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The Effect of Alcoholism on the Family Unit


Alcohol addiction has a devastating effect on the personal lives of the addict and their family and friends. Nobody escapes unscathed when there is an addict in the family, and the ease with which alcohol is available and socially acceptable only adds to the problem. So what is the impact of alcoholism on families?

Alcohol is a big part of many people’s lives and there are a never-ending number of reasons to have a drink — the birth of a baby, christenings, engagement parties, weddings, hen parties & stag dos, birthdays, funerals — are all excellent excuses for an alcohol-fuelled knees-up! It is also easy to buy alcohol from a variety of outlets, not just bars and off licences, such as corner shops, supermarkets and petrol stations.

Alcoholics often find it difficult to develop emotionally because they use alcohol as a crutch. This leads to family rows, marriage problems and the inevitable separation when the problem isn’t tackled. There is also an increased risk for domestic abuse which can lead to emotional, verbal or physical exploitation. Over half of all cases of domestic violence involve alcohol, so it is a significant problem. Of course, the alcoholic will also suffer from physical and mental health problems including depression, liver disease and digestive problems. As with many addictive substances, alcohol is expensive and a person addicted to alcohol will put considerable strain on the family finances. This in turn can lead to lost days at work, unemployment and unpaid bills. The financial strain will lead to high stress levels which will put added pressure on the wellbeing of the family.

Alcoholics lie about drinking including the amount they are drinking or even whether they are drunk at all — even if it is blindingly obvious! This leads to a lack of trust and an atmosphere of suspicion. Family members are unable to believe the alcoholic when they swear they haven’t been drinking, and alcoholics are invariably unreliable because they cannot control their drinking. This leads to damaged relationships and an uncomfortable atmosphere in the home.

The most distressing effect of alcohol on families is the effect on children. When a parent has an alcohol problem, their children are more likely to have academic problems at school as well as emotional disorders including anxiety and stress. Alcoholism can also have a knock-on effect and the children of parents who abuse alcohol are four times more likely to abuse alcohol themselves. Alcohol has a disruptive effect on normal family routines such as mealtimes and bedtimes and the entire family can be in total disarray.

A comprehensive approach is needed to deal with alcoholism in the family which should include treatment for the alcoholic parent as well as help for the partner and children and any other family and friends who have been affected by the addict’s behaviour. This is the only way the problem can be effectively tackled to ensure each individual gets the help they need and deserve.