Understanding Alcoholism & Alcohol Abuse Within Families

Compare Rehab UK | Understanding Alcoholism & Alcohol Abuse Within Families

Understanding Alcoholism Within Families

Alcohol abuse and alcoholism within a family can damage a marriage or drive a wedge between members. Family members may develop codependency symptoms over time, unknowingly perpetuating the addiction even if it affects them. That means that people who drink can drain family finances, generate disputes, neglect children, and generally harm the health and happiness of others they care about. Family therapy and rehab can help.

Alcoholism and Denial

The impact of alcoholism on families is also influenced by denial. Denial is just as detrimental to the family dynamic as alcoholism itself, whether the alcoholic is in denial about the fact that they have a problem that requires help or family members are in denial about the alcoholic’s condition and its consequences (such as an enabler). Denial among family members leads to alcoholism being treated as a shameful secret that must be kept hidden. It makes it difficult for everyone in the family to seek help and exacerbates the issues produced by alcoholism. Family counselling can help family members go past denial to begin addressing the difficulties that impede them from functioning as a normal, healthy family unit.

Among other things, alcoholism within this family unit can cause:

  • distress
  • anger
  • resentment
  • dysfunctional communication
  • mental health problems

Alcoholic Family System Roles

Alcoholism is not a disease that affects only one individual at a time.

Alcoholism can severely impact the family dynamic as a whole, in addition to significantly impacting individual relationships between the alcoholic and their loved ones. Those nearest to the alcoholic will almost always be dragged along for the journey, and both parties will suffer as a result. The problems will only become worse if the alcoholic does not enter an alcohol detox programme and get clean.

The family of an alcoholic is generally involved in both the development and rehabilitation from an alcohol use problem. Even though family members desire the best for each other, they can sometimes play roles that harm their loved one who is trying to quit drinking. Members will generally take on one of the various alcoholic family roles.

The Addict

The first alcoholic family role is the addict. Alcoholics frequently use drinking as a primary coping mechanism for negative feelings such as anger, sadness, or loneliness. They eventually develop an alcohol addiction and are unable to stop. Because alcohol plays such a significant role in their lives, they will often put it ahead of their family and even influence others to keep drinking. This alcoholic family role is especially harmful to the family.

The Enabler

The enabler is the family member who denies the addict has a drinking problem. They usually divert attention away from the problem by protecting the addict from the consequences of their actions. The enabler will frequently play a diplomatic position in the family, attempting to maintain a pleasant balance while also sheltering the alcoholic. This generates a constant back and forth between rehabilitation and a deeper plunge into alcoholism, which throws a spanner in the family dynamics of an alcoholic household. If an alcoholic is never forced to confront the consequences of their drinking, they will never seek alcoholism treatment.

The Scapegoat

This alcoholic family role is exactly what it sounds like: the member of the family who is held responsible for everything. Often, the scapegoat appears stubborn, confrontational, and enraged. This family member usually vents their frustrations or anger at the alcoholic on others, or they act out at school, work, or family gatherings. Because kids may turn to drugs and alcohol during their teenage years, the scapegoat may continue the family’s addiction cycle. Male scapegoats tend to act out violently as they become older, whereas female scapegoats engage in promiscuous sex.

The Mascot

The mascot is a source of amusement. They use comedy to defuse tension between family members on purpose. The family member with this alcohol family role frequently feels powerless in the face of their terrible addiction and the resulting conflict. The incessant giggling and excitement are merely a ruse to hide how they’re really feeling.

The Lost Child

The most “invisible” child in the family, usually the middle or youngest, takes on the role of the lost child. They aren’t known for seeking attention and, as a result, slip under the radar. The misplaced child avoids conflict and has difficulty building close relationships. They cope with stress by engaging in solitary activities that do not involve much interaction, reflecting their withdrawn attitude.

The Hero

The overachiever and perfectionist plays this position in an alcoholic’s family. They use their accomplishments to foster a feeling of normalcy in their family. The hero, who the oldest child popularly adopts, bears the family’s flaws and strives to lead them out of trouble. Because they place so much responsibility on themselves, the hero archetype is under a lot of strain, leading to worry and tension.

Alcoholic Family Dynamic Roles & Their Lasting Effects

Although the roles of family members in alcoholic families may not perfectly match these descriptions, each family member will be affected by alcohol abuse and will react differently. If the family of an alcoholic were a play or a show, the alcoholic would be the main character, while the other family members would be supporting characters who take on roles in response to the drinking.

