Alcoholism is a family disease and therefore, the effects of this illness will inevitably impact all those within the family system. Not just the user is affected by the adverse implications that come along with addiction, the family suffers socio-emotional, financial, and physical burdens as well. Addiction is often times considered a secret and those who keep the secret are often deemed ill as well. In order to truly overcome this disease all family members, in addition to the abuser, must seek help to heal.
With that being said, how does one relinquish themselves from the throws of the horribly debilitating disease of alcoholism? To begin, it is critical to truly understand alcoholism and addiction for that matter. There are common misconceptions regarding “what an alcoholic looks like” or “what an alcoholic does.” According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc.
Alcoholism, also known as alcohol dependence, includes the following four symptoms:
Craving- a strong need or urge to drink
Loss of Control- not being able to stop drinking once drinking has begun
Physical Dependence- withdrawal symptoms such as nausea, sweating, shakiness, and anxiety after stopping drinking, and
Tolerance- the need to drink greater amounts of alcohol to “get high.”
To suffer from alcoholism doesn’t necessarily mean that an individual is drunk around the clock, chronically with a beer in hand, or missing work daily to feed the addiction although these things can happen. Alcoholism can take the shape of many forms including an individual who doesn’t drink everyday but when they do, their actions negatively impact those around them. When it comes time to talking to your kids about alcoholism, this article is mainly geared towards addressing how your child perceives the family environment, their overall notions of safety, and their understanding of the behaviors of their parent.
As an adult, you may be aware that you and/or your spouse has a problem with drinking. If you are attune to this, chances are your kids are as well. Regardless of their age, create an open forum for this child to disclose their thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Don’t overshare information about the “behind the scenes” struggles but use this opportunity to take a pulse on what your child’s interpretations are of the situation, debunk any misinformation, and impart knowledge to problem-solve future experiences. For example, if your child appears ambivalent to invite friends over to their house ask them why. If she share’s that it is because of “dad’s evening temper or silly moods,” dialogue with her about how she feels when dad acts that way and what she can do to feel safe and comfortable during times of unpredictability. Also, knowing that this normal childhood activity can be a stressor, work with your spouse to ensure one evening that he can either be out or abstain to provide the environment conducive for a playdate or sleepover.
Every family and every experience looks different with regards to alcoholism. Talk early and talk often about your child’s interpretation of the situation to help understand their needs and concerns. Seek mental health services to provide another outlet for the child to talk about their feelings in a private and nurturing setting to facilitate advocacy of thoughts and emotions, to enhance problem-solving skill sets, and cultivate a solid sense of self despite negative self-thoughts that may be derived from their relationship with their challenging parent (i.e. “daddy drinks because I’ve been bad).
If you, or someone you know needs support for alcohol addition, please contact the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc.