Effects of Alcohol on the Family Essay

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Alcohol Dependence, also known as alcoholism, is a very widespread disabling addictive disorder, affecting 4% of Canadians. Alcoholism may start innocuously, due to the acceptability of social drinking, but over time, can lead to serious health problems, including brain, kidney and liver damage. Although alcoholics seem to be doing the most damage to themselves, they are hurting their families even more. Lesser-known, but just as serious victims of alcohol abuse are the alcoholics children. The negative effects start in the womb, where drinking during pregnancy often causes Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, and other defects.

After the baby is born, the risks continue, as the children in alcoholic families tend to lack a stable family environment and have a fairly high rate of abuse. These factors, as well as genetic predisposition, are strong precedents to the child developing alcohol abuse problems themselves. These children also tend to show more symptoms of anxiety and depression, and have lower self esteem than children from nonalcoholic families. These factors may also contribute to the likelihood of the child becoming an alcoholic. When a few drinks has turned into a few too many, a few too many times, some may start to suspect alcoholism.

This is often how alcohol abuse starts, with acceptable social drinking increasing to the point where the drinker can no longer control their desire and compulsion to drink. Drinking too much alcohol over a long period changes the chemical balance in the brain linked to pleasure, causing the body to crave alcohol. Symptoms of alcoholism are frequent intoxication; drinking and continuing to drink alcohol in appropriate places and times; and often, denial of the problem. Due to the legality and availability of alcohol, it can be very difficult to quit or help another quit drinking, which can result in long-term alcohol abuse.

When one has been abusing alcohol for long periods of time, it can cause a number of mental and physical problems, including, but not limited to liver damage, kidney damage, heart disease, alcoholic dementia, brain damage, and a myriad of psychological problems. Alcoholism also comes with a variety of comorbid disorders, most commonly major depressive disorder, and anxiety related disorders (Petrakis, 86).

The order of the co-occurrence is not always clear; whether these disorders resulted from the alcoholism, or whether the alcoholism was triggered by the disorders varies accordingly, but regardless, the alcoholic has a much better chance of recovery if both problems are treated together.

(Medline Plus) Drinking alcohol during pregnancy has been found to increase health risks to the fetus, especially after the first trimester. Any amount of alcohol may harm a developing baby, no safe amount has yet been established; however the more alcohol consumed by an expectant mother, the higher the risks are of the baby developing Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, or FAS. FAS is a series of mental and physical defects that can develop in a fetus during pregnancy if the mother has been drinking.

The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence states that approximately 5000 babies are born each year with severe FAS, and another 35000 are born with milder symptoms. If an alcoholic womans first child has FAS, the risk of her second child having FAS as well is a daunting 70%. The range of birth defects caused by FAS can be minor to major, and are nearly always long term. The infant will be born underweight and with an alcohol dependency. A detox period will follow birth, sometimes lasting for up to several months.

These babies tend to have brain and skull deformities, and can have very distinctive facial features, such as small eye openings, thin upper lips, and long, flat faces. (Dozois, and Firestone 249-262) (Davis, and Frost 100-101) As the baby grows, learning problems that will keep the child from progressing normally may become apparent. FAS can cause damage to the central nervous system, which may result in severe learning disabilities. Due to this, the child may have problems learning to walk, being able to sleep, and focusing on motor skills; and have speech problems, hearing impairment, and decreased memory recall.

They may have low self-esteem, be hyperactive, and be easily angered or frustrated. Mild or severe retardation, emotional issues, the inability to bond and communicate with other children their age are common traits for a child who suffers from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. It often results in lower and overall academic performance (compared to non-FAS children), and difficulties in reading, writing, spelling, and mathematics. (Dozois, and Firestone 254) Another side effect of alcoholism in the family is the lack of a stable family environment.

Alcohol has been known to negatively affect marital relationships, breaking up families, be the cause of suicide, result in unemployment and poverty, and cause or exacerbate child abuse. Over 3 times as many people report to have been previously married to an alcoholic, compared to those currently married to an alcoholic, demonstrating that relationships involving alcohol abuse are less likely to last than sober relationships. Often, if one parent is an alcoholic and the other is not, the sober partner feels that the drinking takes precedence over them and their family.

This strongly affects couples with children, as they may effectively lose either parent, or end up being shuttled between them. Worse than losing a parent to divorce is the reality of losing a parent to suicide. The relationship between alcoholism and suicide is very clear, and has been well-documented. Alcohol is a depressant, and can bring on episodes of major depressive disorder. Alcohol abuse is often either self-medication for depression, or the cause of alcoholic depression.

Often, alcoholic depression is a combination of the two, a vicious cycle of triggering and self-medicating that worsens ones emotional state. This despair, combined with possible unemployment; marital, family, and financial problems; and declining health due to drinking, results in more drinking to drink away the issues, which can push one over the edge and cause them to take their own life. (Alcoholic. ca) Even if both parents are alive and present in a childs life, they may not always be the responsible adults and parents they are expected to be.

Many severely alcoholic parents are not able to attend to and fulfill their childs physical and emotional needs, and some may even require the child to prematurely assume the role of the parent and take care of the adult. They may be emotionally and financially supported by their children in cases where their alcoholism is too severe for them to be self-reliant and hold a steady job. If there are younger siblings, the responsibilities of parenting may fall to the oldest child, sometimes in their entirety. This role reversal is unfortunate, but all too common in families where the main caregiver is affected by substance abuse and alcoholism.

