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Alcohol abuse has far-reaching effects, not only on the individual but also for their family members and loved ones. It can be difficult and traumatic for a family member to see a person they care about struggle with alcohol addiction.

A family member’s substance abuse can lead to disagreements and tension in a family as family members adopt coping mechanisms to deal with the destabilized family dynamic. Family members may also have differing opinions on how best to help the person and protect the family from the negative consequences of the substance abuse.1

Understanding the effects of alcoholism on a family can help those with loved ones who are struggling with alcohol addiction to seek help if desired.

How Alcohol Abuse Affects Family Structure

According to the National Institutes of Health, there are several ways that alcohol abuse can affect a family.2 Often, this impact is determined by the type of family structure. For example:

Parents of young children: When a parent has a spouse who suffers from alcoholism, they may have to shoulder a significant portion of the family’s parenting responsibilities. This can put a tremendous strain on a parent or significant other.

Single-parent homes: When a child has a parent who struggles with alcohol addiction, they might often act as a “surrogate spouse” for the parent, taking on more and more household responsibility at a young age. The child may also have a significant amount of denial regarding the extent of a parent’s problem.

Parents of an adult with alcoholism: The child will often be dependent on aging parents, which can negatively affect their ability to mature emotionally. Doctors refer to this dynamic as codependency. The parent often enables the dependency of their child and might even unintentionally allow the addictive behavior to continue or worsen.

In addition to these known effects of alcoholism on immediate families, extended family members may also experience negative situations—commonly involving finances. People who struggle with alcoholism often have trouble meeting their financial responsibilities, and family members may attempt to compensate for these shortcomings or protect the individual from the consequences of their actions.

Help for Those Whose Family Member Is Experiencing Alcoholism

Having a loved one struggle with alcoholism can greatly affect a family’s ability to function normally. Family members may adopt different roles, and they may have difficulty communicating. This can lead to friction, tension and disagreements related to their family member. Some may be in denial over the person’s problems, while others may be frustrated or concerned over a person’s drinking and how it jeopardizes their safety and the safety of others.

Support for Family Members

Many treatment centers offer support for those who have a family member struggling with addiction. This can be in the form of assistance with planning an intervention, therapy for the family or group therapy with both the individual and the family. Support groups, both in-person and online, are also available to help a person learn more about alcoholism and its effects and suggestions for how to help a person struggling with alcohol addiction. Through education and supportive services, families can get the help they need.