Alcoholism can significantly impact family members and their character qualities for the rest of their life, especially if it is chronic. Addiction shatters a family’s foundation and alters the dynamic of the family. Some alcoholic family roles may find themselves in serious trouble in the future as a result of this. Others may find it difficult to develop intimate relationships because their family members are alcoholics.

Because addiction is a family disease, treatment aims to assist both the addict and their family in overcoming their addiction. The recovering addict will learn how to manage their personal relationships better and move forward in recovery through various programmes, including interpersonal counselling for addiction.

How Alcohol Destroys Relationships and Causes Marital Issues

The following are some of the ways that problem drinking impacts family members, employers, colleagues, classmates, and others:

  • Neglect of essential duties: Alcohol impairs one’s cognitive functioning and physical capabilities, eventually leading to a disregard for work, home life, or school commitments.
  • Needing time to nurse hangovers: Hangovers are one of the many short-term adverse effects of alcohol abuse. Although a hangover is a brief physical state, it can significantly affect a person’s ability to meet obligations and encourage unhealthy behaviours such as poor nutrition and sedentarism.
  • Encountering legal problems: Drinking increases one’s chances of getting into fights, behaving disorderly in public, driving while intoxicated, and becoming involved in domestic conflicts or violence.
  • The inability to stop at will: Alcohol is a highly addictive drug that can cause physical dependence. Although a physically dependent person (i.e., has a higher tolerance and other side effects) is not necessarily addicted, ongoing drinking can lead to addiction.

In essence, alcohol abuse causes a person to make drinking a priority.

As a result, time, effort, and resources that were formerly dedicated to life-sustaining activities like working and spending time with family are now diverted.

A person may believe that drinking alcohol will help them cope with these stressors at first. Still, if they continue drinking heavily, their abuse will eventually become dependent on the substance. Alcohol abuse can become all-consuming once people become psychologically addicted to it. Because people are commonly linked through social networks, it’s easy to see how alcohol abuse can affect a person’s entire network of family, friends, employers, coworkers, and anybody else who relies on them.

Alcohol Abuse and Financial Troubles

Alcohol abuse has long been known to cause significant financial problems, but not just because of the money spent on alcohol. Alcohol is not available for free. Although even the strictest accountant or budgeter will make an allowance for entertainment expenses, ongoing drinking can quickly cause people to spend beyond their allocation for socialising.

Because drinking alcohol lowers your inhibitions, you may be more likely to make impulsive purchases without considering the long-term ramifications of those purchases. Intoxicated people, for example, are more likely to spend more money than they intended at a bar. Even drinking at home does not protect you from overspending when inhibitions are low. The Internet provides access to a vast array of shopping options. The “beer goggles” effect can make an object appear more attractive and the buying price more appealing, leading to an unnecessary purchase.

Alcohol addiction can have a negative impact on work productivity. The term “finances” refers to more than just the amount of money earned; it also refers to the amount of money that can be earned in the future. Drinking has been shown in studies to have an impact on job or academic productivity at all stages of life. Students who binge drink in college may suffer from lower grades, affecting their job chances and pay potential. Absenteeism is common among employees who binge drink or drink heavily. Long-term drinkers may have to leave their careers earlier than planned to manage health problems.

Heavy drinking is linked to several health problems that will almost certainly require medical attention, including cardiovascular disease, pneumonia, cirrhosis, pancreatitis, and various cancers.

A reduction in employment income reduces social security contributions as well as contributions to employer-sponsored or self-directed retirement funds.

Binge drinking costs billions every year in healthcare costs and lowers employment productivity, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Alcohol consumption can contribute to a rise in debt, particularly credit card debt, in a variety of ways, including:

  • An inability to pay down credit card bills as income from work lessens
  • Increased credit card charges to cover the gap between expenses and reduced income
  • Costs of alcohol or alcohol-related activities such as partying or gambling
  • Forgetfulness about when to make payments, resulting in late fees and other penalties

Most people typically rely on a set amount of basic income. When a person starts abusing alcohol, the difference between expected and actual earnings and expenses can increase. As a result, the individual’s personal stability (if single) or family’s stability may be severely disrupted. Even though the cost of rehab treatment may appear to be an additional hardship, it is one of the most effective ways to recover an individual’s sobriety and personal or family finances. Concerns regarding the cost of rehab services should never be a deterrent to getting help.

If you are struggling with Alcohol Addiction, call us on 0800 999 1083 for confidential help and to discuss treatment options.

