Coping with a Family Member who suffers from Alcoholism
Many lives are derailed because of alcoholism in the family. It is not uncommon for an alcoholic father, mother, aunt or uncle to set the stage for a pattern of addiction in subsequent generations. Whether you live in an environment that is favorable to alcohol consumption or unavoidably exposed through kinship, your risk of addiction may be increased. According to Dr. Nora Volkow, Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) everyone can become addicted if sufficiently exposed to drugs or alcohol. To mitigate the risk of addiction, it is important to identify and develop strategies for coping with an alcoholic family member.
Alcohol dependence, binge drinking and alcoholism all fall under the umbrella of alcohol use disorders (AUD). As defined by the NIDA, AUD is a relapsing brain disease demonstrated by cravings, uncontrollable drinking, withdrawal symptoms and high tolerance levels. Many scientific studies also validate the premise that environmental exposure and genetic factors are major contributors to the development of alcoholism. However, good coping skills are equally important as a deterrent to alcohol problems even if you are genetically predisposed through family history. In fact, people who identified and implemented strategies for coping with an alcoholic in the family were less likely to become alcoholics themselves. According to scientific studies supported by the NIDA, more than a half of all children of alcoholics do not become an alcoholic. The determining factors for alcoholism in families were strongly influenced by risk factors and coping skills.
Risk Factors for Alcoholism
- One or more members of the family is an alcoholic
- Living with a depressed or psychological unbalanced parent
- There are severe conflicts, aggression or violence in the family
- Physical or sexual abuse in the family is related to a drinking habit.
Data from the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) indicate that that approximately 19 million children in America are exposed at some time before age 18 to familial alcohol dependence. Also, at least 28% of American adults drink at levels that put them at risk for an alcohol use disorder. These staggering risk factors have in the last decade manifested into the drug and alcohol epidemic among young adults and children sweeping the nation today.
The process for change includes a focus on awareness, early detection and education and training that equip children and other family members with appropriate coping techniques to reduce the risk of experiencing alcoholism in their own lives.
Five Effective Strategies for Coping with a Family Member who suffers from Alcoholism
- Break the silence. Actress Susanne Summers described in a People magazine article, the darkness of suffering in silence with an alcoholic father in a picturesque little house growing up as a child in San Francisco. There are many homes all across America in which spouses and children are manipulated or threatened by the substance abuser to be silent. Children with one or more alcoholic parents are often neglected or abused. Silence can create severe emotional trauma and stress that often lead to underage drinking and mental illness. Breaking the silence is an important strategy because it immediately garners support for those desperately trying to cope with their loved ones drinking problem.
- Educate yourself about the dangers associated with the use of alcohol. Education help people to be aware of unhealthy drinking patterns, the onset of a dependence on alcohol and addiction in others. Untreated alcohol dependence naturally segues into full blow alcoholism and the problems that accompanies this condition.
- Join a Support Group. Today, there are many victim advocate groups for families of alcoholics, including the Children of Alcoholics Foundation, the National Association for Children of Alcoholics and such well-known organizations as Al-Anon and Alateen. These organizations provide a valuable resource that can liberate families from the pain and suffering of living with an alcoholic. Alcohol treatment centers also provide assistance to help family stage alcohol interventions to get their loved ones the treatment they need.
- Drink moderately or not at all. According to guidelines from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services the following people should not consume alcohol:
- Pregnant Women
- Women who are trying to become pregnant,
- Recovering alcoholics
- If you plan to plan to drive, operate machinery or engage in activities that require attention or skill that may result in harm to yourself or others.
- Individuals taking prescription drugs
- If you have liver disease or other medical conditions that could be exacerbated by alcohol.
- People with a genetic predisposition or family history of alcoholism may be at a higher risk and should be wary about consuming alcohol even in moderate amounts.
- Take care of yourself. Self-care is vital to coping with the chaos that result from alcoholism in the family. To the best of your ability, set boundaries, take time to nourish, nurture and support your goals. Also, if aggression or violence is part of the alcoholic’s behavior, make prior arrangements so that you are able to remove yourself from the situation to a safe environment.
If you are dealing with an alcoholic in the family that put your or your children in danger, it is important to seek help immediately. The best approach to dealing with alcoholism is implementing a strategic plan to cope with the problem until the individual is able to get help or you find a way to safely remove yourself from the situation.