This also results in the children lacking proper role models to learn from, and as teenagers, are more likely to do poorly in school, or drop out entirely and not pursue post-secondary education. Children of alcoholics have higher rates of truancy, arrest, depression, and addiction than their peers, and are usually more aggressive, obsessive, impulsive, and have lower self-esteem. (Parsons) Child abuse adds to the instability of the life of a child with alcoholic parents. While child abuse, unlike FAS, can also occur in families without alcoholic parents, 4/5 of reported cases involved substance abuse, commonly including alcohol.

Alcoholism is also more prevalent among child-abusing parents than those who do not abuse their children, and is more commonly associated with child abuse than any other disorder. The abuse is not limited to physical abuse; it comes in many forms, including sexual, verbal, emotional, and psychological abuse, as well as neglect. There are many reasons and theories behind the facts, all are true to a certain degree in most situations. Some say that alcoholics are generally more violent and prone to aggression, which makes their children a convenient target.

The alcohol might be making them aggressive, or they may aggressive by nature, which is exacerbated by the alcohol. Also, since alcohol and child abuse are connected, many alcoholics were abused as children themselves, and as a result, are more likely to abuse their own children. This abuse puts their children at a greater risk of alcoholism, as well as abusing their future children, perpetuating the cycle. Emotional abuse and neglect commonly occur when the inebriated parent cannot correctly assess their own priorities, emotionally (or physically) abandons their child, or does not treat them as a parent should.

Regardless of the reason, child abuse results in the children doing poorly in school, having self-esteem issues, anti-social behaviour, having feelings of guilt and shame, and suffering from depression. Abused children are also much more likely to grow up to abuse their own children, and to have substance abuse issues of their own. (Widom and Hiller-Sturmhofel 52-57) Despite the obvious hope that a child with alcoholic parents will learn from their mistakes and grow up to be an addiction-free adult, the opposite is usually true.

The children of alcoholics are far more likely to become a product of their environment and develop substance abuse problems, likely including, but not limited to, alcoholism. Without proper role models and examples to base themselves off of, these children tend to fall into their parents habits and imitate their actions. Alcoholic parents are also more likely to have raised their children in an environment where alcohol abuse was more common or more accepted than non-alcoholic parents, where they may have been influenced by their peers.

Along with alcohol dependency, these children are at a much higher risk of developing other substance abuses issues and addictions, most commonly to benzodiazepines. They are also likely to suffer from symptoms of depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and obsessive behaviours. Those who manage to stay sober tend to exhibit these characteristics as well. Some children of alcoholics may fall victim to the same traps as their parents, while others excel, possibly due to a desire to do better in life than their parents. (Brooke, et al 1980-1981)

Alcoholism is a very tough habit to break, however anyone who desires to try has a multitude of options. There are certain medications in use that may be prescribed as part of treatment, but these usually accompany group therapy or psychotherapy, which is usually found to be the most effective. Alcoholics Anonymous, or AA, is the most common program, due to its availability, anonymity, efficacy, and affordability. It is a free international program based on the mutual support of its members, where alcoholics learn to take responsibility for their actions, and support others through their journeys.

It is based on the 12 Steps, which are a set of principles and beliefs that focus on admitting to mistakes and addictions, recognizing a higher power, making amends, taking responsibility, and helping others through their addictions. AA famously schools its members that alcoholism is a disease, and that it is not something that they can control. However despite all the available support, unless those who suffer from Alcohol Dependence genuinely have a wish to get better, and are willing to put the in the time and effort required, their problems often do result in lasting effects, both for themselves and others. (Alcoholic.ca) (Alcoholics Anonymous).

References Alcoholics Anonymous.

Alcoholics Anonymous: This is AA. Alcoholics Anonymous. Alcoholics Anonymous World Services Inc. , 2010. Web. 28 Nov 2010. . Alcoholics Anonymous. Alcoholics Anonymous: Is There an Alcoholic in Your Life?. Alcoholics Anonymous. Alcoholics Anonymous World Services Inc. , 2010. Web. 28 Nov 2010. . Medline Plus. Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse. Medline Plus. National Library of Medicine, 15 Nov 2010. Web. 26 Nov 2010. . Parsons, Tetyana. Alcoholism and Its Effect on the Family. AllPsych Online. AllPsych and Heffner Media Group Inc. , 14 Dec 2003. Web. 28 Nov 2010. .

Widom, Cathy Spatz, and Susanne Hiller-Sturmhofel. Alcohol Abuse as a Risk Factor for and Consequence of Child Abuse. Alcohol research & health: the journal of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. 25. 1 (2001): 52-57. Print. Alcoholic. ca. Alcoholism and Suicide. Alcoholic and Alcohol Treatment in Canada. Alcoholic. ca, 2009. Web. 29 Nov 2010. . Alcoholic. ca. Alcoholic and Alcohol Treatment. Alcoholic and Alcohol Treatment in Canada. Alcoholic. ca, 2009. Web. 29 Nov 2010. . Dozois, David, and Philip Firestone. Abnormal Psychology. 4th Ed. , Perspectives. Toronto, Canada: Pearson Education Canada, 2010.

254. Print. Brooke, S, et al. Familial Loading for Alcoholism and Offspring Behavior: Mediating and Moderating Influences. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research 34. 11 (2010): 1980-1981. Web. 28 Nov 2010. . Petrakis, Ismene L, et al. Comorbidity of Alcoholism and Psychiatric Disorders: An Overview. Alcohol research & health: the journal of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. 26. 2 (2002): 81-89. Print. Davis, Janet Haggerty, and Wendy Autumn Frost. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome: A Challenge for the Community Health Nurse. Journal of Community Health Nursing. 1. 2 (1984): 100-101. Print.

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