Problem drinking doesn’t just affect society, it also affects people at a more personal level – at home – and can create serious emotional problems for all family members.
Maybe you’re reading this because there’s an alcohol problem in your family. If so, you’ve taken the first step in helping yourself.
Let’s look briefly at what can happen in a family when one member of the family has a drinking problem.
- Usually, the alcohol problem is creating a lot of stress in the home.
- Maybe the person with the alcohol problem isn’t doing their share of taking care of children or paying bills.
- Maybe they’ve lost income because of drinking.
- Maybe they’ve gotten in some legal trouble because of their drinking or,
- when drunk, they’ve embarrassed you.
Any or all of these things can be happening.
Your family is coping with this stress as best it can.
Each family member will cope in their own way.
- One member of the family might become a peacemaker, always trying to resolve conflicts between other family members.
- Another person might try to cover up for the problem drinker by phoning in sick for them at work and lying about the problem to employers and friends.
- Perhaps a son or daughter is getting into trouble or even over-achieving, giving the family something else to focus on.
- Some people in the family might just withdraw into their own world.
All of these roles are just ways to cope with a really stressful situation. But, in the long run, they’re not really helpful because they avoid the real problem and, in some cases, allow the problem to continue.
Everyone in your family, including you, may be having a lot of feelings –
- hopelessness, and
These feelings are normal. But in families where alcohol is a problem, these feelings are often not talked about. In fact, family members might go out of their way not to show these feelings.
There are three unspoken rules* in these kinds of homes:
- Don’t talk – families learn not to talk at all about what’s really going on or to call the problem something else, e.g., calling a hangover the flu, calling a drinking binge stress release.
- Don’t trust – children and other family members learn to be always on guard for the next crisis or "scene." Promises are broken and responsibilities abandoned, e.g., meals aren’t made for children, bills aren’t paid, promises to stop drinking are not kept. Family members, especially children, learn to "look out for themselves" and don’t trust that anyone will "be there" for them.
- Don’t feel – in order to survive what’s going on, family members often "turn off" their feelings. Sometimes, people in the family don’t believe their feelings are real and are afraid they will be made fun of if they share their feelings. Often, they don’t trust that anyone will listen or care about how they feel.
Living by these three rules is harmful to everyone, especially children.
People in your family probably spend a lot of energy focusing on the person with the drinking problem.
The family constantly adjusts its behaviour to try and control the behaviour of the problem drinker. So, people in the family learn to ignore their own needs in favour of someone else’s.
- you stopped seeing your friends because you don’t want them to know that your husband or wife, son or daughter has a drinking problem.
- Maybe you’ve stopped saying anything about the drinking because you’re afraid of making the problem worse.
- Maybe you’ve taken a second job to make up for the money lost because of drinking.
All of these things do nothing to help you; they only make it easier for the problem drinker to drink.