Alcoholism within the Family and the Negative Effects

Alcoholism and Family Marital Problems Header Image
Last Edited: November 9, 2020

Bianka Fisk

Clinically Reviewed

All of the information on this page has been reviewed and certified by an addiction professional.

Alcoholism and Family/Marital Problems

How alcoholism damages family and marriage.

If a member of the family is an alcoholic, or abuses alcohol, the stress that this puts on a family is so tremendous, that it can cause the family unit to break down. The alcoholic partner, in regards to a couple with children, spends a substantial portion of the household budget on supporting their destructive habit, ignores the children, causes fights and other destructive behaviors. It’s been reported that between 60 and 70 percent of domestic violence incidents involve alcoholism. Codependency issues can also arise, meaning the nonalcoholic partner keeps encourages the alcoholism, either intentionally or not, or even becomes an alcoholic themselves. However, rehab and family therapy can help get their lives back under control.

Alcoholism is a disease that affects the entire family. Alcoholics may be in a relationship, have children of any age, have siblings, have parents, and have relatives. Their disease can negatively affect the entire family unit, and this effect can last for a lifetime. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has stated that some 76 million adults in this country were in an alcoholic family unit. Up to 25 percent of all families have an alcohol problem and that it is the single greatest cause of problems. This is also because every individual within the family unit can be affected in different ways.

Alcohol and Marriage Breakdown

When one of the partners within a marriage is an alcoholic, it is often very difficult for the non-alcoholic partner to remain supportive. Over time, intimacy is lost, communication breaks down, conflicts escalate, feelings are hurt, resentments build up, trust is broken and the relationship deteriorates. Living with an alcoholic husband or wife affects not just sanity, but also safety. As a result it may be necessary to impose both emotional and physical distance between the two partners. Alcoholism is always a form of abuse, even if it isn’t violent, simply because alcoholics can never meet the needs of their significant other.

Another problem is that it is common for the non-alcoholic partners to develop codependency. This means that they show too much compassion and give the wrong support. What they are actually doing is enabling their partners to continue with their alcohol abuse. They justify and rationalize their alcoholic partner’s behavior, when there is no justification. There is no justification to abusing alcohol. If your spouse needs help, give us a call. We can figure out what options are right for you and your family: (866) 578-7471

Alcohol is directly involved in more than half of domestic violence cases.

Effects of Living with an Alcoholic Spouse

The stresses caused by alcoholism is vast, regardless of who in the family is committing the alcohol abuse. The most severe effects tend to be between two direct partners. According to the law, two partners are a financial unit. According to the church, partners should be supportive of each other “for better or for worse”. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has determined that the following problems are most common in relationships where there is at least one alcoholic:

  • Infidelity
  • Marital conflict
  • Unplanned pregnancies
  • Domestic violence
  • Stress
  • Jealousy
  • Financial instability
  • Divorce

Financial problems always put significant strain on relationships, but even more so if they are caused by alcoholism. This is because the nonalcoholic partner, besides having to deal with the financial worries, will often also feel  guilty, unworthy, and, abandoned, and that they are to blame. This can lead to codependency, which is a maladjustment to the problem the other partner has. It can lead to them not resolving the issue, but enabling it instead. This is common not in the least because alcoholism often also leads to physical impairment, and the nonalcoholic spouse will be eager to look after and care for the other.

As alcoholism continues the caregivers can start to identify with being a rescuer and provider. They become accustomed to the way to the kind of relationship that they have. At that point, it becomes very difficult for them to see that they are no longer actually helping their partner, but rather making it possible for them to remain addicted. This condition is known as being an enabler.

If you fear that you are an enabler or codependent, treatment is available for you. This treatment has been proven to be highly effective. Its goal is to once again balance the roles of the individuals, ensuring that you are aware of your own needs, allowing you to live a meaningful life, rather than simply being in service of someone else.

How Alcoholic Parents Affect their Children

Perhaps the greatest problem is the effect of alcoholism on the children. They can also become codependent. The AACAP (American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry) has reported that 20% of all adults in this country grew up in a home where at least one relative abused alcohol. Research has also shown that these adults are more likely to have emotional problems. It is more likely that they abuse alcohol themselves. Their chances of becoming alcoholics is four times as high as in adults who grew up in a nonalcoholic home.

According to the AACAP, children find themselves confused by the alcoholic behavior of their relative. If the alcoholics are the parents, they cannot support their child because of their own behavior, but children are incredibly perceptive and they notice how their parents’ emotions change rapidly. The danger of this is that children often feel as if they have caused these changes, and this can lead to anger, frustration, guilt, and self-blame.

When a child grows up in an alcoholic household, they are unlikely to have any kind of routine. Routines, particularly around meal and bedtimes, help children to develop emotionally, but these routines become almost nonexistent in an alcoholic household. Some of the things seen commonly in children from alcoholic households include:

  • Overachieving in school, or trying to achieve perfection
  • Failing in school
  • Acting like a parent
  • Being truant
  • Being unable to create healthy relationships with peers
  • Engaging in risky behaviors, including promiscuity
  • Showing physical illnesses
  • Becoming violent or aggressive
  • Stealing
  • Abusing substances, particularly alcohol
  • Suffering from depression
  • Having suicidal thoughts

It is possible for children to recover if they are given therapy and some other treatment, but only if the parents in question stop denying their alcohol consumption is a  problem and begin to find help. Child psychologists and group therapists can often help in these times. Their therapy is aimed at allowing children to deal with the alcohol abuse, and lowering their risk of becoming codependent. If you feel your child is in danger because your alcohol abuse, and you want to put a stop to it, give us a call 866) 578-7471 we can help.

