Effect of alcoholism on children

Alcoholism affects children and family units to the point of dysfunction, resentment and lifelong “issues”. More here on alcoholism effects on children and family systems, plus a section at the end for your comments and feedback.

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“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!

About the author
I am a Master Life Coach who is ICF certified and a certified addictions coach. I consider myself recovered from the effects of addiction (16 years) but still in recovery mode as it relates to personal growth. Professionally, I am university educated, a former corporate CEO and have been in the consulting business for over two decades. I'm a husband, father, grandfather, friend, uncle son, a trusted confidant and many other things but bottom line, I'm Keith. I hope that I can help SOME out there with ideas that will make you think deeply.


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  1. My husband has never been a drinker but also has never gotten help from the demons he carried with him as a child of an alcoholic father. Is it possible for him to be a dry alcoholic, as he seems to carry most of those symptoms? He says I’ve made up that term. He uses food instead. I have sought counseling but he has become hopeless, extremely negative, angry and continually blames me for everything bad in his life. He is 70 and says “he’s too old” to get help and change. I love him but don’t know if I can stay. After 45 years, (especially the last 15) he has become so very difficult to live with. What do you suggest?

  2. Hi Jackie. I think writing a book about your experience growing up in an alcoholic family is a superb idea! Not only will it give you clearer insight into the mind of the alcoholic, but it will also help you figure out things you never knew about yourself without the fear of humiliation or rejection.

    I don’t know about you, but I’m not the kind of person who enjoys talking about myself in a group environment, like AA or Al-Anon. Because of my introverted personality, I much more comfortable sitting in the back of the room, listening rather than joining in the conversation. Unfortunately, this isn’t the greatest way to jump start the recovery process. But, a little over three years ago, I started writing a novel titled Some Are Sicker Than Others, which, although fictional, is based on my personal struggles with addiction and recovery. Since then, I have been to the deepest, darkest corners of my psyche and learned things about myself that I would’ve never figured out in any twelve-step meeting or group therapy session. Writing afforded me the safe environment I needed to get real honest about my shortcomings without the shame or fear of being rejected. You see, although the characters in my book are entirely fictional, each one has a little piece of me in them; the good, the bad, and the ugly. And by taking them through their individual character arcs I was able to see how I, personally, would’ve reacted to the obstacles that faced them. The result was at times shocking, but also very beneficial to my continued recovery. I learned that I have a lot of work to do before I can say I’m truly recovered.

    So, I say go for it! It won’t be easy (nothing good ever is), but as long as you keep your writing honest, fearless, and searching you will be proud of your accomplishment. One thing I would recommend is picking up a copy of “Self Editing for Fiction Writers” by Dave King and Renni Browne. It’s a great book that teaches the basics in a short, succinct manner. Also, you might want to think about joining a writer’s workshop where you can trade your manuscript with other writers and get feedback. Good luck and let me know if there’s anything I can do to help you get started.

    Andrew Seaward

  3. Hi Jackie. It might be best to get some good statistical data under your belt. Check out PubMed, a US government database for medical journals and research “genetics of alcoholism”, or similar keywords. And inquire at the NHS about studies, clinical trials, or statistics.

    I can provide anecdotal evidence of alcoholism in my family. It affected my grandfather, father, and myself. But neither of my sisters are alcoholics. I am praying that my son does not need to go down that path, but already at two he loves to spin around until he is intoxicated.

  4. I’m hoping to write a book on the effects of alcoholism on the family. As an adult child of an alcoholic, I have never drunk alcohol personally but have been affected & have affected my ten children. If anyone had any btips for writing about the generational effcts could they please let me know. Btw an excellent article!

  5. Thanks for sharing more about your experience, Richard. From my personal experience, .I can tell you that living with an untreated dry drunk was like hell. You never knew when my father was going to explode and at whom. Even today, I struggle with fear and anger. It almost takes a lifetime to undo the programming that goes on in the home and in the minds of chidren of an alcoholic.

  6. Excellent covering of the topic on how addiction is a family disease. When I got sober I noticed how uncomfortable it was for my son when the old ways of manipulation weren’t working anymore.

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