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Alcoholism: A Family Disease

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Alcoholism: A Family Disease

Alcoholism is an often misunderstood and insidious malady. Much is written about the scores of problems that an alcoholic endures with continued abusive drinking. These troubles, which include, but are not limited to, legal, health, financial, and family create an extremely chaotic existence for the problem drinker. These effects of alcoholism tend to be measured only by the diseases impact on the alcoholic. However, often the children and family members are negatively impacted both socially and psychologically as well. An alcoholic directly affects the lives of four other family members, friends or co-workers, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (

In a twelve part Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper series that appeared in the Grand Rapids Tribune in 2000 named, "Alcohol: Cradle to Grave," reporter Eric Newhouse endeavored to detail the extent of the alcoholism's broad social impact by focusing on the town of Great Falls, Montana. The series is a diary of Newhouse's reporting, including interviews with alcoholics as they struggle day-to-day with their problem. The people Newhouse encounters reveal their startling memories of alcoholism in their families. The reporter visited Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, treatment programs, and bars; he also accompanied police on calls to alcohol-fueled disturbances. The journalist said that understanding the full extent of the problem is difficult because "most alcoholics deny they have a problem" ( Hidden costs of alcoholism to Montana may total an additional $135 million, according to a Tribune analysis. That's more than the state spends on the university system, about $120 million a year "We have no idea," admitted Roland Mena, who heads the state's chemical dependency program. These "hidden costs" included treating abuse and family violence, foster care, welfare, and mental illness. Addressing Newhouse, Mena concluded, "Your articles in the Tribune have served as a catalyst to force us to look at this problem in a new way" ( What was clearly illuminated in the series however was the magnitude of the problem, the complexity of treating alcoholism because of its broad impact, and the critical need for effective treatment for the alcoholic and his/her loved ones.

Because the focus tends to be on the alcoholic's problems, what is often overlooked is the negative and lasting effects living in a chemically dependant home can have on family members. Alcoholics may have young, teenage, or grown-up children; they have wives or husbands; they have brothers or sisters; they have parents or other relatives. An alcoholic can totally disrupt family life and cause harmful effects that can last a lifetime. Uncovering the effects alcoholism has on the children can be more baffling than the treatment of the disease in the alcoholic. These children are the unwilling victims of a disease which generally is the center of their childhood existence, and therefore shapes their personality and behavior as adults. This research will focus on the harmful psychological effects that parental alcoholism has on children and it's manifestation in their behavior as adults.

Dr. Kenneth J. Sher, Ph.D. states that research of children of alcoholics did not appear to gain much momentum until the 1960's. By the 1970's sufficiently large number of empirical findings existed to document a wide range of problems encountered by ACOAs across the life-span. However, the most significant revelation about ACOAs the research community has established is how difficult it is to make valid generalizations about them. According to Sher, a number of reasons exist for this situation. Most significantly, alcoholics do not represent a homogeneous class of people. Thus, ACOAs also are children of depressives, children of agoraphobics, children with antisocial personality disorders, and so forth (Sher 248).

As stated earlier, alcoholism is a subtle malady. And, denial, as reporter Newhouse discovered, is a strong component of the disease. Alcoholics can't get help for their problem if they don't admit they have one. Alcoholism can take time to progress in a person's life. Successful recovery can only begin with an admission of the problem that comes with some change of perspective a. A child living with a parent who won't admit their alcoholism problem would seem to learn the same life lesson about denial. Simply deny there is a problem. Since research on ACOAs has only just begun, it would seem denial may be an impediment in data gathering as well. The alcoholic denies his or her chronic problem and the child denies having a parent who is or was a drunk has any effect on his life. Either way, it would seem to impossible to gather accurate clinical data.

According to Dr Sripriya Ranagarajan 'the last two decades have witnessed widespread and sustained interest in examining the impact of parental alcoholism" on this group. A 2008 study by Dr. Ranagarajan at Utah Valley State University on ACOAs and self-esteem emphasized the need to differentiate ACOAs into groups based on the severity of the parental alcoholism and presence of factors other than alcohol abuse such as "family stressors." This study indicated that the treatment of ACOAs as a homogenous group is "both inappropriate and counterproductive" (Ranagarajan 489). The conclusion was that understanding the complete family dynamic, not merely the drinking patterns would be more useful in aiding ACOAs with their recovery. Lastly, the study expressed a need for clinicians and researchers to work together to build "effective intervention strategies developed by cumulating across complementary research domains" (Ranagarajan 490).

The recognition by researchers that ACOAs need further investigation and possibly individualized rather than generalized studies seems to reveal an acknowledgement by the scientific community that the clinical side had already reached. As in the case of alcoholism itself, the effects of the disease on family members may be too difficult to oversimplify by making sweeping generalizations about ACOAs as a group.

According to Veronica Mullin LCSW, LCADC a counselor in the substance abuse field for over seventeen years, when a family member becomes a victim of alcoholism the rest of the family tends to react in a predictable way. As a result of the behavioral and psychological problems in this chemically dependent environment family members will adopt "predictable roles" (Mullin 2010). In a study done in 2008 at the Research Institute on Addictions, the State University of New York at Buffalo, Dr. Jill Kearns-Bodkin and Dr. Kenneth Leonard conducted a three



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