In 2014, 6.7 percent of adults admitted heavy drinking in the past month.

Effects of Alcohol on the Fetus

Alcoholic parents can also affect their children even before they are born. If they are a pregnant mother, the placenta will be infused with alcohol, crossing over into the baby’s bloodstream, developing the same blood/alcohol levels as the mother. If a mother drinks alcohol while pregnant, the baby may be born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. This is one of the three main causes of birth defects. The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence has reported that around 5,000 babies are born with severe FAS damage every year, and 35,000 babies are born with mild FAS damage.

The more a woman drinks during pregnancy, the worst the symptoms of FAS will be. FAS babies tend to be shorter than normal babies, as well as being underweight. They also often have skull and brain deformities and have very distinctive facial features, including a long groove in their upper lip’s center; flat, long faces; thin upper lips; and small eye openings. They may sustain damage to the central nervous system. Children born with FAS often have permanent learning disabilities, poor judgment, short attention span, difficulty in problem solving, and memory problems. They also often have significant behavioral problems, including issues with social interaction, and many have lifelong mental retardation. If you are worried you cannot stop abusing alcohol while pregnant, give us a call. We can help get you the treatment you need. Our number is: (866) 578-7471

71.0 percent individuals who have drank alcohol reported drinking within the past year; and 56.9 percent reported drinking within the past month.

Symptoms of Children with Alcoholic Parents

Children can also be affected in other ways if their parent is an alcoholic. Often, children of alcoholics experience:

  • Loneliness
  • Low self-esteem
  • Feeling of helplessness
  • Guilt
  • Chronic depression
  • Fear of abandonment

Very often, Children Of Alcoholics feel responsible for looking after their alcoholic parent, and they also regularly believe they are the cause of the problem. This leads to high stress, tension, and anxiety; COA’s often experience bed wetting, nightmares, and bouts of crying, are more likely to develop a phobia and often struggle to make friends and may refuse to attend school altogether. As they grow older, COA’s often become obsessive perfectionists, preferring their own company, exhibiting hoarding behavior, and being overly self-conscious. There have been a number of studies that have demonstrated that COA’s see themselves as different from others, believing they are more like their alcoholic parents.

Problems in School

It is very common for COA’s to experience problems in school. Their performance is usually affected, because they not just struggle to complete their work, but they find it difficult to express themselves. They also find it hard to build a relationship with their peers and their teachers; they often drop out of school. The 1993 study “Exposure to Alcoholism in the Family” demonstrated that 30 percent of female high school dropouts had at least one alcoholic parent. It also showed that only 20 percent of males from those families would go to college.

Misbehavior and Psychological Problems in Children of Alcoholics

COA’s often lie, steal, fight, and are often truant. Their home environment is extremely unstable and they don’t know how to rely on their parents, and because the mood of the alcoholic parent is unpredictable, they don’t know how they should behave. They often believe that they can solve the problem by hiding the drink, or by overachieving and pleasing their parent. They are purposefully quiet in the house while their parent “sleeps it off,” hoping that he or she will have sobered if allowed to sleep more. When the parent inevitably returns to drink, the children will feel guilty because they weren’t able to prevent it and save their parent.

Possibility of Incest and Domestic Violence

Alcoholism is also closely associated with violence and crime including battery and incest, which is common in alcoholic families. A Berger study demonstrated that in 30 percent of cases of  father on daughter incest, and in 75 percent of cases of domestic violence, at least one family member was an alcoholic. Victims of battery and incest often feel they are to blame, experiencing helplessness, shame and guilt. As a result, they are more likely to turn to alcohol themselves.

Incest and battery victims often blame themselves for what has happened. They feel so guilty and ashamed that they themselves may turn to drinking as a way to escape the pain. COA’s are effectively robbed of their childhood, especially if they are the victims of abuse, and if untreated as children, they often carry their problems into later life.

When the Children Become Adults

Adult Children of Alcoholics often do not understand that the problems they experience are due to the issues experienced in childhood. Many deal with impulsive behavior, aggression and depression. There have been numerous studies showing that ACOA’s are more likely to use psychoactive substances and struggle to create healthy relationships with other people, than others, and their parenting skills are often substandard. They make the wrong choices in terms of their career, and their self-image is very negative often feeling like a failure. Family responsibilities may be difficult for them, because their own needs as a child weren’t met, so they don’t have an example of what it means to be a responsible adult and parent.

ACOA’s find it hard to be intimate, because their life experience taught them not to trust others. It’s shown that they are afraid that if they show someone love, they will get hurt, as this is what their parents experienced. A 1994 piece of research by Wekesser demonstrated that ACOA’s are more likely to find themselves in an abusive relationship, including one where the partner is an alcoholic. Wekesser showed that an ACOA is four times more at risk of becoming an alcoholic than others. It is known that genes play a big role in alcoholism, so this is perhaps no surprise.

Most ACOA’s don’t know how to deal with stress in a way that is healthy. The former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, Joseph A. Califano, has reported a number of interesting facts about ACAO’s:

  • That male ACOA’s are more likely to visit their doctor
  • That ACOA’s are more likely to experience depression, anxiety, and introversion
  • That female ACOA’s are more likely to have reproductive issues, and are therefore more likely to visit an obstetrician or gynecologist
  • That female ACOA’s are more likely to develop bulimia

The effects of alcoholism on the family are vast and far reaching, having the ability to last a lifetime. By calling (866) 578-7471 you can determine what your options are to make a decision on how you will proceed with your rehabilitation.