Alcoholism: Family Disease

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Alcoholism Affects The Entire Family

When one thinks of alcoholism, we initially think of the alcoholic. We think of the tragic consequences of alcohol abuse on the abuser, his community, and society. What isn’t always apparent, however, is how alcoholism affects the entire family. In this paper I will illustrate how families in alcoholic homes are sick and need recovery as well. It’s easy to blame our problems on the alcoholic, unfortunately, growing up with an alcoholic forces the family to change in order to accommodate the chaos caused by the drinker. What is normal? Normal is a nebulous term at best. Claudia Black discusses the clearest indicator of a “…smoothly working family is consistency.” (1) On the contrary, “…living in the alcoholic home…inconsistency and unpredictability are considered normal.” (2) While some alcoholics have less of an effect on the family unit, “Steinglass makes a distinction between alcoholic families, in which the family is organized by the alcoholism and the members’ reaction to it, and families with alcoholism, which have a sick member whose illness causes distortions, but does not dominate family life.”(3) In Family Sollutions for Substance Abuse, Clinical and Counseling Approaches McCullum etal describe the common patterns of family functioning consisting of Rules, Roles, Communication, Proximity, and Boundaries, and Hierarchy: 1. Rules-“All families operate according to a recognizable set of principles …” 2. Roles- “…a universal aspect of family operation, defining each member’s function in the family” 3. Communication-“Family members perpetuate rules and roles by communicating their intentions and needs through a variety of means, both verbal and non verbal.” 4. Proximity Closeness and distance relationships’ are established and constrained by the family’s patterns of communication. 5. Boundaries and hierarchy. Some family members display appreciation of one another as distinct beings and respect one anothers rights (4)

In an alcoholic family the rules are vague, mainly, “act like everything is normal”, and “don’t speak of mom or dads alcoholism. As black explains “Members in this family system act and react in a manner that makes life easier and less painful however, emotions are repressed and become twisted.” (5) Black also describes the roles annotated above which families in alcoholic households adopt in order to cope. These roles, according to Black, can be categorized as:

* The Resoponsible Child
* The Adjuster
* The Placater
* The Acting Out Child (6)
Are these roles set in stone? Levin etal reply to this question with “…most COA’s (children on alcoholics) do not fit neatly into one specific role, and many manifest behaviors of more than one role.” (7)

The Responsible Child, according to Black, is most often the oldest child. (8) “This is the nine year old going on thirty. The seven year old putting mom to bed.” Or the “…12 year old driving dad home from the bar, because he’s too drunk.”(9) The responsible child may do all of the cooking and household chores. The responsible child feels they must take control of family life to substitute for the lack of control they feel with their unpredictable parents. These children look great on the outside, taking charge of school clubs, becoming captains of sports teams, even becoming class presidents. Later on in life the Responsible Child may become a supervisor or manager, often a workaholic. He can be very giving, and might end up doing everyone’s job for him or her. Inside the Responsible child is restless, irritable and discontent, running from his pain by staying busy: carrying the world on his shoulders.

Next is the middle child who acts as the Adjuster. The Adjuster does not find it necessary to be responsible for himself or others. “ For him it is easy to simply follow directions, handle whatever has to be handled, and adjust to the circumstances of the day.” (10) The...
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