How Alcoholism Affects Different Members of the Family

Last Updated: Feb 24th 2020

Reviewed by Brittany Polansky, MSW, LCSW

How Alcoholism Affects Different Members of the Family

While people with an alcohol addiction must detox and work through their problems, family counseling is a necessity during treatment. Over time, alcoholism has a strong impact on the family and friends of alcoholics. From the genetic component of addiction to relationship quality, family members are intensely involved in the addiction.

Alcoholism Is Often a Family Problem

While scientists aren’t sure which genes are responsible for addiction, research shows that there’s a strong genetic component. Someone with an alcoholic parent is far more likely to become an alcoholic than if the parent wasn’t an alcoholic. This doesn’t mean that the addiction is inevitable, but it does mean that individuals should be careful about substance abuse issues if a family member is addicted to drugs or alcohol.

Families Can Be Hurt by Alcoholism

Over the course of an alcohol addiction, the alcoholic’s behaviors can cause severe problems in his or her family. Alcoholics may be destructive to the people or possessions around them. They may act in an abusive manner or experience conflict with their spouse. If alcoholic women are pregnant, their addiction could cause fetal alcohol syndrome.

For children, an addiction can lead to severe repercussions. Children are more likely to become addicted if the parent has substance abuse problems. They may witness cases of domestic violence or be abused. Children and spouses may feel isolated, and economic hardship may become a problem. Alcoholics are also more likely to deal with infidelity, jealousy and divorce in their personal relationships.

Coping With Alcoholism in a Family

When someone is an alcoholic at home, the family members tend to go through several emotional stages over time. The first stage is normally the concern stage. At this time, the family members are genuinely concerned and want to help. Often, family members don’t realize how severe the problem is at this stage.

Afterward, families tend to enter the defense and adaptation stages. In the defense stage, the family members may ignore the addiction and may defend their actions. Some family members may even feel like they are partly to blame for the addiction. As family members transition to the adaptation stage, they begin to change their habits to adjust for the addiction. Some family members may resort to substance abuse to cope, or they may try to become the perfect family member.

In the last stage, family members enter the exhaustion phase. At this point, friends and relatives are completely exhausted. They may become depressed as they lose sight of their own self-worth. In addition, family members may continue to enable addictive behaviors.
When addicted individuals are ready to treat their alcoholism, family therapy and counseling is an important component of treatment. The whole family must learn how to break the cycle of denial, exhaustion and adaption. Professional drug and alcohol rehab is the key to overcoming an addiction. To find out more and begin your journey to sobriety, call 1st Step Behavioral Health at (866) 971-5531.

Reviewed for Medical & Clinical Accuracy by Brittany Polansky, MSW, LCSW

Brittany has been working in behavioral health since 2012 and is the Assistant Clinical Director at our facility. She is an LCSW and holds a master’s degree in social work. She has great experience with chemical dependency and co-occurring mental health diagnoses as well as various therapeutic techniques. Brittany is passionate about treating all clients with dignity and respect, and providing a safe environment where clients can begin their healing journey in recovery.