When a family member uses alcohol, it impacts everybody in the family. But there are changes that will help your family to be safer and healthier.
Think about these questions:
If you answered yes to any of the above questions, alcohol may be an issue in your home.
You might be reading this because there’s an alcohol issue in your family. If so, you’ve taken the first step in helping yourself.
Alcohol use often causes a lot of stress in the home. Your family might have lost money because of drinking. The person with the issue might not take care of children or pay bills. Maybe the person has legal problems because of drinking or has embarrassed you when he or she was intoxicated (drunk). Any or all of these things might be happening.
Your family is coping with stress the best way it can. Relationships change and are often strained as each family member copes in their own way. When someone in your family has an alcohol issue, other family members might behave in these ways:
All of the above behaviours are ways to cope with a really stressful situation. But these behaviours aren’t helpful because they don’t deal with the real issue and sometimes even let the issue continue. People in your family (including you) might have lots of different feelings (like feeling shame, embarrassed, angry, sad, hopeless, and guilt). These feelings are normal. But, when a family member has an alcohol issue, these feelings are often not talked about. Sometimes family members go out of their way not to show their feelings.
There are 3 unspoken rules that often happen when a family member has an alcohol issue:
Living by the 3 rules listed above is harmful to everyone in your family, especially children.
People in your family likely spend a lot of energy focusing on the person with the alcohol issue. Your family constantly adjusts its behaviour to try to control or cover up for the person's behaviour. People in your family start to ignore their own needs and focus on someone else’s. For example, you stop seeing your friends because you don’t want them to know that your spouse, partner, or child has an alcohol issue.
Maybe you’ve stopped saying anything about the use because you’re scared of making it worse. Maybe you've taken a second job to make up for lost money from using behaviours. These behaviours don't help you; they make it easier for the person who uses substances to keep drinking.
If you have an alcohol issue in your family, you might be able to relate to some of what you’ve read so far. Now, you need to know what to do. Your decision to ask questions and read this information means you want to start doing things differently. That’s the only way to start recovery for you and your family.
Getting information is a good place to start. You can get information from:
Remember, you can get help even if the person with the alcohol issue isn’t getting help.
Not talking about the alcohol issue often means things won't change. It's okay to ask for help. Talk honestly about what’s going on with a friend, family member, someone from a spiritual or religious group, a counsellor, or a support group. An outside person can help you get perspective and talk out some plans. It is important for children to have someone to talk to. If one parent has an issue with substance use, the other parent (or another adult like a teacher, aunt, or uncle) can help balance the negative effects of the alcohol use.
Many people talk about being locked in an unhealthy situation with others as being in a dance with them. Stop by taking care of yourself and your needs. Often changing one behaviour can help you see the situation in a new light and think about what other changes you can make. For example, if you’ve stopped going out with friends because of the person's use, return to those friendships. If you’ve covered up or made excuses for the person to friends, family, or employers, stop doing it.
You can make changes even if the other person doesn't want to. You can get help from your doctor, minister, therapist, addictions counsellor, or support group. Don’t take the blame for what’s going on in your family; try to change what you can.
Ask yourself, “What am I willing to live with?” Threatening your partner or asking them to change often doesn't work, especially if you don't follow through on threats. For example, before you tell the person you’re going to leave if they drink again, you need to be ready to do it. Threats can increase the risk that you will be abused or that your partner will drink more. Only you can say what you’re willing to live with and what changes you can make. The choices you make to take care of yourself will help you, but they might also help the rest of your family (including the person with the issue).
If the person with the issue chooses to get help or treatment, remember that it will take time for things to change. Just because the drinking stops, doesn’t mean that the problems will be fixed right away. Recovery is a long, rocky road for everyone in the family. Returning to substance use is part of recovery, so try not to get discouraged if that happens.
By making a choice to live a different way, you’ve taken a step towards recovery. There is help.
To find out about help or to find an addiction services office near you, call the 24-hour Help Line at 1-866-332-2322 (Alberta only).
Current as of: May 18, 2022
Author: Addiction & Mental Health, Alberta Health Services
This material is not a substitute for the advice of a qualified health professional. This material is intended for general information only and is provided on an "as is", "where is" basis. Although reasonable efforts were made to confirm the accuracy of the information, Alberta Health Services does not make any representation or warranty, express, implied or statutory, as to the accuracy, reliability, completeness, applicability or fitness for a particular purpose of such information. Alberta Health Services expressly disclaims all liability for the use of these materials, and for any claims, actions, demands or suits arising from such use.