In families where an alcohol‑use disorder is present, the entire family unit is affected. This damage begins at birth. Children are born with a well‑developed emotional capacity. From birth, humans can feel many emotions. One of the first effects on a child in an alcoholic environment, is a sense of disconnection when they are cared for. They don’t develop a sense of self or who they are in the world.
From a young age, children are taught that they must keep the family secrets. Adults keep information from the children and when the children question what is going on in the home, the adults deny the validity of what child is saying. This leads to self‑doubt, and low self‑esteem in the child and has the potential to incite rage and rebellion in adolescents.
This type of alcohol addicted environment also leads to what is referred to as “eggshell syndrome.” Because the person with the alcohol‑use disorder cannot tolerate discomfort, the other family members are very careful to not trigger the alcoholic. In the caregiver, this chronic hyper arousal elevates stress hormones. This is as destructive to their organs as the alcohol is to those of the alcoholic’s. In addition to anxiety, family members experience resentment and anger toward the addicted person for not taking responsibility for their part in the family.
Although there are many challenges in this type of environment, there are things that caregivers – the non-drinking parent and/or grandparents – can do to improve the family members’ well‑being. First and foremost, they should practice their own self‑care. Their physical and mental health are imperative to be a good parent. If they do not take care of their own needs, they will be unable to take care of others.
For the children, maintaining a routine can be helpful, such as a regular bedtime. Research has shown that sleep deprivation not only makes children irritable, but also makes them unavailable to socially interact or do schoolwork.
Alcoholics cannot experience fun or joy without the chemical. Caregivers can provide children with an alternative experience that doesn’t include alcohol. Afterwards they can talk about the experience with the child.
Al‑Anon and Alateen, for teens, provide support to anyone affected by someone else’s problem drinking. *Ninety‑three percent of members report that their lives have been very positively affected by Al‑Anon Family Groups and forty‑two percent that receive professional services and attend Al‑Anon meetings feel that since coming to Al‑Anon, they have seen an improvement in their treatment, counseling, or therapy.
*2018 Al‑Anon Family Group Membership Survey
This professional panel interview was recorded at the Al‑Anon International Convention 2018 in Baltimore, Maryland. The professionals interviewed were:
Nancy Duff‑Boehm, PH.D., Clinical Psychologist, Cleveland, Ohio, USA
Mintie Grienkie, M.ED., Counselor/Psychotherapist, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
Ann McGreevy, MA, Supervisor of Psychological Studies at FCPS, Frederick, Maryland, USA
Hugh A. King Jr., MD, Psychiatrist, Mandeville, Louisiana, USA