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How Alcoholism Affects the Family

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  • 00:00 Alcoholism in the Family
  • 1:19 Impact on the Family Unit
  • 2:25 Impact on Children
  • 3:47 Impact on the Spouse
  • 4:44 Help
  • 5:38 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Lisa Roundy

Lisa has taught at all levels from kindergarten to college and has a master's degree in human relations.

Alcoholism can affect the family as a whole as well as each family member individually and it creates many complex issues to deal with. However, with proper treatment and support, lives can be improved.

Alcoholism in the Family

Imagine a distant cousin, who we will call Al, wants to visit your family. It seems like fun to get to know Al better so you agree to let him stay at your house. Having Al around is fun at first but before long, he is causing problems. Al has become an unwanted guest that you can't get to leave. Your daughter wants her room back and is becoming anxious. Your wife feels abandoned as Al demands more and more of your time. Stress levels are higher than usual because he starts to get on everyone's nerves. There is more arguing. You have also found your family budget stretched tight because you're paying all of Al's expenses while he stays with you.

The effect your cousin Al is having on your family is comparable to dealing with alcoholism in the family. Each person in the family is affected in a different way, and the impact is usually negative. Alcoholism is a medical condition typically signified by a physical compulsion to drink. A person with alcoholism is physically dependent on alcohol to function. This lesson will explore some of the ways that alcoholism can impact the family unit as well as individual family members.

Impact on the Family Unit

Alcoholism not only affects the drinker, but it also affects those around them. Since family members are the closest to the alcoholic, they are the most severely impacted. General problems that are often a result of alcoholism in the family include domestic abuse and financial concerns.

Domestic abuse involves both physical violence and emotional abuse that occur within a household. It involves a pattern of abuse that develops and is used by one family member to gain control over another. Well over half of reported domestic abuse cases involve alcoholism as the cause.

Alcoholism can also have a negative impact on a family's financial situation. Alcoholism is an expensive problem. The cost of the alcoholic beverages alone can be enough to create financial strain. An alcoholic is also more likely to experience job loss. This loss of income can place an even greater financial burden on the family unit.

Now let's look at how alcoholism can affect different individuals within a family.

Impact on Children

The effects on children of alcoholics can begin before they are even born. A woman who drinks during her pregnancy is at risk of having a child born with a condition known as fetal alcohol syndrome (or FAS). FAS is a condition resulting from alcohol exposure during pregnancy that causes brain damage and growth problems.

Children who are born without complications such as FAS will still experience many emotional side effects from living with an alcoholic father or mother. Children of alcoholics are likely to have low self-esteem, unusual feelings of guilt or despair, a fear of abandonment, chronic depression, and high levels of anxiety. These children may blame themselves for their parent's actions and suffer from bed-wetting or phobias. They are less likely to establish positive personal relationships or attend college. In addition, children of alcoholics are more likely to be physically, sexually, or mentally abused and are more likely to have problems with the law.

When the child of an alcoholic becomes an adult, the effects will continue to impact their lives. They often have lasting problems with depression, anxiety, aggression, and impulsive behavior. They are also more likely to become alcoholics themselves.

Impact on the Spouse

Alcoholism is hard on personal relationships with other adults as well, especially their significant other. An alcoholic's spouse or partner is usually the one who has to deal with the consequences. Marriages and partnerships with an alcoholic often suffer from poor communication and reduced intimacy. Feelings of anger or resentment can result from assuming the role of caretaker. Considering this, it's no surprise that divorce rates among couples where one or both partners drink is much higher than average.

Codependency is a dysfunctional relationship where one person supports or enables another person's problem. When a spouse or partner becomes codependent, they may try to protect the alcoholic and try to keep them out of trouble. They may handle the alcoholic's responsibilities for them or make up stories to explain the alcoholic's behavior. This actually makes the problem worse by permitting it to continue.

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