Alcohol Addiction and Marital Problems

Whether the person drinking is a parent, child, extended family member, or an older adult such as a grandmother, alcohol abuse is a significant source of stress in a family. Because spouses are so reliant on one another, if one is abusing alcohol, the other is likely to suffer the consequences. Spouses are legally considered a financial unit. They have pledged to support one another unconditionally. When drinking creates a financial hardship or health problems, challenges can arise, jeopardising the relationship’s foundations.

The following are some of the most common problems that arise between spouses when one partner abuses alcohol:

  • Marital conflict
  • Infidelity
  • Domestic violence
  • Unplanned pregnancy
  • Financial instability
  • Stress
  • Jealousy
  • Divorce

When it comes to financial instability, the earlier discussion of the real and potential economic losses linked with alcohol consumption and debt can easily lead to serious marital troubles. Alcohol abuse by a spouse can provoke a range of emotions, including feelings of abandonment, unworthiness, remorse, and self-blame. Codependency is a disorder that results from the accumulation of these emotions. People may develop maladjustment to a loved one’s drinking, leading them to enable it as a result of caring for them. Individuals who drink alcohol suffer from physical disabilities, which might cause others to feel responsible for them. While some individuals may be able to resist the urge to help, many will not, especially spouses, children, and other family members or concerned individuals in the person’s immediate environment.

The caregiver can become accustomed to playing the role of rescuer and provider over time and even establish an identity based on it. In addition, the caregiver becomes used to having a connection with the alcoholic that is mostly centred on caregiving. The line between assisting an alcoholic and enabling the alcoholic to maintain their addiction blurs. As a result, the caregiver was once referred to as a “co-alcoholic” in codependency literature.

Treatment for codependence is available and has been shown to be effective, just like treatment for alcoholism. One of the main goals of codependency treatment is to help caregivers re-align their needs with their own so that they can live personally meaningful lives rather than being devoted to a loved one’s addiction.

Pregnancy and Alcoholism

A pregnant mother’s alcoholism puts her unborn child in grave danger. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, there is no safe level of alcohol use during pregnancy, and alcohol exposure in utero is the leading preventable cause of birth malformations and disabilities.

One study found that 6-year-olds exposed to alcohol during their mothers‘ second trimester of pregnancy had lower academic performance and more issues with basic skills like reading, spelling, and math.

Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), the most severe of a group of illnesses known as foetal alcohol spectrum disorders, affects about 6% of infants born to alcoholic mothers (FASDs). FASDs can be avoided completely if a woman does not drink alcohol while pregnant. A pregnant woman suffering from alcoholism, on the other hand, puts her unborn child in great danger if she does not seek treatment.

FASDs affect children for the rest of their lives in various ways. Children with FASDs tend to be significantly below average height or weight for their age. They have unique facial deformities, such as a smooth philtrum (the groove between the upper lip and the nose), a thin upper lip, and unusually small eye openings. FASDs have a negative impact on a child’s central nervous system and can result in brain and skull abnormalities, such as microcephaly.

Alcohol Abuse and Violence

Domestic violence and child abuse may occur as a result of alcohol abuse and financial and emotional costs. According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, 92% of domestic violence victims said their attacker used alcohol or other drugs on the day of the incident. According to another study, 60-70% of those who strike a partner had consumed alcohol. The presence of alcohol in domestic violence scenarios does not necessarily imply that drinking is the cause of the violence (although it may be a factor in the violence).
Some research questions whether there is a causal association between alcohol abuse and domestic violence. Most males classed as “high-level drinkers,” for example, do not mistreat their partners. Nevertheless, some domestic violence researchers believe that violent partner assaults’ are part of a pattern of abuse that is unrelated to alcohol intake. Some people may blame their conduct on alcohol consumption, but this is usually unjustified.

The Impact of Alcohol Abuse on Children

Alcoholism creates a family environment that’s incredibly unhealthy for developing children. Children of alcoholics have a lot of uncertainty and instability in their families, and they’re more likely to see or suffer domestic violence or sexual abuse.

As previously mentioned, children and extended family members might become codependent on a loved one’s alcoholism or at the very least be profoundly impacted. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP), 1 out of every 5 adult Americans grew up with an alcoholic relative. Compared to children who grew up in sober families, these individuals had a higher likelihood of having emotional problems. Early exposure to alcohol increases a child’s likelihood of developing a problematic connection with alcohol. In general, children of alcoholics are four times more likely to become alcoholics themselves.
According to the AACAP, children are in a unique position when it comes to a parent or caregiver who consumes alcohol. The drinking is frequently a source of confusion for the child, and the teenager is unlikely to receive parental support because the parent’s behaviour is at the root of the problem (however unintentionally). Children will notice drastic changes in behaviour, such as a parent’s mood swings from cheerful to angry, and may mistakenly assume that they are to blame. As the child tries to comprehend why the parent acts the way they do, self-blame, guilt, frustration, and anger may emerge.

