Living under the same roof as an alcoholic is incredibly hard. However, often the families of those with alcohol use disorder (AUD) are overlooked, even though the fallout from AUD affects the entire family unit.

People with AUD can prioritize drinking over other areas of their life including employment, socializing, and physical health. This means that sharing a house with someone who is misusing alcohol is rarely easy – frequently friends and family are left feeling nervous and scared. This article will explain what AUD looks like, and how the loved ones of those who misuse alcohol can protect themselves.

Concealed Alcohol Consumption

Many people, who are classed as ‘functioning’ alcoholics can successfully hide their drinking from friends and colleagues. Many people also use the fact that they do not drink during the day as a way to deny that they have a problem. Just because someone only drinks at home does not mean that they are a safe drinker, and it also means that their families bear the brunt of their drunkenness. It is also especially concerning as research by the World Health Organization has shown that alcohol use in a home increases the risk of domestic violence[1].

Given that only one in ten of those suffering from alcohol use disorder actually seek treatment, it is clear that many families in the United States continue to suffer in silence.[2]

[1] “Intimate Partner Violence And Alcoho”. Who.Int, 2006, https://www.who.int/violence_injury_prevention/violence/world_report/factsheets/fs_intimate.pdf.

[2] Seelye, K., 2016. Fraction Of Americans With Drug Addiction Receive Treatment, Surgeon General Says (Published 2016). [online] Nytimes.com. Available at: <https://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/18/us/substance-abuse-surgeon-general-report.html> [Accessed 9 October 2020].

Alcohol Use Disorder Figures in the United States

The rates of alcohol use disorder in the United States are extremely high. Alcohol consumption is considered socially acceptable in the United States, and the normalization means that many are not properly informed of its dangers. One study by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism estimates that 17 million Americans[1] have a problem with alcohol. Another study makes the previous figure seem like a conservative estimate, claiming that as many as 30 million Americans may suffer from alcoholism.[2]

Those who suffer from AUD put themselves at an increased risk of several health complications, including digestive issues, reproductive issues, high blood pressure, stroke, and heart problems.[3] Alcohol is believed to be the third leading cause of preventable deaths in the United States, killing 88,000 people per year.[4] Drunk driving is also a significant contributor to this figure, with over 10,000 drunk driving-related deaths last year in the United States, averaging out to one death every 51 minutes.[5]

Signs of Alcohol Use Disorder in a Loved One

Alcohol use disorder typically involves frequent cravings for alcohol, and difficulty stopping after alcohol consumption has begun. As consumption increases, the body develops a tolerance, leading to the need to consume more alcohol to achieve the same result. As this continues to progress, physical dependence can form if the body is exposed to alcohol for a prolonged period.

Some of the signs of substance use disorder include:

  • Drinking alone
  • Drinking to deal with emotions
  • Making an effort to conceal their consumption from those closest to them
  • Storing alcohol in dangerous or unusual places, such as at the workplace or in the trunk of their car
  • Inability to control consumption after the first drink
  • Trouble maintaining steady employment or trouble in school-related to timeliness, performance, and disciplinary actions
  • A sudden loss of interest in activities that were once a passion
  • Poor hygiene and a lack of nutrition
  • Frequent blackouts due to excessive drinking

[1] Kreek, M., Nielsen, D., Butelman, E. et al. Genetic influences on impulsivity, risk taking, stress responsivity and vulnerability to drug abuse and addiction. Nat Neurosci 8, 1450–1457 (2005). https://doi.org/10.1038/nn1583

[2] Badiani, Aldo, and Primavera Spagnolo. “Role Of Environmental Factors In Cocaine Addiction”. Current Pharmaceutical Design, vol 19, no. 40, 2013, pp. 6996-7008. Bentham Science Publishers Ltd., doi:10.2174/1381612819999131125221238.

[3] Padykula, N.L., Conklin, P. The Self Regulation Model of Attachment Trauma and Addiction. Clin Soc Work J 38, 351–360 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10615-009-0204-6

Alcoholism is thought to arise from a complex mixture of genetics[1], environmental influences[2], and traumatic early life experiences[3]. Although there is no single gene that passes on alcohol use disorder to future generations, having relatives with alcohol use disorder puts people at an increased risk for developing the disorder later on in life. Other risk factors that can play a role in moderate alcohol consumers developing alcohol use disorder include:

  • • Drinking alcohol as a young adult or adolescent
  • • Frequent binge drinking
  • • Drinking to cope with personal problems including mental health disorders
  • • Drinking while using other substances, including illicit narcotics and prescription drugs
  • • Having a social circle that encourages heavy or frequent alcohol consumption

[1] National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). 2020. Treatment For Alcohol Problems: Finding And Getting Help. [online] Available at: <https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/treatment-alcohol-problems-finding-and-getting-help> [Accessed 9 October 2020].

