Anyone who has ever loved someone battling addiction knows that the disease doesn’t just impact the abuser. Indeed, addiction has profound effects on the entire family, reverberating through every relationship, and causing wounds that, without care, can last a lifetime.
Alcoholism and Domestic Violence
Despite decades of awareness and prevention efforts, domestic or intimate partner violence (IPV) remains a persistent and prolific problem across the US and around the globe. And a mounting body of evidence indicates that alcohol abuse is a significant catalyst for domestic violence.
For example, a recent study found the introduction of alcohol abuse into dating relationships significantly increases the risk of physical and sexual aggression. The study found, for instance, that an estimated 60% of sexual assaults involve alcohol.
The researchers also found that, while alcohol alone is not the precipitating factor, in relationships where the potential for violence already exists, the abuse of alcohol amplifies the risk. This is due primarily to the fact that alcohol, especially when used to the point of intoxication, has a disinhibiting effect, leading to uncharacteristic and uncontrolled behavior.
The abuse of alcohol can lead to harmful cognitive effects. This decreases the users’ ability to manage emotions and resolve conflicts in a productive, rational, and nonviolent manner.
The cognitive, behavioral, and emotional impacts of alcohol abuse don’t just contribute to an increased risk of physical and sexual abuse among intimate partners. The disinhibition and loss of control are also strongly linked to psychological violence, from screaming and yelling to insults and name-calling to threats and physical intimidation. Additionally, the psychological impacts of alcohol addiction on the spouse or intimate partner can result in a loss of personal identity.
In such situations, the relationship becomes defined not by the intimate connection between partners but by the addiction itself. The partners may become subsumed by their respective roles as caregivers and the ones being cared for.
For partners locked in such a codependent relationship, it can become next to impossible to cultivate a sense of self beyond their particular roles. The caregiver may feel lost, anxious, or even worthless unless they’re caring for their addicted partner. The addict, likewise, may lose any sense of autonomy, self-determination, or personal accountability, blaming their addiction on their caregiver while at the same time looking to their caregiver to “heal” them.
Alcoholism can also introduce another profound threat to the marital relationship: financial stress. Alcohol addiction can lead to devastating financial impacts, not only due to the costs of feeding the addiction itself but also due to lost working hours and increased medical expenses associated with the disease. Addicts may find themselves lying to their partners about the household finances to cover up their drinking. This kind of financial infidelity can inject another domain of mistrust in the relationship, even as it strongly exacerbates an already highly stressful situation.
The Effects on Children
It’s not only intimate partners and spouses who are impacted by alcoholism in the home. In fact, children whose parents suffer from alcohol addiction experience significant and often long-enduring effects. One of the greatest risks that children of parents battling addiction face is the risk of neglect.
Parents who are addicted and impaired often are simply unable to meet the child’s physical, emotional, psychological, or academic needs. Children in homes where substance abuse is present inevitably lack both the predictable routines and the senses of stability and normalcy that little ones need for healthy development.
They may experience missed meals and erratic bedtimes. They may not receive the routine medical care they need, and they may suffer from chronic absenteeism at school. They may also suffer academically due not only to frequent absences and poor nutrition but also simply due to the stress and worry borne of their unstable home lives. A substantial body of research shows that these children are more likely than children of nonalcoholic parents to experience depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem.
These children are likely to experience significant ambivalence in their relationship with the addicted parent, torn between love and concern and feelings of disappointment, anger, and frustration. Further, the child may find himself not only taking care of himself but also taking care of the impaired parent and their own younger siblings. This explains the disproportionate levels of stress that children of alcoholic parents experience.
Alcohol addiction can be a devastating disease. But it does not affect the addict alone. Addiction is a disease that sickens the entire family. Without treatment for the entire family, alcoholism can lead to violence, betrayal, and loss of trust among intimate partners. It can contribute to child neglect and mental illnesses. And it can lead to extreme financial stress that reverberates throughout the entire household.