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Alcoholism is an unfortunate disease that affects not just the individual, but can also be a burden on family and friends. Alcoholism can have an impact on the family as a whole, but will also put a strain on individual relationships, disrupt routines, and even cause the family to be in a bad financial situation.

In this post, we’re going to cover the many ways alcoholism can have just as much, if not more of an impact on family than it does on the drinker themselves.

How Does Alcoholism Affect Family Members

If a person abuses alcohol to the point that it becomes an addiction, it will eventually begin to consume all aspects of their life. When a family member develops an alcohol addiction, their compulsion to drink will become the main driving force in their life. Drinking will become their priority.

Oftentimes, these people think they aren’t hurting anyone but themselves, but the unfortunate reality is that alcoholism has a trickle-down effect that may have devastating consequences for the whole family. Even if the person hasn’t crossed the line into a full-blown alcoholic, there can still be dangerous consequences for the family,

But anytime a substance like alcohol becomes a person’s priority, the time, effort, and resources they spend on other things will become less important. Their work and family relationships will inevitably suffer. And as their abuse continues, things will get worse, as it takes a further hold on their life, affecting immediate family, friends, employers and colleagues, and anyone else who has a relationship with or depends upon the person.

Within the family, it can be the driving factor that destroys a marriage or damages relationships with children. Alcoholism can lead a person to blow through the family budget, increase fighting, neglect responsibilities, and children, and impair the health and happiness of everyone involved in the family.

Why Alcoholism Becomes A Growing Problem

The reasons how alcoholism affects family and friends are many, but at the root of the problem is the person’s inability to stop drinking. Alcohol is very addictive, and when the person is dependent upon the substance, they will need it to maintain feelings of calm and relaxation, and to avoid the nasty symptoms that come along with withdrawal should they attempt to stop drinking.

The effects of alcohol abuse will often lead to hangovers, which can disrupt the person’s ability to maintain their commitments. It also can lead to unhealthy eating habits and a lack of exercise, which will cause physical and emotional changes in the person as well as decrease their overall health. While hangovers are temporary, prolonged alcohol abuse will make them more of a normal thing.

Beyond hangovers, alcohol also impairs the person’s overall cognitive function and physical capabilities. This will often result in them neglecting their responsibilities at home and at work, or in school, depending on who the drinker is. Eventually, the person’s drinking may even lead to legal problems, such as driving under the influence, domestic disputes, drunk and disorderly conduct in public, and fights.

Once alcohol has become the priority, almost anything is possible. How alcoholism affects the brain will make your close loved one seem like a complete stranger when they are under the influence.

Financial Problems Caused By Alcoholism

Alcoholism can cause financial problems for a family for the simple reason that alcohol costs money. Alcohol abuse can at first just cost a bit more than the person or family would usually spend on entertainment, but as it grows, it can lead to serious financial problems if bills are neglected in favor of acquiring more to drink.

Heavy drinkers often rack up large bills at the bar by buying rounds. They may rack up large credit card bills, or wake up with no cash and not remember where the money went. But the financial impact of alcoholism on a family can go far beyond what the person is spending at the bar or the liquor store.

Besides spending money on the alcohol itself, lowered inhibitions may also enable a person to spend more money than they intended at a bar, or do some online shopping without guilt. Being under the influence of alcohol makes unnecessary purchases more inviting, and things can get much, much worse.

Alcohol abuse can trigger other financial problems because drinking has become their first priority. This may lead the person to forget or be unable to pay important bills for the family, such as the rent, mortgage, or utilities. This may result in late fees and other costly penalties.

The families’ baseline income may also change as the gap between earnings and expenses grows thinner, or even slips in the other direction. Their personal or family financial situation will be placed in jeopardy. Further financial burden may be placed on a spouse, and the family may suffer from a loss of income if the drinker’s work performance suffers so much that they lose their job.

Drinking can also lead to health consequences that will require medical attention. These health conditions, such as cirrhosis, pancreatitis, cardiovascular illnesses, and more, will often come with large expenses to treat. So in addition to the lost wages for being out of work, there is now the added medical expenses for treatment, which could put the family in a dire situation if the drinker is one of the main breadwinners.

An Alcoholic Parents’ Affect On Children

If the family member abusing alcohol is a parent, inevitably the ones who may end up suffering the most are the children.

Children who grow up in homes where a parent is an alcoholic are much more likely to have emotional issues than those who have stable, sober homes. Furthermore, when a child is exposed early to an alcohol abuser, the children will often have issues with alcohol themselves.

