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Living With an Alcoholic Family Member

Mother and young daughter sad from alcoholic father  

Alcohol abuse has many negative effects on the person drinking and on their loved ones. The effects of alcohol abuse on family members can be severe. Families of alcoholics often have to live in a harmful environment that can affect their daily living, behaviors, and emotions.

The effects of an alcoholic parent on a child’s development can be long-lasting. Children with parents struggling with alcohol use often don’t have a supportive, stable, nurturing environment at home, which affects the way they developmentally and emotionally. Children can have problems that last into adulthood when they grow up with a family member who abuses alcohol.

Understanding Alcohol Addiction

When people drink regularly or over long periods, their bodies become dependent on alcohol. In severe cases, they may develop a disease where they can no longer control when, how often or how much they drink. This is often called alcoholism or alcohol addiction, although the official diagnosis that doctors use is alcohol use disorder.

Teens who are living with an alcoholic family member should know that they aren’t alone. Recent alcohol addiction statistics show that about 1 in 19 people have an alcohol use disorder and over 10% of kids in the United States are living with a parent who abuses alcohol. Many people who struggle with alcohol abuse think that their drinking won’t affect anyone but themselves. However, it’s clear that when alcohol abuse and families are mixed, it’s often the children of alcoholic parents that suffer the most.

Identifying Signs of Alcohol Abuse in the Home

Signs of alcohol abuse can usually be noticed by other people. If someone is dependent on alcohol, they might show certain symptoms like:

  • Spending a lot of time drinking or recovering from drinking
  • Drinking more than they meant to
  • Hiding alcohol because they feel guilty or ashamed
  • Trying to cut back on drinking but not being able to
  • Having health, legal or relationship problems related to drinking but continuing to drink anyway
  • Abandoning hobbies or activities because of drinking

If someone is doing these things, they may be struggling with alcohol addiction. They may not be able to stop drinking on their own and may need help from a professional in order to learn how to live without alcohol.

Effects of Alcohol Abuse on Family Members

Growing up with an alcoholic parent or another family member can be extremely stressful. The effects of alcohol abuse on family members can include symptoms like bed-wetting or nightmares in younger children, and depression and anxiety in older kids. Psychological symptoms and problems with relationships are also common effects of alcoholism on the family.

Psychological Effects

People living with someone struggling with alcohol use commonly feel:

  • Embarrassed for their family members or for themselves
  • Worried about the health of the family member
  • Angry or frustrated that they or their family has to deal with the issue
  • Concerned about other family members
  • Neglected or ignored by the family member
  • Nervous or scared to be at home or spend time around that family member
  • Frustrated or mad at the family member for not being able to take healing steps
  • Guilt that they are contributing to the family member’s alcohol use
  • Sad or depressed

Sometimes there are long-term psychological effects of alcohol addiction on family members. Children of people who misuse alcohol are often more likely to have low self-esteem, develop mental health disorders and develop substance use problems themselves. They also are more likely to do worse in school and to have social problems. However, it’s also important to note that some kids end up learning how to adapt to and learn from these problems. Children of parents who misuse alcohol are sometimes more mature, responsible and independent.

Interpersonal Effects

When a kid’s relationship with a family member is damaged because of alcohol, relationships with other people can be affected:

  • They may get in the habit of avoiding people who are upset because they are used to trying not to upset their alcoholic family members
  • A child of an alcoholic may need to help take care of younger siblings when their parent is around, leading them to try to always take care of other people
  • Kids dealing with a family member who abuses alcohol may end up becoming used to feeling abandoned or neglected or having promises broken. This can lead them to form insecure attachments with other people. This is a relationship style where people have a hard time feeling close with others, alternate between being needy and being distant, are overly critical or controlling, or feel very afraid of rejection.
  • Teens may have a hard time dealing with the stress of their home situation and be more likely to act out. It can be easy to take out their negative emotions on other people.

Coping with Addiction in the Family

Teens should know that it’s not their fault that a family member struggles with alcohol abuse. Alcoholism is a disease that affects the brain, and often the only thing that will help people recover is seeking help from medical experts. One person can’t cause another to have an alcohol addiction.

If someone is coping with drug or alcohol addiction in the family, it’s important to let others know what’s going on. Teens can try talking to another adult family member. A trusted family friend, teacher, guidance counselor, doctor or religious leader may also be able to help. Being honest about what emotions a person is feeling and talking through them can help people cope. When people don’t talk about what they’re feeling, they’re more likely to take these emotions out on other people in negative ways.

Therapy can be very helpful for kids with alcoholic family members. A counselor can help someone learn more about how to handle living with an alcoholic. In therapy, participants can learn how to deal with stress, get rid of untrue and unhelpful thought patterns and learn how to form healthy relationships. Support groups for family members of alcoholics can also help teens who are coping with alcohol addiction.

Breaking the Cycle

Kids who grow up with family members who abuse alcohol are more likely to abuse substances themselves, leading to a cycle of alcoholism. This is probably due to genetics as well as the harmful home environment. There are things kids can do that will help them avoid alcohol abuse in the future.

Children of an alcoholic often learn to suppress or hide their emotions because they don’t want to upset their parents. This can lead to these kids not expressing or dealing with emotions in other relationships as well. One good way to avoid future substance use problems is to work toward building healthy relationships with other people. Finding a support group that includes people going through similar issues can help.

Another good technique for teens is focusing on only the things they can control, and recognizing which things they can’t. For example, a person can’t control their family member’s behavior, only their own response to it. Learning how to deal with stress in healthy ways can help, too. People can take up deep breathing, yoga or meditation.

Resources for Families with Alcoholics

Anyone who needs help living with an alcoholic should reach out to others. Overcoming alcohol addiction is a long process and may involve multiple cycles of seeking treatment and relapsing. There are many groups and resources that provide support for families of alcoholics.

Nationwide

Resources for families of alcoholics include support groups that help people connect with others going through the same issues. Al-Anon is a group for family and friends of people who struggle with alcoholism. They also have a separate group, Alateen, specifically for teenagers. Their hotline (800-344-2666) can be called at any time of day to get support. There are also online support groups and forums.

Sometimes, people who are struggling with alcoholism will threaten or harm the people they live with. Anyone who feels unsafe or is worried that they might be harmed by a family member can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-SAFE. If someone is in immediate danger, they should call 9-1-1.

Teens Who Need Alcohol Treatment in Florida

Next Generation Village, located in Florida, can help teenagers address their substance use disorders. Many times, teens with alcohol addiction picked up the behavior from a parent with an addiction or to address a mental health disorder. Parents can reach out to Next Generation Village to find out how their teenager can get the help they need to achieve a healthier lifestyle.

Key Points to Living with an Alcoholic

Keep the following key points in mind regarding living with an alcoholic:

  • Over 10% of children live with someone who is dependent on drugs or alcohol
  • Having a family member who misuses alcohol can affect a person’s mental health and relationships with other people
  • Talking about the situation and emotions is important for teens who are trying to cope
  • Therapy and support groups can help people deal with an alcoholic family member and avoid falling into the same patterns

If your teenager struggles with alcohol use, Next Generation Village can help. Call today to speak with a representative to learn how professional addiction treatment can address the alcohol use disorder and any co-occurring mental health disorders.

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