In 2013, more than 17 million people in the United States battled an alcohol use disorder, (AUD) the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) reports. Alcoholism affects the entire family unit and has many tangible and intangible consequences. Alcohol impairs thinking, judgment, and decision-making abilities. It increases risk-taking behaviors and increases the odds for being in an accident, being injured, or being involved in a violent altercation or negative sexual encounter. Excessive alcohol abuse may lead to an increased risk for fatal alcohol poisoning, alcohol dependence, health problems, and behavioral changes that may negatively impact job performance and interpersonal relationships.
Alcohol contributes to 88,000 deaths each year in America, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) publishes. It may have shortened the lifespan of those who died from alcohol-related causes between 2006 and 2010 as much as 30 years. It was responsible for 2.5 million years of potential life lost during that time period.
The CDC further reports that excessive alcohol use has an economic impact as well. It cost society $249 billion in 2010 in healthcare costs, lost workplace production, and criminal justice expenses. A study published by NIAAA estimated that around 10 percent of children in the United States reside with a parent battling alcohol problems.
The negative effects of alcohol on communities are extensive. Likewise, the detrimental and personal impact of alcoholism on a family can be significant.
Behavioral Issues Related to Alcoholism
Family members are often the first to witness the effects of their loved ones’ alcohol abuse. When intoxicated, a person may feel more self-confident and have fewer inhibitions, which may lead to the person taking increased risks, such as engaging in risky sexual encounters or driving while impaired. NIAAA reports that almost 31 percent of all traffic fatalities involved alcohol-impaired drivers in 2013, and alcohol was listed as a contributing factor in 10,076 deaths that year.
Unwanted pregnancy or the spread of infectious diseases may the result of a hazardous sexual encounter due to alcohol inebriation. Alcohol also negatively affects cognition, making it hard to concentrate or focus and leading to poor impulse control and bad decisions. Mood swings and erratic behavior may be common in individuals suffering from alcoholism, and the family may notice personality shifts and swings, as well as drastic emotional ups and downs between when the person is intoxicated and sober.
It is often difficult to rely on those who suffer from alcoholism, as much of their time may be spent getting alcohol, drinking it, and recovering from drinking. They may not have control over how much they drink or how frequently. Alcohol may become the main priority in life, and other responsibilities like work, childcare, or school projects may fall to the wayside.
Alcohol abuse often creates financial difficulties, putting undue stress on the family unit. As job production may slide, paychecks may dwindle or be cut off altogether if alcohol intrudes into the workplace and results in job loss. Money may be spent at the bar or the liquor store instead of on essentials. If one partner struggles with alcohol and the other does not, the nondrinking partner may take on the financial burden alone. This can put a lot of stress on a relationship, as can potential infidelity, lying, and childcare concerns. These are potentially high stressors in a relationship that may be exacerbated by the use of alcohol. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that alcohol can heighten partner dissatisfaction, or trouble within a relationship, which may increase problem drinking and the possibility of partner or domestic violence. In 55 percent of reported partner violence cases, the offender was thought be influenced by alcohol.
Behaviors may be unpredictable, and anger and hostility may turn to aggression or violence without warning in a person battling an alcohol use disorder. The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc (NCADD) reports that domestic violence in general may have close ties to alcohol abuse. Children of an alcoholic may be as much as three times more likely to be abused and four times as likely to suffer neglect. Half of those who witness their mothers being abused are likely to battle alcohol or drug problems later in life.
Alcohol abuse and violence, as well as alcohol abuse and crime in general, are often closely related. NCADD publishes the following information relating to alcohol, crime, and violence:
- Victims perceive alcohol to be a factor in around 3 million violent crimes every year.
- Half of all assaults or homicides may involve alcohol (either the victim or the offender or both may have been drinking at the time).
- In violent crime cases (rape, murder, assault, or spousal or child abuse), 40 percent involve alcohol.
- Convicted offenders in prison report drinking at the time of their arrest 37 percent of the time.
Legal troubles may be more common for those who abuse substances. The commission of a crime may land a parent or spouse battling alcohol addiction in jail. This may affect the entire family system, including extended family members who may need to step up with arrange childcare or help out financially. Alcohol abuse can create a large economic burden on entire communities.
Impact of Alcoholism on Health and the Family
Alcoholism can place large burden on a spouse who attempts to hold the family together financially and emotionally. Children are impacted greatly. Childhood trauma can be a risk factor for substance abuse and mental health concerns as young brains are underdeveloped. Exposure to high levels of stress at a young age may interfere with the proper development of the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for decision-making and impulse control, and other brain regions involved with healthy stress management, Harvard University publishes. Also, alcoholism may run in families and have a genetic link, as NIAAA estimates that about half of the time genetics may be responsible for the development of an alcohol use disorder. Environmental factors, such as childhood trauma and stress, may increase the odds for alcoholism as well.
Additionally, excessive and prolonged alcohol abuse can cause a multitude of physical health problems, including heart disease or failure, liver disease, stroke, hypertension, brain damage, contraction of infectious diseases like HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, hepatitis, increased mental health issues, cardiovascular issues, anemia, heightened risk of cancer, gout, onset of dementia, stomach or gastrointestinal issues, and potential nerve damage. These health problems, of course, require medical care. The National Institute of Health (NIH) published that in 2010, close to 2 million American adults were hospitalized for an alcohol-related condition and the median cost for services was over $4,000. Taking care of someone with ailing health is difficult and causes the family both emotional and financial stress. WHO reports that alcohol is responsible for over 5 percent of the worldwide burden of injury and disease, and that alcohol may be a factor in more than 200 disease and injury conditions causing disability, mental health issues, earlier mortality, and economic and social strain on communities and families.
While the effects of alcoholism on a family can be great – from financial problems to relationship damage to health issues – addiction is a treatable brain disease. With specialized treatment, financial, social, emotional, interpersonal, and physical issues may be improved upon, which not only benefits the individual affected but the entire family unit.