Understanding the Dynamics of Living With an Alcoholic

While abusing alcohol undoubtedly affects alcoholics in countless tangible and negative ways, family members and loved ones are likewise influenced when they come into daily contact with this chronic disorder. As alcoholics suffer in terms of their health and social interactions, family life is typically disrupted as well, and living with an alcoholic often leads to subtle changes in those who do not have drinking problems. These emotional and behavioral changes should likely be addressed for the sake of everyone concerned, as these altered perceptions may lead to profound guilt and sadness if left unchecked. Many of these behavioral changes may lead to acting out or even subconscious enabling of the alcoholic lifestyle.

Regardless of age, many people living with an alcoholic will internalize the negative behaviors exhibited by their family member and exhibit behaviors of their own as a direct result. Children who blame themselves, for example, may become withdrawn and quiet as a way to help their intoxicated parent rest. This is especially likely if they are continually instructed to do so by their other parent or primary caregiver.  Conversely, other children may quickly learn to fend for themselves and attempt to do what they can to make their daily life tolerable. While being quiet or independent are not necessarily bad qualities, the associated guilt and presence of a negative adult role model may lead to emotional maladjustment.

Older children and teens may exhibit the effects of being in daily proximity to an alcoholic in countless ways, including poor academic performance, physical illness, and social withdrawal. Feelings of anger or powerlessness in dealing with their home life may manifest in episodes of promiscuity, rebellion, or bullying others. Whether children in the household turn within or prominently exhibit their sad, guilty, or angry feelings, these behaviors may lead to chronic problems later in their lives if not adequately addressed during such crucial growing up years. To make matters worse, the family alcoholic may use these instances to justify their need to find comfort in the form of excessive drinking.

Spouses of alcoholics face untold stresses, from trying to maintain a sense of normalcy for their children, running the household alone, and being on the lookout for the mood swings and erratic behaviors of their wife or husband. While telling children that their alcoholic parent is merely tired or covering for a spouse who is too intoxicated to report for work may appear to work for a while such responses rarely work for very long, and may in fact encourage someone who abuses alcohol to continue to do so. As with children, the guilt from feeling powerless or inadequate to help may lead a spouse to react in ways that do nothing to alleviate the situation. Accordingly, seeking a support group and reaching out to those offering emotional assistance can help the families of alcoholics gain understanding, strength, and realistic ways to help their loved ones face their addictive behavior.

If this situation sounds like something you may be in, do your entire family a favor and try to seek help for the alcoholic and everyone in your family. It may not just be the addicted person that could use a little help in their life.