Written by: Lee Spinks
Medically Reviewed by: Dr Mateen Durrani – MBBS, DPM, MSc, BCPsych
Last Updated: May 8th, 2023
When a stone is thrown into a still pond, ripples spread out from the point of impact, distorting the calm water. Alcohol addiction acts in a similar way, affecting people that reach far beyond the person with the addiction, tearing families apart with devastating consequences.
Addiction is often called a “family disease” and by understanding the myriad ways alcohol addiction impacts families, we can shed light on this silent tormentor and explore how detox and alcohol rehab can help bring families back together.
How can alcoholism impact more than one person?
While suffering with alcoholism can be isolating and frightening, so can it be for those watching their loved one in the clutches of addiction. From financial to emotional consequences, below we share the most common reasons why alcoholism has harmful effects on families.
Broken bonds of love and trust
Alcohol addiction has an incredibly corrosive effect on the relationships within a family. This is particularly true when it comes to the children of those with alcohol addiction who face a number of risks and challenges due to their parents’ alcohol abuse.
According to government figures, there are 200,000 children living with an alcohol-dependent parent in England, with one in three having had negative experiences due to their parents’ drinking. These children are more likely to experience neglect, physical and verbal abuse and are also at a higher risk for developing alcohol addiction themselves, perpetuating the effects of alcohol misuse on family dynamics.
The lies, broken promises and manipulation that often accompany alcohol addiction can gradually erode trust and the love that may once have bound the family together can become increasingly strained. As the family member with the alcohol addiction becomes increasingly isolated, the family may feel powerless to help or may even distance themselves in self-preservation or due to growing resentment. Over time, this split can become permanent with one or both sides reluctant to reunite, leaving a lasting impact on everyone involved.
A cycle of emotional pain
Alcohol addiction also fosters a cycle of emotional pain that can reverberate through generations. This emotional turmoil caused by a family member’s alcohol addiction can manifest in various ways including:
- Anxiety: Living with an alcoholic family member can create an atmosphere of uncertainty and unpredictability. Family members may constantly worry about the consequences of the addict’s behaviour, such as potential job loss, financial instability or violent outbursts. This ongoing state of unease can contribute to heightened anxiety and even trigger anxiety disorders.
- Depression: As alcoholism takes its toll on family dynamics, members may experience a sense of helplessness and despair which coupled with the emotional distance it creates, can lead to feelings of sadness and depression.
- Guilt: Family members, particularly children, may blame themselves for the addict’s behaviour, believing that they could have done something to prevent the addiction or improve the situation. This misplaced sense of responsibility can lead to overwhelming guilt which follows them into adulthood.
- Feelings of abandonment: The emotional unavailability of an addicted family member can also make loved ones feel neglected or abandoned as they may perceive the prioritisation of alcohol over family obligations as a rejection or a lack of love.
These emotional burdens can lead to a myriad of issues, including difficulties in forming healthy relationships, low self-esteem and an increased likelihood of developing mental health disorders and trauma-related conditions later on down the line.
A shattered sense of security
The unpredictability of alcohol-fuelled behaviour can create an incredibly unstable and chaotic environment for the family. The home, a place that should be a sanctuary, can become a battlefield where nobody feels safe and the sense of security is compromised.
Family members of people who are addicted to alcohol often find themselves walking on eggshells, fearing the consequences of saying or doing the wrong thing. This is because alcohol addiction can make people behave erratically or unpredictably and so loved ones learn to appease the alcoholic person and avoid confrontation.
This constant state of tension can have long-lasting effects, particularly on children who may grow up with an inherent sense of insecurity and an inability to trust others.
Financial strain and its repercussions
The financial implications of alcohol addiction are often overlooked, but they can be crippling for families. Compulsive alcohol abuse is not a cheap habit and the cost of sustaining an addiction can quickly lead to financial difficulties.
These are often made worse by the inextricable link between alcoholism and unemployment as many people with an addiction struggle to work or find a job which in turn causes them to drink more to cope with the emotional and financial stress.
The result of this vicious cycle is that the money that should have been used for essentials such as food, education or housing ends up being spent on alcohol and this financial strain can exacerbate existing stressors within the family and lead to further emotional distress.
Alcohol-related domestic abuse and violence
One of the most harrowing consequences of alcohol addiction on families is the increased risk of domestic abuse and violence. Alcohol consumption can exacerbate existing tensions and impair judgement, leading to aggressive behaviours and dangerous situations.
In the UK, the influence of alcohol was involved in over 60% of domestic violence cases reported to the police in 2020.
Sadly, alcoholics are often master manipulators and many family members stay despite the domestic abuse. This can be done through a range of malevolent means including:
- Minimising the abuse: Abusers may downplay the severity of their actions, attributing them to the influence of alcohol rather than taking responsibility for their behaviour. They may also claim that the victim is exaggerating or being overly sensitive about the situation.
- Blaming the victim: They may try to shift the blame for their actions onto the victim, suggesting that their family member’s behaviour or actions “caused” them to drink and therefore become violent. This tactic can make the victim feel responsible for the abuse and less likely to seek help.
- Emotional manipulation: They may use emotional manipulation to control their family members, such as guilt-tripping, playing the victim themselves or gaslighting (manipulating the victim’s perception of reality by denying they have an alcohol problem). This can leave their family member feeling confused and doubting their own memories or judgement.
- Financial control: If they have put the family in financial difficulty due to their drinking, their victim may also feel they don’t have the means to leave.
Victims of alcohol-related domestic abuse and violence can be both partners and children, with the physical and emotional scars leaving a lasting impact on their lives. This violence not only endangers their safety but also perpetuates a cycle of abuse that may continue into future generations.
Children exposed to domestic violence are more likely to become victims or perpetrators themselves, further demonstrating the ripple effect of alcohol addiction on families.
A path to healing and restoration
Despite the destructive nature of alcohol addiction, there is hope for addicts and their families affected by this awful condition. Seeking help through counselling, support groups, alcohol detox and rehab treatment is a crucial first step towards healing. Treatment and therapy can help the individual overcome their alcohol addiction while also providing the family with tools to cope with the repercussions.
It is particularly crucial for families experiencing alcohol-related domestic abuse and violence to seek help and support from professionals and organisations that specialise in these issues. By breaking the silence and addressing the violence, families can work towards healing and breaking the vicious cycle that perpetuates suffering and harm.
While the support of families can provide the motivation needed to overcome alcohol addiction, it has to be the person’s own decision to seek help.
Recovery from alcohol addiction requires determination, commitment to change and a desire to right the wrongs caused by addiction. However, by addressing alcohol addiction head-on together, families can begin to mend the broken bonds, restore stability and pave the way for a brighter, healthier future.
If you or your family member needs help with alcohol addiction, contact us at Primrose Lodge today. Our experienced team of medical and addiction professionals can help you overcome alcoholism, rebuild relationships with your loved ones and begin the path to healing and recovery.