Alcoholism: the Family Disease That Affects Every Member

Alcoholism Is a Devastating Family Disease

Children suffering because the alcoholism in family

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Alcoholism is a family disease because it affects the family as a whole and each member individually. Living with alcohol abuse means being in an unsafe environment filled with disruptions to normal routines, the tension of strained relationships, and dishonesty.

The disease of alcoholism affects every family member's life, attitude, and way of thinking perhaps more dramatically than it does for the drinker. 

Although more than 10% of kids live with a parent who has alcohol problems, your family's situation may also involve an alcoholic teen. There are over 861,000 kids ages 12 to 20 who use alcohol heavily according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Alcoholism Takes Your Family by Surprise

With alcoholism, the heat is constantly being turned up, but nobody notices. Cunning and baffling! As a progressive disease. It may start out with casually accepting unacceptable behavior. Oh, he didn't mean that. He just had too much to drink last night. A few years down the road the behavior has slowly grown more and more intolerable, but it is still being accepted and becomes the "norm."

Your family ends up with chaos in your own home that a few short years ago would have been unthinkable. If you looked out the window and saw the same kind of things taking place across the street at the neighbor's house, you would probably pick up the phone and call 911 to get those people some help!

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Alcoholism and the Children

Children lack positive role models in an alcoholic family and need stability to thrive. The alcoholic parent is dysfunctional. The other parent models enabling behavior and may be a victim of physical abuse. Children are sensitive to the arguments and psychological warfare going on in an alcoholic's home. 

One minute mom is screaming and threatening him with everything from divorce to death. The next minute she may be compassionately rescuing him from the consequences of his latest episode by dutifully cleaning up his messes, making excuses for him and accepting an increasing degree of unacceptable behavior.

The Partner As the Enabler

As the alcoholic behavior escalates and becomes routine in your own home, the last thing that would occur to you is to get help. You've been slowly drawn into the thinking that you should protect the alcoholic because you care. You cover for him, lie for him and hide the truth. You keep secrets, no matter how bad the chaos has become.

"Protecting" him by telling lies has actually created a situation that makes it easier for him to continue (and progress) in his downward spiral.

Rather than help the alcoholic, and yourself, you have actually enabled him to get worse.

When Will Your Loved One Get Help?

The disease of alcoholism typically continues to progress until the person is ready to reach out and get help for himself. However, waiting for that to happen is not your only choice.

Family members can begin to recover whether the alcoholic is still drinking or not by contacting an Al-Anon Family group, SMART Recovery Family & Friends, or other outreach organization for support and advice.

There is hope and help out there. You just have to take the first step.

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  1. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Alcohol Facts and Statistics. Updated February 2020.