Alcoholism is a disease which impairs emotional, psychological as well as, the physical health of the alcoholic, and his loved family members. Several experts have referred to alcoholism as a “family disease”; mainly due to the fact that it has negative effects which result into dysfunctional behaviour and roles by the alcoholic and his/her family members. As such, it is important to understand how alcohol affects people, and the conditions that it causes both medical and social, on the alcoholics. While alcohol has several functions ranging from the cultural, symbolic, to the religious, it is also a drug that has several known toxic effects on human health. There are also other dangers like dependence, and intoxication. Many people have caused harm and injuries to themselves and to their family members due to alcohol abuse and dependence. As such, alcohol consumption may be seen as a normal and enjoyable part of life by those who drink “moderately and responsibly” but this may have dangerous consequences if it becomes and habit. Alcoholism wrecks families.
The American Psychiatric Association recommends three different ways through which doctors and health professionals can diagnose alcoholism in their patients. These include:
The obsessive urge to drink which is a psychological problem
Behavioural problems which disrupt work and social life
And finally, blackouts, hand tremors, and other physiological problems
Silverstein (1990) points out that, “alcoholism affects people who are highly educated” more than other people. Nonetheless, it is a disorder that is found in people of all backgrounds, age, ethic or social groups, and does not depend on the income level of a person. According to various studies, however, highly motivated people are less likely to get addicted or dependent on alcohol than those who lack motivation.
The reason why alcoholism is known as a “family disease” is because alcoholic have children, husbands, wives, sisters and brothers affected by their problem. They also have parents and other relatives. The disruption that alcoholism can cause to the relationships between the alcoholic and the family members he/she has can last a lifetime. According to Silverstein, at least 1 family in 4 families in America have had problems with alcohol. This statistic is reiterated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, whom in conjunction with the SAMHSA, revealed that over 76 million American adults have experienced alcoholism or lived with it at one point in their lives.
The effects of alcohol are manifested in different ways. For instance, parental alcoholism affects foetuses before children are born. This is mainly because the mother’s tissues and organs, including the placenta, carry the alcohol; and therefore, can reach the unborn child and affect it. The alcohol concentration within an unborn child’s bloodstream is the same as that of the pregnant woman who partakes of the alcoholic drinks. The result can be giving birth to a child that has Foetal Alcohol Syndrome. The intensity or severity of the condition depends on how much the pregnant woman was drinking before child birth.
As for older children, the effects include guilt, low self-esteem, loneliness, chronic depression, fears of abandonment, as well as, feelings of helplessness. It is reported that children of alcoholics get affected to such levels that they feel they are responsible for the problems that their alcoholic parents have in their lives and marriages. Apart from that, such children may have bedwetting and frequent nightmare problems. They may also not feel free to go to school; mainly because the family problems they are having at home could lead to lack of friends and people to socialize with outside the classroom setting. As they get older, such children develop depressive symptoms and often obsessively perfectionist; feeling different from everyone else. Such tendencies are reflective of their alcoholic parents.
Additional problems in alcoholic families are violence, crime, as well as battery and incest. Berger points out that 75% of domestic violence cases and 30% of incest cases between fathers and daughters happen when at least one member of such families is alcoholic. Ironically, battering and incest victims often feel guilty and blame themselves for such predicaments. The shame, helplessness, and guilt may make such victims to turn to alcoholism in an attempt to escape the pain they feel. In adulthood, such children often show aggression, depression and impulsive behaviour. However, they never relate the problems to growing up with alcoholic parents. They never have healthy relationships of their own; and in effect, often fail in parenthood.
People with alcoholic spouses often develop feelings of self-pity, feelings of hatred, exhaustion, avoidance of social relationships or contacts, and also develop mental or physical illness. This is brought about by the pressures and the combination of the responsibilities of both spouses in a difficult environment.
Alcoholism is a disorder that affects people’s health and how they act. Drunkards have mood swings and tend to be aggressive. The embarrassment and damage caused as a result of alcoholism in families is often irreparable. The problem is associated to many things including life events, genetics, family history, and can only be solved through professional help. It often starts as a habit but then develops into a big problem. Some people drink to cope with stress, financial problems, boredom; and family problems. Other people’s behaviour, however, cannot lead those they are related to, to develop the same behaviour. However, there are cases of co-dependency in families struggling with alcoholism.