Alcoholism and the Family

Alcoholism has two features which make it a uniquely family-related issue and concern. In the first place, it appears alcoholism has a strong genetic component and susceptibility can be passed down through the generations. Secondly, alcoholism affects the family first, and perhaps, the most of all relationships.

Alcoholism is a Family Problem

Evidence shows that family history of alcoholism is a risk factor. The Mayo Clinic has found that persons with an alcoholic parent are much more likely to develop a dependency on alcohol. Acknowledging an increased risk like this early in life can help stem potential problems with alcohol later in life.

Researcher scientists at the Molecular Neurobiology Branch of the National Institute on Drug Abuse carried out a comprehensive analysis of the human genome. The study was conducted in 2006 and was the first to ever consider how alcoholism and genes correlate. It had been a well-established fact that alcoholism runs in families, but linking alcoholism to specific genetic factors is promising for developing future treatments.

However, finding a link between genes and alcoholism does not mean that addiction is inevitable for those with a genetic predisposition. Addictive genes indicate a higher risk for developing alcoholism, but this can actually help a person avoid succumbing to alcoholism later in life. Likewise, knowing that their dependence on alcohol is due at least in part to genetics can give some alcoholics hope.

Alcohol Addiction Affects Families

Alcoholism can also ruin the lives of family members. Alcoholics have difficulty taking an objective view on life, and they may not realize that they are acting in an unfair or even abusive manner. This is sobering, considering the fact that one out of four children in the US are in regular contact with a person who abuses alcohol.

Alcoholism is destructive to those closest to the alcoholic, and it affects families in several different ways. Many times, rehabilitating an alcoholic is only one part of the process of healing a home. Family members may also need support and counseling.

Alcoholic families suffer from a range of problems. Spouses can live in constant conflict. Children may develop low self-esteem, loneliness and fear of abandonment. Infants may even be born with lifelong birth defects. When support is not sought out, the results can be severe.

Alcohol abuse can lead to many family problems. These are a few of the most prominent:

* Conflict between spouses
* Infidelity
* Domestic violence
* Economic hardships
* Isolation or divorce
* Jealousy
* Fetal alcohol syndrome

The Process of Coping with an Alcoholic in the Family

When there is an alcoholic in the house, family members usually go through a progression of stages. Loved ones end up following the alcoholic in a downward spiral of loss. This progression can be divided into four general phases.

Concern Stage

At this stage, family members are genuinely concerned about the increasingly self-destructive behavior of the alcoholic in their home. This occurs relatively early on, and most loved ones do not realize how much worse the situation is likely to become.

Defense Stage

As the struggle with alcoholism becomes more pronounced, family members are likely to ignore or even deny the reality of the situation. Family members may become protective of the alcoholic, going so far as to defend or justify their actions. They become tolerant of the alcoholic’s behavior and may even feel that they are partially to blame for it.

Adaption Phase

During the adaption phase, family members try to modify their behavior in order to compensate for the way the alcoholic is acting. This can be a dark time for the household. Others in the family may turn to drugs or alcohol as a means of coping or identifying with the alcoholic. Since alcoholism has a genetic component, these family members may actually be beginning their own journey to dependency.

Other loved ones may try to transform themselves into the ideal family member. They set impossible standards for their own behavior in hopes of inspiring the alcoholic to change. Of course, this strategy is destined to fail.

Exhaustion Phase

In the final phase, relatives of alcoholics become completely exhausted. They lose touch with their own self-worth and slump into severe bouts of depression or anxiety. At this point, their own enabling behavior may have taken on addictive qualities. In this case, seeking help and counseling is just as important for family members as it is for the person with the addiction.

Support for Families of Alcoholics

When an alcoholic in the house has created an unhealthy cycle of denial, adaptation and exhaustion, family members may feel like there is no way out. However, support groups and counseling services do exist for families affected by alcoholism. A good place to find resources related to family services is through an alcohol rehab center in the community.

It is easy for those affected by the behavior of an alcoholic to become caught up in trying to help the person overcome their addiction. This happens at the expense of their own recovery. With this in mind, it is important for loved ones to acknowledge that the alcoholic in their life cannot be forced into recovery. This will only happen when the alcoholic is ready to acknowledge their problem and the affect that it has on those that love them.

In the meantime, family members can begin their own process of recovery. Enrolling in a support group can help the children and spouse of an alcoholic maintain their own sanity and wellbeing, and it can also stem the chances of new chemical dependencies being developed at home. This sort of support is just as important to the family as the rehabilitation of the alcoholic in the family.

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