eNewsletter - April 2023

Understanding and Addressing the Family Impact of Alcoholism
By: Anneliese Pipitone, LSW

While alcoholism is a diagnosis carried by an individual, its impact stretches far beyond the afflicted family member. Family dynamics, unity and the mental and physical health of family members undoubtedly suffers and often, both children and adults may adopt dysfunctional roles that help them cope. Recognizing this dysfunction and driving awareness of the support needed for everyone affected is critical in addiction treatment.

There are many signs of dysfunction that can help determine when additional support may be warranted. Lack of boundaries, invasion of privacy, hostility toward family members, secrecy, unrealistic expectations, and emotional or verbal abuse are just some of the indicators that family dynamics are unhealthy. This disruption in family dynamics can result in specific dysfunctional roles within the family structure, including:

  1. Caretaker/mastermind: An enabler of the afflicted family member, the caretaker covers up issues and handles the family member’s responsibilities to keep the peace.
  2. Hero: Heroes are self-sufficient and extremely responsible, attempting to repair their homelife in private.
  3. Scapegoat: Diversion is a scapegoat’s main skill, as they act out in ways that keep the attention off the afflicted family member.
  4. Lost child: The lost child keeps a low profile while others deal with the afflicted family member and their behavior.
  5. Mascot: Humor used by the family mascot lightens the load for stressed family members.

Considering the tendency toward dysfunctional family behavior, there is treatment and support available to family members in need. Behavioral health providers and addiction specialists provide a range of therapies, including both individual and couples or family therapy, to assist families in breaking the cycle of dysfunction as a reaction to alcohol use disorder.

Additionally, support meetings for family and friends of those struggling with alcohol use disorder can also be incredibly helpful. The following organizations provide group support:

  • SMART Recovery for Friends and Family. SMART Recovery offers an alternative or supplement to the traditional 12-step model of recovery and provides programming and tools specifically for people dealing with a loved one’s addiction. Chat rooms, message boards, and in-person and virtual meetings share information family and friends need to support their loved one without supporting their addictive behavior. SMART Recovery also recommends blogs, podcasts and reading lists for family and friends.
  • Al-Anon Group for Family and Friends of Alcoholics. Al-Anon serves anyone worried about someone with a drinking problem. Through assessments and meetings for adults and teens, experiences are shared, and family and friends of those struggling with alcohol use disorder can learn from others, as well as feel supported. Together, members find happiness whether their loved one is in recovery or not.
  • Nar Anon for Family and Friends of Addicts. This organization is a 12-step program for family and friends of those struggling with other substance use disorders that provides support and community similar to Al-Anon, but for those with a loved one who is addicted to narcotics or other illicit substances.

Find more resources. Linden Oaks Behavioral Health offers consultations with behavioral health professionals who specialize in treating alcohol use disorder. To connect with a certified therapist for a behavioral health assessment, please call the Linden Oaks Help Line 24 hours a day at 630-305-5027, and one of our professionals will help determine if an individual or family member may benefit from treatment at Linden Oaks Behavioral Health.