If you have been affected by someone else’s drinking, this page will help you find out more about alcoholism and the effects on the family. This can help you to feel better. You are not alone. Nacoa is here to help.
Alcoholism - when drinking becomes a problem
Understanding more about alcoholism can help make sense of some of the chaos that often exists when a family member is dependent on alcohol.
- Alcohol problems can affect people of all ages and from all walks of life.
- Alcoholism is like an illness, where the person has lost control over their drinking. They continue to drink despite it having a negative effect on their lives, their health, and those around them and usually need help to stop.
- People don’t set out to become alcoholics. Some start drinking socially and end up drinking heavily and becoming dependent on alcohol. For others they may drink to forget problems in their lives, such as with work, relationships or finances, or to calm their nerves, reduce anxiety and feel more confident. The slide into problem drinking and dependency can be gradual as they come to rely on alcohol more and more.
- Often the person drinking doesn’t realise they have a problem. Even when they become aware something is wrong, they often do not see that it may be to do with their drinking. It is common for the alcoholic to place the blame on other people, or problems in their life. This is referred to as being ‘in denial’. Whatever anyone says, you are not responsible for someone else’s drinking.
- When someone has a drink problem, alcohol often becomes their main focus in life. Drinking is seen as the solution to their problems. The need to drink takes priority over everything else, including those they love. They can become secretive and adept at explaining away how much they drink, when and where.
- Support is available for people who need help to stop drinking, but as hard as it is for those around them, the person has to accept that they have a problem and want to stop. For information about where someone with an alcohol problem can get help see Help for People with Alcohol Problems.
Not sure if your parent had/has a problem with alcohol?
You may find it helpful to look at our Other Person Diagnosis sheet. Remember that Nacoa is here for everyone affected by someone else’s drinking. We will focus on how it affects you, whether they’ve been diagnosed as having a problem or not.
Wondering if your own drinking is becoming a problem?
Try our Self Diagnosis sheet and see what you think. You can talk to us about your concerns. If you have any worries about your drinking, talking about it sooner, rather than later, can help. You don’t have to wait until it gets ‘bad enough’ or you think you have become dependent on alcohol.
For more information including definitions; why people drink; how alcoholism can progress; neurochemistry; and genetics, please read our Alcoholism information sheet.
Alcoholism and the family
Alcohol problems do not only affect the person drinking, but also everyone around them, including friends, family and colleagues. It can be especially difficult for their children.
Research suggests that 1 in 5 children in the UK are currently living with a parent who drinks hazardously. These problems often continue into adulthood. The effects of parental alcohol misuse don’t just disappear once children reach 18 or move away from home. Millions of adults in the UK are still being affected by their parents’ drinking or the knock-on effects of growing up in a home where alcohol was a problem.
For more information about the scale of the problem and the effects on children see Research.
As the person drinking organises their life around alcohol, family members also adapt to cope with the drinking and associated behaviour. Family members often collude with the alcoholic to keep the problem hidden from the outside world. The family rules don’t talk, don’t trust, don’t feel develop to protect the illusion of a ‘normal’ family.
Living with alcoholism can be chaotic and lead to other problems. Sometimes there are money problems, parents can argue a lot or there can be violence and mood swings. What’s OK one day may not be OK the next. This can lead to feelings of fear, anxiety, loneliness, embarrassment, guilt and shame.
Children of alcoholics can be more likely to suffer from low self-esteem, depression and thoughts of suicide, and sometimes use drink, drugs and addictive behaviours, such as eating disorders and self-harm, in order to cope. Despite this, many grow up to lead happy and healthy lives. Just being aware of the problem and having support for you can make a huge difference.
The devastating effects of alcoholism are also shown in this powerful music video for the single ‘Through the Eyes’ by Redzz. The song is based on a true story about Del, an alcoholic. It portrays the downward spiral in Del's life due to alcoholism and the knock-on effects on his family.
For more information, including material about the characteristics of families where alcoholism is a problem and the types of roles family members can end up playing as a result of adapting to addiction, please read our Alcoholism – The Family Illness information sheet.
Codependency – the underlying condition
Codependency is a condition that results from adapting to dysfunction, such as alcoholism, in the family. Symptoms include development of unhealthy defences to deal with emotional pain; an inability to identify or express feelings; difficulty in intimate relationships; and denial or minimisation of problems. Symptoms are usually disguised so codependent people may appear to be happy and successful on the outside whilst experiencing an emptiness or inadequacy on the inside.
For more information please read our Introduction to Codependency sheet.
You are not alone
Remember Nacoa is here for you. If you want to talk about anything on this page, please call or email Nacoa.
- However you are feeling, or whatever questions are on your mind, we will always try to help.
- When a parent has, or has had, a drink problem, it isn’t easy, but you don’t have to cope on your own.
- See Help & advice for ideas on ways to feel better.
- You may also find it helpful to read Experiences of other adults affected by their parent’s drinking.