Thrive by IU Health

October 07, 2020

How Could My Alcohol Use Affect My Family?

How Could My Alcohol Use Affect My Family?

“It’s just one more drink.” “I haven’t had any legal problems.” “I worked really hard today, I deserve this.” “I don’t drink every day, it’s no big deal.”

All these phrases are warning signs of harmful drinking habits that can put your health, safety and those close to you at risk.

Alcohol use disorder is a disease that can have a negative effect on the whole family. The behavioral and emotional symptoms you experience are felt by family members of all ages.

The consequences that are accompanied with routine over-consumption of alcohol can cause tension and stress with loved ones, altering the family dynamic.

It’s important to understand how harmful use of alcohol impacts relationships within families, but also that these relationships can be repaired by seeking treatment.

Addiction Treatment & Recovery Center program director at IU Health West Hospital, Trisha Palencer, shared how you can get the help you need. For family members of loved ones, she offered support resources and ways to care for your loved one who may need help.

What is addiction?

There are often misconceptions about what exactly substance dependence is.

“Addiction is any part of the disease process in which someone is engaging in a harmful behavior,” Palencer said. “They begin experiencing cravings and compulsive use despite negative consequences. It is a neurobiological disease that impacts one’s ability to make healthy choices.”

What are signs of alcohol misuse to look out for?

It can be difficult to recognize when casual drinking has turned into something more serious. Palencer offers some questions an individual can ask themselves:

  • Am I increasing substance use as my tolerance is built?
  • Am I using alcohol routinely?
  • Am I experiencing social or health problems because of my alcohol use?
  • Do I get physical or emotional withdrawals when I’m not using?
  • Have I become unable to fulfill my responsibilities because of my alcohol use?

If these underlying surface level behaviors are identified and you continue to depend on alcohol despite the negative consequences, Palencer encourages seeking professional help. This loss of control can escalate, damaging your health, relationships, career and more.

Do other family members recognize signs of alcohol use disorder?

“Someone may think family members aren’t aware of their drinking habits,” Palencer said. “They might try to hide or conceal their using behaviors or actively minimize them.”

However, many times, family members of all ages can recognize some signs if someone has a problem and react in varying ways.

“Other adults can notice these problematic behaviors, signs and symptoms pretty readily,” said Palencer. “If it’s a partner, they may feel more detached and experience more conflict or agitation. They may also experience defensiveness when alcohol or drug use is asked about.”

Older children process similar to adults. They pick up on behavior changes and inconsistencies. They also notice if a parent is concealing things. Younger children experience the detachment from their parent.

“Kids can sense when their loved one is not as present or as engaged as they once were,” said Palencer.

How does alcohol use disorder affect relationships within families?

When a loved one struggles with alcohol use disorder, it can disrupt the family’s dynamic and ability to function as a single unit. As tensions rise, emotional and physical reactions occur which can damage the close relationships that have been built.

“Across all ages and family members, alcoholism can create distrust,” Palencer said. “It may also create avoidant behaviors as they isolate themselves from that person. Families feel less connected and don’t know how to communicate our bond because there is this underlying avoidance and distrust that exists.”

The difficulties in knowing how to address the problem results in detachment, which can be especially damaging to a child’s development.

Palencer also said recent studies support there is a generational impact of substance use disorders – when one person misuses alcohol, their children are more likely to as well.

What can a family member do to support someone struggling with addiction?

Starting a conversation with a loved one who is struggling with alcoholism can be emotionally draining. Throughout this process, it is just as important for family members to seek outside support, not just the individual addressing their addiction.

“As you have difficulties confronting this loved one, you should also have support through the recovery community, a therapist or somebody who can help you because it can feel personal when it’s not,” said Palencer.

There are support groups like Parents of Addicted Loved Ones, Al-Anon Family Groups and National Alliance on Mental Illness to help families through the healing process.

If a loved one is not ready to seek treatment, continue to make efforts to support them, but also know when to draw the line. Palencer offered the following suggestions:

  • Continue to have conversations with care and concern. It is not effective to be dishonest, manipulative or place shame on the individual during discussions. Keep it simple and compassionate.
  • Research and have a list of treatment options available for when the person is ready to seek help. There is a limited window of time to begin a treatment plan before withdrawal symptoms deter the individual from wanting care.
  • Connect with treatment centers for resources are available for households where addiction is present.
  • If possible, have overdose protection on hand in the event of an emergency.

Overall, Palencer urged families to remember to separate their loved one from the symptoms of the disease.

“Open, honest communication is very important,” she said. “It’s important to recognize that poor behaviors in the person that’s struggling with alcoholism is not a reflection of how they care about their family.”

What resources are available for someone struggling with addiction?

The decision to seek treatment is an incredible accomplishment. There is support available to help navigate the emotional, physical and social components of addiction that can be difficult to manage during recovery. Support groups help minimize and reduce the likelihood of relapsing.

Countless resources are available to ensure there is a treatment program that works best with your needs and preferences. Having a positive network to discuss successes and challenges is extremely beneficial throughout treatment and beyond.

The following resources are available for those overcoming addiction:

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Addiction treatment depends on your individual needs. Services span from outpatient therapy and medication appointments to more intensive inpatient treatments.

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