Alcoholism can have devastating effects on the family: resources and a guide for family and friends of an alcoholic


…a story from Kristie Elias, CFC’s Vice President for Behavioral Health Services

group of people, one drinking alcohol from a bottle
Addictions can have a devastating effect on the the whole family

Although opioid and other drug addictions receive far more attention than alcoholism lately, all addictions are harmful to the family’s well‑being.

For families and friends who have found the blessings of recovery, the holidays can be a time of joyfulness and gratitude. For others, it can be very painful and filled with disappointments as they experience the active phases of this family disease.

Many have a post-holiday tale to tell about how they barely made it through the festivities due to a loved one’s excessive drinking and the devastating effect it had on their family. Months later, families and friends of alcoholics are still recovering from the aftermath of the holidays.

Alcohol related holiday troubles are common in many families. Arguments happen. Disagreements occur. Memories of inefficiencies and resentments from childhood rear their ugly head again. Holiday stressors can trigger the alcoholic to drink more or in some cases even relapse. Unfortunately, this is a common theme for families and friends of alcoholics after each holiday season.

The victims of alcoholism are not only people who consume alcohol, but also those who are affected by those who consume (too much) alcohol. The entire family is impacted and suffers from this disease. Alcoholism is a family disease that effects the unit as a whole and each member individually.

kids on couch with adult male in background
The victims of alcoholism are not only the people who consume alcohol, but also those who are affected

Holiday drinking by alcoholics (not in recovery) does not necessarily stop or slow down after New Year’s Eve. Some people who continue their drinking after the holidays end up consuming alcohol at a more rapid and frequent pace.

There’s also the reality that rate of relapse for alcoholics in recovery dramatically increases after ringing in the New Year. New goals and expectation set are far too much to handle, even when working a recovery program on a daily basis, and are the reason for relapse.

Moving forward into 2020 with the well-being of the family in mind…

Although there are many challenges in an active alcoholic family environment, there are things that non-drinking family members and friends can do to improve each family members’ well‑being.

#1 Self Care should be a daily priority

Take care of yourself. Your physical and mental health are imperative to be able to provide care for the family as a good parent, caregiver and friend. If you do not take care of you own needs, you will not be able to care for others. The practice own self‑care should be a daily priority.

For the children, maintaining consistency in regards to their routines and safety can be most helpful. Family routines such as meals and a regular betimes provide stability for children. Research has shown that sleep deprivation not only makes children irritable, but also hinders their ability to interact socially and focus on schoolwork.

tired mom with sleeping child
If you do not take care of you own needs, you will not be able to care for others. The practice own self‑care should be a daily priority.

#2 Prepare new traditions

The reality is that the holidays are a difficult time for recovering alcoholics to maintain sobriety with the drastic change in both the amount and pattern of drinking they are exposed to, and sometimes within a short window of his/her sobriety. It is also a time when the family is honoring old traditions and not necessarily considering the need for new or modified (family) traditions to take place.

If you have someone in your family in recovery or struggling from alcoholism, consider creating an alcohol-free holiday / event.

Holiday stress can be a relapse trigger or a reason for the alcoholic to consume more alcohol. If alcohol is present and the alcoholic (whether active or in recovery) can see the direct effects the substance has on people, it can be a trigger for him / her to drink. In some instances, families choose to no longer celebrate the holidays because the alcohol abuse behavior that occurs year after year is too painful to tolerate and/or relive. It’s not too early to start planning your new 2020 holiday traditions!

Everyday stresses become immediate triggers to turn to fabricated escapes. Consider the other holidays and family gatherings too such as birthdays, family reunions, family vacations, etc. that may also be trigger points.

#3 Focus on the family

One final point, and this is probably the most important point to make for families and friends of alcoholics — keep the focus on yourself and not on the problem drinker in your life.

Life can become unmanageable quickly when we worry about the alcoholic and lose focus on ourselves. Worry, fear and obsessive thinking is suddenly all consuming which leads to feelings of emotional instability and physically sick.

Keeping the focus on thyself is not easy. Take it one day at a time.

Put trust in God (your higher power) and try to build that trust with Him in whatever has been presented to your family and the alcoholic in your life may be the best thing for you all at this moment even though it is not exactly what you want for your family at this time. Sometimes when you start doubting and questioning God’s plan for your family, a crisis can occur with the alcoholic, where harsh words come out easily and an arguments occurs.

God has a plan for each of us. We don’t know His plan. When we start focusing on others and trying to fix others, we may be interfering with His plan.

#4 Love prevails

Love the alcoholic in your life even when they are an active drinker.

“Never be too hard on the man who can’t give up drink. It’s as hard to give up the drink as it is to raise the dead to life again. But both are possible and even easy for Our Lord. We have only to depend on him.” — The Venerable Matt Talbot



Catholic Charities Family and Community Services

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