Every year, the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) sponsors Alcohol Awareness month in an effort to increase public understanding of alcohol, to reduce the stigma of alcoholism, and to draw attention to the impact that alcoholism can have on kids, families, couples and communities.
At The Family Institute, we believe that the family is the singular most significant factor influencing human identity.
In honor of Alcohol Awareness Month, we’re providing information on the ways in which alcohol abuse impacts the individuals within families, and the families themselves.
Alcohol abuse can impact family functioning in a number of different ways.
A likely consequence of problem drinking is that the drinker’s behavior becomes unpredictable, making it difficult for the family as a whole to plan anything in advance or to stick to familiar routines. Will he or she be okay to pick up the kids from school? What time will he or she come home, and in what state? This sort of constant uncertainty can be highly disruptive, and it helps to explain a commonly found paradox in the families of problem drinkers: that while the problem drinker may be withdrawing from the family by no longer playing the role within it that he or she did previously, he or she nonetheless appears to dominate it as the family starts to organize itself around the drinker and his/her behavior patterns.
Alcohol misuse tends to change the roles played by family members in relation to one another, and to the outside world. Most families operate with some form of division of labor – one person managing the family’s finances, the other supervising the children, one doing the gardening, the other doing the cooking, and so on. But as one member of the family develops more of a drinking problem, the other members are likely to find themselves having to take over his or her role themselves. Eventually, one member may be performing all the roles – finances, disciplining, shopping, cleaning, household management, and so on.
Another area of family functioning which is often affected by alcohol and alcohol misuse relates to the kind of communications that takes place between family members. It may be that the partner with the problem refuses to talk about it, even though it is clearly beginning to dominate his or her life, as well as the family’s organization. Or again, alcohol can itself become the main topic of conversation – has he/she been drinking again, if so how much and with what effect, and who is going to help the individual or the family manage the consequences of the family member’s drinking?
Many people who have a parent or partner with a drinking problem find talking about it to others to be extraordinarily difficult. The problem is often simply seen as being too shameful to admit. As a result of their reluctance to discuss or expose their situation to the outside world, the family tends to withdraw into itself. The degree of social embarrassment and unpredictability associated with drinking problems constrains family members from extending invitations to others to visit the family home, accepting invitations to visit someone else’s home or other social gatherings. The family thus tends to become increasingly socially isolated.