Alcoholism Affects Families on Physical and Emotional Levels
Alcoholism brings consequences that extend far past the addict, and well into the lives of family members and friends. The disease is often most difficult for family members who are closely connected to the addict, even to the point of bringing physical and emotional symptoms.
Some family members of alcoholics will experience insomnia, headaches, weight loss, bouts of anxiety or irritability and mood swings. They often feel they have lost control of the family situation and may even deny that they are suffering – similar to feelings many alcoholics themselves experience.
Physical, mental and emotional effects for family members of alcoholics can vary, but experts agree that professional therapy, either in an individual or group setting, may be essential for helping family members cope.
A family involved with alcoholism can be embedded with conflicting emotions, especially if the drinker has stopped or attempted to stop. Other families may hold on to a past that involves alcoholics of previous generations, carrying the emotional baggage to the next generation.
In another common situation, a family who has not experienced alcoholism finds itself with a family member who has become addicted – thus putting children at risk for also abusing alcohol. Some sources report that if a child lives with a parent who is an alcoholic, the child has a 34 percent higher chance of falling into the same pattern, in comparison with children who live with parents who don’t abuse alcohol.
Adults who grow up in alcoholic homes may have problems with depression and maintaining healthy relationships. They may have difficulty trusting people or show impulsive behaviors. Feelings of poor self-esteem may also be evident. For children, lifelong feelings of shame or guilt may develop as a result of living with an alcoholic parent.
Al-Anon is a part of Alcoholics Anonymous and features a 12-Step program for helping friends and family members of alcoholics. The group may be able to help families curb their desire to reclaim their loved one’s recovery themselves, and help them realize they may not be able to control a family member’s addiction.
During group meetings, the focus typically remains on sharing feelings and thoughts about the addiction. Belonging to the group can help ease feelings of being alone and help people work through harmful perspectives about their loved one’s disease. Some groups strive to shift the focus toward the person who loves the alcoholic, rather than just the alcoholic themselves.
Anti-depressants may be prescribed for some family members coping with an alcoholic, and a physical evaluation under a doctor’s care may also be needed to help diagnose other health problems. For many, the knowledge and understanding that alcoholism is a disease – not merely a behavior – is helpful.
Treatment for alcoholics, and their family members, must often be multi-faceted and ongoing to work through the negative emotions that remain long after the addiction has been conquered.