Forgiveness a Key Factor in Surviving Family Alcoholism

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Alcohol abuse can take its toll on the user and their entire family. A cycle of abuse can result in liver damage, pancreatitis, and coronary heart disease. But alcoholism is also a mental disease. Besides contributing to dementia, about a quarter of chronic users will deal with psychiatric problems, namely anxiety and depression.

These issues can make it difficult to focus on day-to-day activities and relationships. For that reason, alcoholics often have problems in their jobs and marriages. Therefore, it is not only the alcoholic who suffers at the hands of their addiction. Friends and family members feel the impact, too.

Family members of alcoholics may not feel loved or important anymore because suddenly the addiction comes first. Financial problems and mounting stress take their toll on families dealing with the illness. For these reasons, alcoholism can cause a great rift in families as relatives struggle to understand the addiction and overcome their resentment toward its effects on their loved one.

Because of the collective impact, therapists like to include the entire family in the treatment process. Successful recovery hinges on a family’s ability to overcome a history of hurt and apathy. To better understand the role that forgiveness plays in coping with alcoholism, two studies were undertaken by researchers at Johns Hopkins University.

Lead researcher, Michael Scherer polled 190 family members of alcoholics to see if family members’ level of trust or forgiveness was different for them as opposed to other members of the family and to determine if close family ties impacted the level of forgiveness felt for the person dealing with the disease.

It’s no surprise that Scherer and his team found that family members felt more anger and distrust toward the person in their life suffering from alcoholism than they did for other relatives. However, the second study revealed that a strong family bond softened those blows, leaving relatives to be more understanding and forgiving to the nature of the disease.

The results of the study suggest that forgiveness may aid family members in developing more effective coping strategies as they support their loved one through the recovery process.