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How Does Alcoholism Affect Families?

Alcoholism is the physical dependence on alcohol caused by the compulsive and uncontrolled consumption of alcohol that affects the drinker’s health, social standing and personal relationships. Alcohol abuse also has tremendous effects on the family, both financially and emotionally. It is the leading cause of a dysfunctional family in the U.S. But how does alcoholism affect families?

  • Alcoholism and Families

Alcoholism is a family disease that can disrupt the family life and cause permanent harmful effects. According to the Department of Health, seventy six million American adults have had an alcoholic member in their family. One of four families is affected by this disease. In 2001, research revealed that there are 26.8 million children of alcoholics in the U.S., from which 11 million are under the age of 18. Many specialists wanted to raise awareness and show how does alcoholism affect families. They discovered that children of alcohol abusers have an increased suicide rate compared to children of non-alcoholic families.

  • Unborn Children of Alcoholics

Parental alcoholism can affect children even before they are born. Pregnant women who drink alcohol have an increased risk of giving birth to a baby with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), one of three top causes of birth defects. Because the alcohol is carried to the mother’s tissues and organs, including the placenta, the alcohol concentration in the unborn baby’s bloodstream reaches the same level as her own. Furthermore, the more severe the mother’s alcoholism is the more severe the baby’s symptoms. Proximately 5000 babies are born with severe nerve damage each year and 35000 babies with a less severe form of FAS. The effects are irreversible and permanent, leading to lifelong problems.

  • Children of Alcoholics

Specialists wanted to know how does alcoholism affects families on a psychological level. Most children raised in an alcoholic family will unknowingly take on different roles in an attempt to bring structure and safety into the household. They identified four main roles that most children adopt: the overly responsible, the placater, the adjuster and the scapegoat. The overly responsible child becomes their own parent. Although externally these children look fine, in fact they are trying to ask for help. The placater is the caring, warm child that ignores his feelings and becomes emotionally responsible for all the members of the family. The adjuster is an emotionally withdrawn child who tries not to draw attention and says everything is fine. At the opposite end, the scapegoat is the child who realizes the situation, has no problem telling everyone that something is not right and can be very angry, having problems integrating in the society. Children from an alcoholic family have an increased chance of developing a chemical dependency and can have problems with relationships, depression and parenting.

  • Partners or Spouses of Alcoholics

Many partners or spouses of alcoholics are afraid to confront the alcohol abuser or go into denial because they fear losing the relationship. A partner can develop a high tolerance to odd behaviors and become to feel guilty, confused and depressed. Moreover, a non-alcoholic partner can develop a codependent behavior by shielding the alcoholic from the consequences of the addiction, thus enabling the disease to continue. Codependent partners or spouses have a need for approval, are terrified of abandonment, adopt a pleasing attitude and are unable to express anger correctly. These adults do not see themselves in any of these roles, and that is why it is very important that they take part in the alcoholics recovery program.


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