“Can you make my Daddy stop drinking?”
This might have been the toughest question to handle emotionally for me in my whole life. It came out of the blue by phone from a then 12 year old son of a client I had been working with.
The simple answer was, “No, I can’t.”
Learning how to deal with an alcoholic is something everyone in a family does, by second nature. But the message that we cannot change an alcoholic’s drinking contains a resounding reminder of the huge impact that alcohol abuse in the family has on children.
In my line of work, working to help repair the damage done to others by an addicted person is equally as challenging as dealing with the addicted. Quite simply, families have troubled accepting the impact living with or loving an active addicted person has on them. In this case, the young fellow quoted above was obviously painfully aware of the problems in his father’s life, but was hopeful that change was possible. Change is possible, but it has to come from an alcoholic who wants to get sober.
Alcohol addiction effects on children and families
Living with active addiction has a devastating effect on every family member no matter how young or how old. Often referred to as the “elephant in the closet”, think of the great lengths families go to hide the behaviours of an addicted family member. Secrets are kept, there is shame usually accompanied by guilt and shame. One or more family member begins to play the role of “fixer” or helper and nearly all are forced into lying to help cover the realities.
Living with active addiction changes people negatively and will ruin lives if family members don’t get help for themselves. It’s a hard lesson to learn- family members can’t control the addicted person nor can they fix them and most importantly; that a family member is addicted is in no way the fault of the remainder of the family.
The effective of alcoholism and other addictions is devastating on all those close to the addict and negatively impacts on the family dynamic. Think of what was going through the mind of the 12 year old that was desperate enough to phone me and ask if I could stop his Daddy’s drinking. You, the family member, have choices independent of the addict in your life. I pray that you make wise choices!
Proactive steps to heal yourself and your family
If you have being living in proximity to an active addict, you don’t need me to inform you of the effect it has had on you. Be honest with yourself, the answers are within and good coaching can help you articulate them and deal with your feelings. You better than anyone know the damage done if you are honest with yourself.
As a former active addict who was functional and maintained a job, but who had four children and two wives (not at the same time-sic), I have personally witnessed the effect my addiction had on spouse and children as well as others close to me. Those in my family who sought help and took action are now living free from my addictive behaviour and we enjoy a healthy relationship. For one family member in particular, even after nearly two decades of my not using, and recovery on my part, the relationship is not what I would call healthy, and living in the addicted environment has left one of my children with behaviour patterns that are not healthy for her.
Relationships after alcoholism
Once a person is sober (maybe with the help of 12 step groups, detox, or treatment for addiction at home), they start thinking about how they affect others. Many of my clients ask how long it takes to regain “trust” and build real intimacy into relationships. For the alcoholic new to recovery, I have some suggestions. I don’t think there is any hard and fast rule; it is totally dependent on your recovery coupled with affirmative action taken by the injured party.
In my own case, my behaviour was one more sequence of bad events that my wife has undergone in her life. It is funny how many “partners” of addicted people have grown up with addiction in their homes as a child and sworn they’d never go through what their family did. My wife loved me, took independent recovery action to deal with her issues and over a period of about four years trust came back into the relationship and as we grew, I am thrilled to say, a level of real intimacy that neither of us thought possible.
Fixing the past
Over the last nearly two decades, I have been working towards what is called in 12 step groups “repairing the wreckage of the past”. My job in repairing is to live like a good human being, to be open and honest and to support those close to me in their own personal journeys of discovery. I can’t repair the damage I did, but can help those I love to recognize it and take a course of action on their own. I work hard at not repeating my mistakes and most of the wreckage has been dealt with.
Questions about alcoholism effects
After reading this, do you still have questions about the effects of alcoholism on children and families? Feedback? We invite you to leave us a message here and let us know. We are happy to try to respond to all legitimate concerns with a personal and prompt reply. We would love to hear from you…you are not alone!