuse can be just as harmful as physical abuse.

Lack of Trust

Any type of addiction can create a lack of trust among family members. Addictive behaviors can include lying about amount of alcohol use, money spent on alcohol, and skipping family obligations to participate in drinking.

Trust is built on repetitive actions of you following through with what you say you are going to do. Trust building involves you following the rules and respecting the needs of others. This trust can be broken when you choose your addiction over your family.

Trust is also broken when you steal from your family to support your negative habits. Every time you are caught in a lie, the trust your family has in you diminishes.

Mental Illness

It has been reported that family members of alcoholics experience stress, anxiety, depression, and relationship problems. They feel out of control when it comes to helping the alcoholic family member. This leads to them feeling helpless and hopeless.

Trying to care for an alcoholic can lead to mental health disorders because many times, the caretaker is not taking care of themselves. Instead, they become codependent and while they think they are helping the alcoholic, they are harming them.

Alcoholism can even lead to family members feeling grief and trying to deal with the loss caused by addiction. Other emotions associated with alcoholism include anger, shame, worry, fear and confusion.

Quality Time

Families need positive quality time together to strengthen their relationships and connections. People with alcoholism are known to consume large parts of family time for themselves. Family members are constantly trying to please you, keep you from acting out, and begging you to find a way to stop using.

It may seem as if your family spends a lot of time together. But just because they are all together in the same room, does not mean they are spending quality time together. Many times, the conversations they are having reflect how your addiction is affecting them personally and as a group.

Changes Family Dynamics

Each family member will be affected differently to alcoholism. Some can dissociate from the alcoholic and not let their actions interfere. Others become enablers and codependent caretakers, interweaving their lives with that of the alcoholic.

Those suffering from alcoholism tend to change the roles of family members. Parents, who should be leading the family in a positive way, often become enablers of the addict. They spend little time with the family members who are not abusing alcohol and much time in denial.

In some cases, role reversals take place, meaning non-addicted children can take over the parent role. They take care of the household responsibilities and virtually raise themselves while their parents continue in their unhealthy roles.

None of these effects are healthy and should be treated by a trained mental health or addiction professional.

How to Get Treatment

The best way to find the right type of treatment for your family and for the alcoholic is through a referral from someone who has been helped. They can give you first hand knowledge of why their treatment was successful.

Do your research when choosing a facility to help your family. Learn the qualifications of the professionals and request an initial evaluation. This assessment will determine which type of treatment plan fits the needs of your family.

Likely, the person struggling with alcohol addiction will need to attend a detox treatment program to safely withdraw from the alcohol. They will then continue for a month or longer in an inpatient rehabilitation program.

The rest of the family will also need treatment, but not necessarily inpatient. Instead, you can benefit from outpatient counseling with a licensed marriage and family therapist.

As you can see, alcoholism can have numerous effects on family members. From children of alcoholics to friends of the family, addiction can change how well you function as a group.

It is important to act as soon as you see alcoholism affecting your family. Don’t wait until your family structure needs complete repair. Instead, seek help early to avoid more severe problems caused by alcoholism.


Chris Massman is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Agoura Hills, CA. She graduated Phillips Graduate Institute with a Master of Arts in Psychology in 2014 and received her Chemical Dependency Specialty in 2014. Today, she practices Congnitive-behavioral therapy to help individuals, couples, and families identify and overcome a variety of unique challenges.