Alcoholism and the family environment

Sobriety Navigator: Alcoholism and the family environment.

No one has ever aspired to become an alcoholic. No one ever says, “When I grow up, I’ll become an alcoholic, get married and raise a family.” But the fact remains that the longer the disease process goes untreated, unpredictability, chaos, confusion, contempt, shame and embarrassment become the standards of the home.

Here are some of the possible effects and outcomes:

  1. The alcoholic becomes the center of attention in the family, leaving little to no room for healthy interactions or the needs of the other family members.
  2. Due to the emotionally arrested development from alcohol abuse, the alcoholic will demand more than his share of time and attention.
  3. The constant double messages from the alcoholic:  “I love you, go away.”  Or, “Just get out of my way.”
  4. The neglect of a child can create such an overwhelming need for approval that the child will do anything, even if it is painful or self-destructive, to win the approval of the alcoholic.
  5. The constant apprehension about plans for family outings due to the unpredictability of the alcoholic’s behavior.
  6. The shame and embarrassment visited on the family because of the alcoholic’s behaviors and appearance.
  7. Becoming afraid to bring friends home because they never know what condition the alcoholic will be in.
  8. The anger and resentment for the spouse or co-alcoholic (as described in 12 step programs),  for placing all their focus on the alcoholic and neglecting the children.
  9. The anger and resentment for the co-alcoholic for minimizing the problems and making excuses for the alcoholic. Keeping children trapped in an intolerable situation.
  10. Eight times out of ten, alcoholics unknowingly breed alcoholic children or co-alcoholic children who marry an alcoholic.
  11. If the alcoholic or co-alcoholic cannot exhibit and teach healthy coping skills, the children will begin to see alcohol as the reward for dealing with life.
  12. Financial insecurity is more common than not because of the alcoholic’s problems. Loss of work or refusal to work at all. Reckless, blackout spending.
  13. The alcoholic can be extremely selfish with money. Money is protected to purchase alcohol, either for use at home or out in the bars.
  14. The children’s awareness that there is always money for booze but not for much else. The needs, joys, or pleasures for the children are grossly neglected. Teaching the children you don’t deserve, when in reality, they do.
  15. These feelings of, “I don’t deserve,” can have lasting effects on the children’s lives, long after they are grown. Even if they are lucky enough to detach or move away from the family.
  16. The deep wounds of growing up in such dysfunctional environments will continue to haunt the person and will not go away until it is addressed and healed.
  17. The illusions of a healthy family. Some people have homes with happy drunks in them. The alcoholic is able to function and financially prosper. The down side of this is recognizing where the destruction lies in the family and in the person.
  18. Throughout the course of years, the eroding effects of self-esteem can be so damaging and destructive that a person will contemplate suicide.
  19. Because of the irresponsibility of the alcoholic and co-alcoholic, adult responsibilities will be thrust upon the children, creating a false sense of responsibility.

If you don’t experience a reasonably healthy childhood, chances are you will suffer from your own arrested development. 

The greater the degree of the dysfunction in the home, the greater the degree of damage to the child.

No one aspires to be an alcoholic. No one purposely seeks to wreak havoc and destruction, but it does happen.  And when it does, it’s up to the individual to heal so they can stop letting the past dominate their life.

We never forget the past, but it loses its power to dominate our lives. This is one of the promises of the 12 step programs.

By Cynthia Peterson


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