Alcohol Use Disorders and Family Dynamics
Living with someone suffering from AUD
Living with an alcohol use disorder (AUD) can damage both the sufferer and their family. Alcohol-related deaths are the third most common type of preventable death in the United States, illustrating the stakes and severity of this disease.
Signs and Symptoms
People suffering from an AUD often go to extensive lengths to hide their habits from loved ones. As long as no one else knows, they can convince themselves it’s not really an issue. Alcohol can prove especially challenging because of the degree to which society embraces drinking. Finding someone drinking doesn’t necessarily raise any suspicion compared to finding a loved one injecting heroin or doing other patently harmful drugs. Recognizing the tell-tale signs of a drinking problem can help start the process of healing before any irreversible damage takes hold.
Signs of AUD in a Loved One:
- They regularly drink more, or for longer than they intended
- They’ve tried to cut back or quit drinking, but failed
- They continuously require larger amounts of alcohol to achieve similar effects
- A significant amount of their time revolves around alcohol (buying alcohol, drinking, being drunk, being hungover)
- They’ve given up hobbies or activities they enjoyed due to their drinking
- They’re missing major responsibilities as a result of drinking (work, school, parenting, etc.)
When to Address the Issue
Discovering a family member’s struggle with alcohol can be painful and confusing. It’s important to realize that you’re not responsible for curing them of this disease or “fixing” them. If you’ve noticed enough of the signs of an AUD to become suspicious, it may be the time to reach out and address the situation. The safety of your family should be top priority, so if the person with the AUD is at risk of seriously hurting themselves or others, reaching out to emergency services may be warranted.
Talking to Your Loved One
Some media portray these interactions as dramatic, emotional, and sometimes violent. They may be very emotional, but chances are a discussion about your loved one’s drinking won’t be as bombastic as shown on TV.
If you’ve noticed a problem with a loved one, the disease has grown out of their control, and they are likely aware of it and extremely self-critical. It’s often said that “no one wants to quit more than the person drinking,” but the disease and dependence compel them to continue. All use disorders are associated with guilt, and being judgmental towards the person suffering may drive them to drink as a means of managing the unpleasant feelings that creates.
With this sensitivity in mind, focus on avoiding blame in the situation. Being conscious of the language you use may be tough at first, but it can shift their mindset from “moral failure” to “suffering from a disease”. Words like alcoholic, addict, abuser, junky all imply blame, but are still part of the vernacular surrounding use disorders, which makes them difficult to dodge in a conversation. Try to avoid lecturing them about their behavior or the situation, because that kind of speech can moralize the situation, further introducing blame and guilt.
In situations like these, the more you know, the better. Reading online resources, pamphlets, or books about AUDs and rehabilitation outlines the steps you need to take to start the healing process. The intimate nature of a partner, child, or parent going through this experience can create extreme negative emotions for everyone involved. It’s vital to keep certain boundaries in mind when interacting with them as to not encourage these habits or force it back into hiding. If you can steer someone towards a treatment center, that would be a great place to start healing, but you can’t take someone against their will.
Avoid these pitfalls:
- Excusing their behavior
- Drinking with them, facilitating their habits
- Blaming yourself
- Trying to “fix” them alone
- Preaching or moralizing
- Bribing, guilting, or threatening them to change
- Sending them to a treatment center, but not offering further support
Convincing someone in this position to reach out for help may feel impossible. Ultimately, you can’t force someone into recovery, because they may just self-sabotage and ruin progress if they’re not ready. Continually showing your support for them through this disease goes a long way in encouraging them to reach out for help. If you don’t know where to start looking for rehabilitation options, try speaking with your primary care doctor. Oftentimes, primary care physicians can refer you to the appropriate facility once you go over the situation with them.
Parenting and AUDs
No matter who is suffering from an AUD, the disease can touch everyone in a family. That being said, parental AUDs can profoundly impact a child’s development. Research has found that kids growing up in a household with AUDs are at higher risks for developing mood disorders like depression and anxiety, while also put at risk for alcohol issues later in their own lives. A 2013 study found that parents struggling with AUD were more likely to tell cautionary tales of drinking to their children, but their advice was heeded less. Psychologists are still studying the effects of parental AUD on children, but there are clear, physical consequences.
Unchecked alcohol overuse can lead to debilitating diseases and even death. Drinking during pregnancy is now a well-documented risk to the baby’s health, leading to Fetal Alcohol Syndrome or Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders. These disorders are associated with impulsivity, slowed growth, cognitive impairment, and hyperactivity. Once the child is born and growing up, the AUD harms the familial relationship by pulling the parent away from activities and responsibilities.
Missing sports games, concerts, and teacher conferences are all examples of the behavioral effects of AUDs. These let downs often impact the emotional development of a child, and the constant stress of living with AUDs harms cognitive development. Kids in these situations are more likely to display worse abstract and conceptual reasoning, lower verbal variety, and lower IQ scores. Issues with low self-worth and decreased motivation lead to trouble in school, which can compound the tension on ties between family members.
Get Help Today
If you or your family member is suffering from an alcohol use disorder, don’t wait to get help. Contact a dedicated treatment provider today for help finding a treatment facility.
Author: Michael Muldoon | Last Edited: June 15, 2021