Alcohol addiction also throws off children’s routines, such as mealtimes and bedtimes, which are essential for their emotional development.

Children may react to alcohol addiction in the household in one of the following ways:

  • Fail school classes
  • Overachieve in school or seek perfection
  • Become a misbehaving student
  • Act as if they’re a parent.
  • Take part in high-risk activities
  • Inability to build or maintain friendships
  • Theft and violent or aggressive behaviour
  • Manifest physical illnesses
  • Abuse alcohol or other drugs
  • Suffer from depression and even suicidal ideation

Long-term effects on Children of Alcoholics

The effects of a parent’s alcoholism on their children can be significant and long-lasting. Children of alcoholics are more likely to develop alcoholism as adults — or even younger. They’re also more likely to marry someone who is an alcoholic or aggressive.

Children with alcoholic parents may undergo harsh punishment and abuse. This leads to the children becoming increasingly estranged from their parents over time. They might look for alternate social environments or ways to get away. It’s crucial to remember, though, that children are resilient and can create their own successful coping techniques.

They have a higher likelihood of developing depression and anxiety disorders, as well as participating in antisocial behaviour, having troubled relationships, and having behavioural issues. Children of alcoholics also tend to score lower on intellectual ability tests than their peers, which can lead to problems with future education and work opportunities.

Children must understand that their parents’ drunkenness is not their responsibility. Children are quick to blame themselves for mistakes, believing that their actions and feelings have unlimited power. A teenager may feel that a parent drinks as a result of their poor grades or unintentional mistakes. Children frequently require the assistance of a competent counsellor to understand that they are not to blame for their parent’s drinking.

Alcoholic teens

Teens who battle alcoholism (or drug addiction) frequently have family members who are also struggling. However, there are occasions when a teen develops an addiction even though their parents are not addicted.

Be aware of your family’s actions and how they might affect your teen. When parents quarrel or are absent, their teens may feel compelled to seek an escape from the unpleasant situations at home. They may adopt these habits on their own. Or they may seek out older friends or those with similar behaviours.

Recovery and Support for Children of Alcoholics

Children can recover through counselling and other forms of treatment if their parents or family members can overcome the denial that comes with alcohol abuse and seek help. Child psychologists and psychiatrists can help you one-on-one or in a group setting with other young people in a similar situation.

Alateen and Al-Anon, for example, are autonomous rehabilitation groups for the children of alcoholics. These treatment approaches can help children not only cope with alcohol abuse but also prevent them from becoming alcohol-dependent in the future.

If a parent who abuses alcohol seeks treatment, a rehab centre with a full range of services will be able to offer family therapy. This will allow impacted children to participate in the healing and recovery process.

How Family Members Cope with Alcoholism

Family members deal with one another’s alcoholism in a variety of ways. Most people will be concerned about their loved ones in the early stages and will want to help. They frequently believe that by simply talking to and reasoning with their loved ones, they can “fix” them. This is extremely rare, and the condition will most likely worsen. If an alcoholic refuses to acknowledge that they have a problem, they are unlikely to listen to, let alone understand, the worries of other family members. The individual may believe their loved ones exaggerate and make a mountain out of a molehill.

Some family members may adopt a different attitude or be in denial. They may reject any notion that their loved one is an addict because they do not want to believe it. They will defend the alcoholic’s actions out of a sense of obligation and to protect this individual.

Because of their addicted loved one’s behaviour, other family members will feel resentful and angry. They frequently believe that their loved one is choosing to cause the family this pain, and they are unwilling to forgive this person for it. They might not realise that alcoholism is a disease that requires treatment.

If your loved one is struggling with alcoholism, we can help. Compare Rehab UK offers a free service providing advice and information to those affected by addiction. We can also discuss treatment options and refer you to a rehab facility. Call 0800 999 1083 today to find out more.

Tips for managing how alcoholism can impact family dynamics

Everyone is affected when substance abuse is a concern. It is essential to fight against denial. Denial that alcoholism is a problem, denial that alcoholism affects the family, and denial that we may sometimes embrace enabling behaviours are examples of this.