Younger children will notice changes in their alcoholic parents’ behavior but won’t understand the cause, and may mistakenly believe they are the cause of the problems. This leads to great confusion in the children and these feelings of guilt, self-blame, frustration, and even anger can emerge as they try to understand why their parent is treating them in such a way.

Children also depend upon steady routines for healthy emotional development, and these are often among the first things to be disrupted by a parent’s alcohol abuse. Mealtimes and bedtimes will change or be neglected altogether.

Children need stability and positive role models to thrive, and alcoholic homes will not provide such an environment because a parent has become dysfunctional. Sometimes, the other parent may be an enabler or even a victim of physical abuse. This can cause psychological damage to the child as well, as children are sensitive to their environment.

If Mom is screaming at Dad and threatening him one moment, then comforting and cleaning up after him the next, even making excuses for him, then this will teach the child that it is acceptable behavior, but it isn’t. Likewise, a father abusing a mother may teach their son that that is how you rule a home, and damage the child’s future relationships with women.

Beyond their lives at home, children may react by failing at school or turning to risky behavior. Their relationships with friends may suffer and they may become depressed, or turn to alcohol and/or drugs themselves. Other children may respond by overachieving and seeking perfection or taking on a parental role in the family.

It all depends on the individual child how they will react or what role they take on within the family. But when children adopt a new role in the family, they may neglect their own needs, and other parts of their lives can suffer as a result. Most children can recover through therapy, as long as the alcoholic parent is willing to confront their problems and get help for their alcohol abuse as well.

Effects On A Spouse Or Partner

It will become difficult to live with a spouse or partner who is abusing alcohol. There will often be a conflict between wanting more to drink and not wanting to harm the family, and when this happens, the drinker may start to blame their partner for why things are going wrong.

This leads to self-doubt in the partner, who will begin to wonder if they aren’t good enough. They will take on the added burden of wondering how to hide the problem from family, friends, and neighbors and even be concerned about protecting their children. They might be overcome with feelings of failure and sadness, all while taking on additional responsibilities.

Unfortunately, alcoholism often involves some physical and emotional abuse. A high percentage of domestic violence disputes are associated with alcohol or other drugs. While drinking is not necessarily a cause of these situations, it is certainly a factor, as it impairs the person’s judgment.

In other situations, the partner may become an enabler, rather than seeking help. A spouse may lie for their partner and protect them because they love them, but this actually makes it easier for the partner abusing alcohol to continue their drinking. In this way, the spouse enables the problem to get worse. The only way things will get better is for both partners involved to confront the problem, and get help.

When A Child Has A Drinking Problem

It isn’t always the parent who is the one abusing alcohol. Other times it can be a child, most often a teenager, who is having issues with alcohol. These situations can be much more difficult for families to deal with, damaging the relationship between parents or even blaming other children for being a bad example. Sometimes, the addict gets so much attention that the other children even become neglected as a result.

The general status quo of the home will be disrupted. In these situations especially, professional help will be needed to help everyone in the family learn how to deal with the problem and not place any blame on each other.

The Emotional Impact Of Alcohol Abuse

Having an alcoholic family member will put a great deal of stress on the entire family. Everyone will begin to feel like they are passengers in an accident because they will have no control over what may happen on a given day. Life becomes unpredictable, unsafe, and out of control.

Family members will often feel powerless to do anything about the person’s drinking problem. The drinker might be completely oblivious to how much hurt they are causing, leaving them helpless.

Children and partners may start to feel like they are to blame, and there is often constant tension and conflict within the home. This could lead to what is known as a broken home.

More Subtle Consequences Of Alcohol Abuse In The Family

There are other, more subtle, ways that a family member abusing alcohol can impact the family as well. For example, if the abuser is a parent, their drinking will show their children that drinking is the way to deal with their problems — that they can turn to alcohol to escape life’s challenges. In this way, addictive tendencies are passed down generations in the family.

The overall health of family members may be affected by having an alcoholic in the home. Children and spouses may stay up late wondering when their missing family member will come home and what will happen when they do. A general state of fear and worry will take over the home. Unfortunately, it may even linger after the person stops drinking.

Those families that have someone who is struggling with alcohol addiction will have to learn how to practice self-care. They may lean on each other for support, but often, outside help may be needed for the whole family. Alcoholism is a disease, and family members don’t cause it or have any control over it, nor can they cure it. Becoming aware that a family member’s problem is having an effect on other family members and seeking support from others is the best course of action to getting the family back on track.


Having a family member who is abusing alcohol can cause a great burden on the entire family, from an emotional, financial, and health standpoint. In order to find the best solution, professional help should be sought through alcohol addiction treatment. Haven House provides assistance to families to help them cope with their family member’s addiction and learn to heal together.