Living with an Alcoholic

Digital capture of forty year old man drinking alone.When you think of an alcoholic, your brain doesn't normally revert to the wealthy neighbor next door who seems to have it all: the good job, the perfect partner, the successful kids.  Instead, you might think about people living under bridges, or in homes below the poverty line. 

Surprisingly, according to statistics the following statements are true about alcoholics: 

  • 6% of all adults who drink are alcoholics
  • There are over 12 million alcoholics in the United States
  • Alcoholism is more prominent among higher educated and higher income people than any other demographic group
  • Alcoholism is a disease that affects an ENTIRE family, not just the person drinking. 
  • At least 1 out of every 5 children today has an alcoholic parent.
  • While levels of abuse are high among alcoholics, many families living with an alcoholic suffer no verbal or physical abuse.  (Often making the situation even more confusing for those involved)

Certainly, there are alcoholics who beat their spouses and children, who cannot hold down a job, who get arrested or have multiple DUI's.  And then there are alcoholics who go to work every day and drink happily and freely in their own homes.  Many of these people don’t even know that they are addicted, and a large percentage don’t see their behavior as hurtful towards their family at all. 

The thing is that kids learn quick how to identify when mom or dad are drinking, and it often results in defiance, anger, emotional stress, worry, and even depression in young children.  Furthermore, the drinking is often facilitated by the spouse or family, because while they know their partner/parent drinks too much, he or she does more good for the family than bad.  

According to Al-Anon and Alateen, many families don’t realize just how much of an impact living with an alcoholic can have on their life.  Children are often left with a feeling of mistrust, or a lack of confidence that their needs will be taken care of, and also become embedded in a cycle of role reversal where they try to care for their alcoholic parent, as well as make excuses for their alcoholic parent.  The spouses of alcoholics often feel like powerless to help the situation without knocking the entire family unit off kilter.  And in cases where the drinking is done at home, and the parent is able to carry out an otherwise responsible life, taking steps to stop the drinking can ‘feel' confusing.  

The one thing that everyone needs to realize is that when the live with an addict of any kind – the addiction will always come first.  The best parents in the world, the most loving parent on the block, the coach of your kids baseball team, the neighbor that you adore – will ALWAYS find a way to make the alcohol come first. 

Even more frustrating is that the family living with the alcoholic often learns quickly that mom or dad is happier, and easier to get along with when they drink.  So while they may be bothered by the drinking, they are more bothered by the person when he or she is not drinking. Most alcoholics become moody and emotional, snappy and slightly off kilter when they are separated from their drug of choice.  So the folks standing by, whether kids or adults, learn quickly that handing over that small glass of wine or can of beer can quickly curtail any uncomfortable situations between themselves and the alcoholic parent.  This quickly equates to enabling. Children, spouses, and extended family members quickly become enablers by trying to downplay, excuse, or even hide the alcoholism from themselves and others. 


The most important thing to know is that alcoholism is a disease.  Very few people recover unless they receive help.  Hosting an intervention, or trying to talk to someone you love is never an easy thing to do. You may need to turn to outside sources.  One of the best ways to start, is by attending an Al-Alon or Al-Ateen (if you have kiddos) meeting locally.  Not only will they help you to understand the illness, but they will also help you to understand the part you are playing in enabling your loved one. They also have some great advice to help you and your family get back on track.  Plus, you will be able to meet up with people, just like YOU – who may be embarrassed or ashamed, and who in reality have no idea what to do to help someone they love.  

The benefits of confronting the problem far outweigh the consequences of letting it go.  You owe it to yourself and your family to seek help.

Remember, YOU ARE NOT ALONE in this.  

Image via iStock

What do you think?

Living with an Alcoholic

Stef Daniel is the 40ish year old, experienced (meaning crazy already) mother of count ‘em…4 daughters (yes, she takes prayers) who have taught her nearly E.V.E.R.Y.T.H.I.N.G she needs to know about raising kids and staying sane. She hails from a small town in Georgia where she lives with her family in a red tin roofed house (with just ONE bathroom mind you) on a farm - with tons of animals of course. One day, due to her sheer aversion to shoes and her immense lov ... More

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  1. It eventually catches up to you. No matter how in control you seem now. My father was a heavy drinker for the first 20 years of my life. You learned to avoid him when he had a drink in his hand. He was a verbally abusive drunk. Away from home, he was a decorated detective. My mother always went to get his alcohol, so he was never seen getting it. He even alluded to his friends if they would ask, that she was the drinker. Eventually their marriage fell apart. Without her enabling him, he destroyed his career, his liver, his brain cells, his relationships with his children. He is currently unemployed, living above someone’s garage.

  2. Angela says:

    My sister and her boyfriend are alcoholics. They get drunk on a daily basis. I and the rest of my family have tried talking to them on several occasions about it. (Now, to be clear, they are not pleasant drunks.) However, every time anyone has said something to them; they tell us to mind our own business or they’re just stressed out and needed to drink or they’re trying to "open their minds" through alcohol. I know they’d never agree to go to an AA meeting, because they don’t see a problem with what they do.

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