Do not enable the behaviour

If you have a loved one battling alcoholism, you can make the mistake of enabling them. Enabling behaviours include doing things for your loved one that they should accomplish alone or explicitly supporting them with the symptoms of their addiction.

Strive to avoid enabling behaviours such as:

  • lying for your loved one at work or with friends when they are not present due to alcohol abuse
  • taking care of their responsibilities
  • being lenient when they turn to alcohol again
  • making excuses for their bad behaviour
  • loaning them money
  • bailing them out of jail
  • drinking alcohol with them
  • buying alcohol for them

Enabling your family member does not protect them from alcoholism. It doesn’t shield them from the consequences of their conduct, either. Unfortunately, it may actually encourage them to continue drinking and worsen their behaviour.

Helping a family member involves acting in their long-term best interests. This frequently includes:

  • supporting them when they are seeking help for alcoholism
  • calling them out for making excuses
  • driving them to a support group meeting

Address the issues as a family

Denial is a typical trait among those who are addicted to alcohol. They frequently deny having a problem and refuse to get assistance. They may be afraid of being identified as dysfunctional in some circumstances.

Have the uncomfortable conversations as a family if you have a loved one willing to disclose their condition. This includes discussing what it means to support him as he works through his alcoholism recovery. It’s also crucial for alcoholics’ family members to talk about how their loved one’s addiction affects them.

Seek support for the children

As previously said, children and teenagers may develop unhealthy coping mechanisms. These will allow for healthy social and emotional development.

Children with an alcoholic parent or sibling can benefit from psychological and therapeutic treatment to develop healthy coping mechanisms. These will benefit them throughout their youth, adolescence, and adulthood.

Focus on family well-being

Alcohol Awareness Week is in November every year. It’s the ideal opportunity to commit to improving how your family is affected by alcoholism.

Consider what improvements you can make in your family’s support of a loved one who is battling with addiction. This could include things like:

  • seeking treatment for your own stress and anxiety
  • helping guide your loved one to her first support group meeting
  • asking your friends and family to help you stage an intervention

Getting Help for Alcohol Addiction

Addictions, such as alcoholism, are chronic disorders that develop with time. The person suffering from alcoholism does not choose to drink. They have lost control over their behaviour and cannot stop even if they want to. This is because alcoholism alters the way the brain works. The more a person drinks, the more tolerant their body becomes of the consequences, and the more they crave alcohol. When someone develops an addiction, they will experience withdrawal symptoms if they do not drink, and the only way to alleviate these symptoms is to drink again – it is a vicious cycle.

If you are struggling with Alcohol Addiction, call us on 0800 999 1083 for confidential help and to discuss treatment options.

Alcohol Addiction

Alcoholism Support for Families

The consequences of alcoholism on families are severe and far-reaching. Fortunately, getting help is possible. Family members of alcoholics can learn about the nature of addiction, how to recover, and what treatments are available. If an alcoholic is in denial, but their friends and family feel that they need help, they can stage an intervention with the support of a professional counsellor to convince their loved one to get treatment.

Family members of alcoholics should express their love and support while encouraging their loved ones to seek help. Blame and judgement are neither helpful nor healthy. It’s also vital for family members to stop enabling behaviour, which a counsellor might be able to help with. During the recovery process, family members must ensure their own well-being, including identifying when they may require psychological or emotional counselling. Family therapy sessions can be a big step toward recovery for everyone in the family, not just the alcoholic.

Non-alcoholic family members of alcoholics can find support and resources through organisations like Al-Anon and Adfam.

Alcoholism, like heart disease and cancer, is a life-threatening disease. However, unlike these other disorders, it still carries a considerable stigma in our society, which can deter alcoholics, their families, and loved ones from seeking help. Alcoholism affects the entire family, and for an alcoholic to have a complete and effective recovery, the whole family must be involved and invested.

Early intervention, accompanied by compassion and understanding, can help prevent alcoholism from irreversibly destroying family connections.

If you or someone you love are struggling with Alcohol Addiction, call us on 0800 999 1083 for confidential help and to discuss treatment options.

Last Edited: September 19th, 2022
Clinically Reviewed: July 11, 2022
Compare Rehab UK | Understanding Alcoholism & Alcohol Abuse Within Families
Clinical Reviewer


BACP accredited psychotherapist with 16 years experience working in mental health specialising in psychodynamic person-centred therapies treating those with a range of mental health disorders including anxiety, depression, OCD and Addiction.