Alcoholism and the Family

Source: Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Vol. 315, Understanding Alcoholism

 “It is no longer possible to consider alcoholism as a disease affecting only the alcoholic. Others in the family react to the illness. There is considerable evidence that it has disturbing effects on the personalities of family members, and family studies indicate that a minimum of one other relative is directly involved.

‘The relationship between the alcoholic and the family is not a one-way relationship. The family also affects the alcoholic and his or her illness. ‘...Some families are successful in helping the alcoholic member to recognize a need for help and to support treatment efforts. Others may discourage the alcoholic from seeking treatment and may actually encourage persistence of the illness. It is believed that the most successful treatment of alcoholism involves helping both the alcoholic and those members of the family who are directly involved in the alcoholic’s behavior.”


Family and Addictions

The person struggling with addiction has had a very difficult journey, many times losing their physical, emotional and spiritual health. They have also significantly strained their relationships with family and friends. Feelings of isolation and loneliness are common. These very problems are often also true for the family members of addicts and alcoholics. Family members report symptoms of depression and anxiety as well as gastrointestinal problems. Feelings of fear, sadness, anger and grief are typical for families. Family members will often attempt to “control” the chemically dependent person, leading to frustration and feelings of helplessness. Families need support and help too.


Tips for Families during the Holidays

The Holidays can be a stressful time for family members dealing with addiction. Many families have had some of their most difficult times during the holiday season with memories of broken promises and out of control events. Often families just wish they could speed through the weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve….and maybe as far out as The Super Bowl!

One important aspect is to define and practice new rituals as a family. Establishing new rituals will take some thought and creativity. Some families change the location of places they have had holiday celebrations in the past. Do not have alcohol or drugs in your home creating opportunities for awareness and discussion of how ingrained the use of alcohol and drugs may be in your family rituals. Some families add new rituals such as reading meditations together as a family or having all members prepare the meal together. Simple ideas include toasting with juice instead of wine (be careful not to “play drinking”) and/or writing a family gratitude list. Learning to feel safe and enjoy each other again takes time; be patient with yourself and others.

    1. Pay attention to HALT signs (Hungry, Angry, Lonely & Tired).
    2. Seek support from Al Anon or other community support systems.
    3. Go to parties late and leave early.
    4. Have a special word between you and your loved one indicating the need to leave a situation, no questions asked. You may just need a time out or you may need to leave entirely.
    5. Discuss and plan with your loved one what the plans are so everyone has buy-in.
    6. Respond rather than react and always remember to breathe. Try to find the fun in the holidays this year!!