Addiction – the dreaded word

In a world where binge drinking, drug use, and eating disorders are on the rise, it is all too likely we know someone in our immediate lives who is either suffering from an addiction or in recovery from one.

It is easy to assume that alcoholism only affects the drinker. They are the ones who are destroying their daily lives and missing plans and deadlines, right? However, that is a rationalization often used by alcoholics themselves when they are justifying why there’s “no reason to stop.” Alcoholism is often associated with selfishness because the alcoholic cannot see the damage they are causing in the lives of those around them, nor do they care to because it would require them to face the consequences, which would of course interfere with their drinking. However, alcoholism does impact loved ones, and its reach expands far beyond missing plans or a dinner.

Here are five ways alcoholism impacts your loved ones:

Missed Engagements

Anyone closely connected to an alcoholic is all too familiar with the experience of looking for them and being unable to connect. Whether it be a holiday or a family affair, alcoholics have a tendency to remove themselves from situations where their drinking could be monitored or their inebriation could be exposed. The shame associated with alcoholism will keep an alcoholic at bay, away from their loved ones. When in the depths of alcoholism, the alcoholic will lose track of time and disassociate from reality or obligation. Even though they agreed to attend an event with a loved one at 7:00pm, the hour can roll around, and they are too drunk to notice the time or too ashamed to show up and be called out for their behaviors.

This affects loved ones for obvious reasons. If they are aware of the alcoholic’s drinking problem, it incites worry and concern for the alcoholic’s wellbeing. There is always the fear that they will get a call from the hospital one day informing them that their loved one is dead from alcohol consumption – whether it be a drunk driving accident, suicide, or drinking too much. The loved one lives in constant fear that if they don’t know where the alcoholic is, they are never going to see them again.

Guilt by Association

One of the most stressful parts about loving someone who is suffering with alcoholism is trying to determine where to set boundaries and how to enforce them.

If your loved one is an alcoholic, you don’t want to kick them out of the house or stop communicating with them because there is always the fear that you’ll never see them again or that they will die without you there to oversee them.

However, there is also the fear that you’re enabling the behavior as well. There is a fine line between empathy, compassion, and hard love. It is incredibly difficult for the loved one to figure out how to navigate those lines, and any choice almost always comes with guilt.

Emotional Hostages

A Teen Crying While His Loved Ones Argue About AlcoholismAn alcoholic is often erratic. While drinking, they might start off as the life of the party, the person everyone wants to be around. When the drinks become too much, they might become withdrawn or sloppy, suddenly saddened by some long-ago tragedy or memory. Others become angry and violent or wild and full of manic energy that is at once attractive and dangerous. When loved ones approach them, they don’t know what to expect and are constantly on edge. In turn, they become a slave to the alcoholic’s whims. Everyone around walks on eggshells and becomes concerned solely on keeping the alcoholic docile so that they can continue in a functional manner and not ruin the event. This is sometimes called emotional hostage taking. Once the alcoholic notices the power they wield, they can often begin to use it in ever more manipulative ways to make the event centered around themselves or their problems.


An alcoholic causes stress on everyone they touch and come into contact with daily. Even if the alcoholic is able to minimize direct emotional outbursts, their partners inevitably grow without a true spouse, and their children grow up without a true father/mother. Everyone near the alcoholic lives in a state of alcoholic isolation. In turn, there is the stress of worrying over the alcoholic’s general health and well-being. Children may blame themselves for how their parent behaves, and they then end up acting out in school, depressed, or withdrawn. Partners end up resenting the lifestyle and how much of their own life they have had to give up in order to take care of the alcoholic.

All of the stress that surrounds the alcoholic takes a toll on those around them. As a result, they may be more prone to problems with school, relationships, and developing substance abuse themselves. Furthermore, stress is a risk factor for many diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, depression, and anxiety.

Financial Burdens

Alcohol is expensive, and alcoholism is one costly venture after another. Alcoholics tend to run up excessive tabs in bars, restaurants, and other events where alcohol can be bought. They bring alcohol everywhere and have to consume at every event, whether it be a mimosa at breakfast or a beer at their child’s school play. The alcoholic, depending on how high functioning they are, always has the potential to lose a job due to erratic behavior, absenteeism, or inability to perform their duties in an efficient manner. Typically, alcoholics run into legal problems, ranging from public intoxication to driving under the influence charges. If the law becomes involved, legal fees and time in jail are compounded by lost wages.

  • Author — Last Edited: May 14, 2019
    Photo of Lindsey Hall
    Lindsey Hall
    Lindsey Hall is an eating disorder activist by day and mental health writer by night. She is the author behind the award-winning eating disorder blog, "I Haven't Shaved In Six Weeks," which she started following a six-week experience at an inpatient treatment center for an eating disorder. Having spent the past three years shedding light on her ten-year battle with anorexia, binge eating and body dysmorphic disorder, Lindsey embodies a voice for those who need support, but are often too scared to speak out.

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