[2] Schuckit, M., 2020. Remarkable Increases In Alcohol Use Disorders. [online] Jama Network. Available at: <https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapsychiatry/article-abstract/2647075> [Accessed 9 October 2020].

[3]Pietrangelo, A. and Luo, E., 2020. 23 Effects Of Alcohol On Your Body. [online] Healthline. Available at: <https://www.healthline.com/health/alcohol/effects-on-body> [Accessed 9 October 2020].

[4] National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). 2020. Alcohol Facts And Statistics. [online] Available at: <https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/alcohol-facts-and-statistics> [Accessed 9 October 2020].

[5]Cdc.gov. 2020. Impaired Driving: Get The Facts | Motor Vehicle Safety | CDC Injury Center. [online] Available at: <https://www.cdc.gov/motorvehiclesafety/impaired_driving/impaired-drv_factsheet.html> [Accessed 9 October 2020].

Alcohol and Troubles at Home

AUD often impacts the personalities of those who suffer from it. This could impair their willingness to uphold responsibilities such as employment and domestic chores, but it could also be a contributor to aggressiveness, emotional abuse, and domestic violence. This is extremely common, and over 65% of violent incidents occur within close relationships.[1]

In the United States alone, it is estimated that one-in-ten children have at least one parent suffering from alcohol use disorder[2]. Research has also suggested these children are more likely to develop the disorder themselves later in life[3]. These children are more likely to face severe emotional and psychological consequences as a result of their parents’ drinking, including issues with intimacy, trust, and forming close relationships.

Setting Boundaries Related to Safety and Alcohol Consumption

Self-care is highly important for those who live with someone with AUD. This means that it is crucial that the families affected by AUD have a support network – this could be close family friends, counselors, or therapists. In looking after themselves, they can make sure that they are able to support everyone else in the family unit. There is a multitude of free mutual aid groups that specialize in helping families affected by AUD across the United States – a quick internet search could put you in contact with understanding people who know exactly what you are going through.

Listed below are some of the precautions someone can take to ensure the safety of their household.

  • Understand how to identify the warning signs of a safety issue related to excessive alcohol consumption

Abuse in any form – physical, verbal, or emotional must not be tolerated in the home. If someone’s excessive drinking causes them to be aggressive, violent, or angry, it is recommended that appropriate support agencies, such as police or social services are contacted. It is crucial that once signs of abuse are present, the household separates themselves from the abuser.

  • Don’t enable alcohol consumption

Refrain from purchasing alcohol or trying to please the household member who suffers from alcohol use disorder. Long term happiness is not achieved by giving in to their demands.

  • Set boundaries related to alcohol consumption

Boundaries exist to keep everyone safe. This could include not allowing alcohol in the house or not being allowed in the house after consuming alcohol.

  • Be understanding

Although it can be incredibly frustrating to share a home with someone with AUD, being open minded and listening to them may help them. If they feel that they can be honest with you about their struggles it will open up communications. Feeling ashamed is a huge barrier to recovery.

[1] National Counsel on Alcohol and Drug Dependence. 2020. Alcohol, Drugs, And Crime. [online] Available at: <https://www.ncadd.org/about-addiction/alcohol-drugs-and-crime> [Accessed 9 October 2020].

[2] Staff, Reuters. “One In 10 U.S. Kids Have Alcoholic Parent: Study”. U.K., 2020, https://uk.reuters.com/article/us-usa-drinking-study/one-in-10-u-s-kids-have-alcoholic-parent-study-idUSTRE81F0CB20120216.

[3] Chassin, L., Rogosch, F., & Barrera, M. (1991). Substance use and symptomatology among adolescent children of alcoholics. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 100(4), 449–463. https://doi.org/10.1037/0021-843X.100.4.449

Remembering It’s Not Your Fault

Often the loved ones of those with AUD will blame themselves for their loved one’s drinking. In these instances, it is helpful to remember that AUD is a medically recognized disease. It has a wide range of causes, and it is likely that the loved one was predisposed to have this condition by a combination of factors, even if their consumption did increase whilst they were with you.

Staging an Intervention for a Loved One

Interventions can help get someone to address their issues with alcohol use disorder, and it is recommended that family and friends are involved in this process. For someone to admit that they have a problem, and could benefit from professional help, they may require an intervention to act as a compassionate ‘wakeup call’. Having a treatment center in mind, as well as having belongings packed, is a way to ensure that a smooth transition to treatment can take place immediately.