It is no mystery that alcoholism can destroy a person’s life. However, it is important to remember that the damage caused by alcohol abuse can affect the mental health of everyone in the addict’s life.
From depression and anxiety to PTSD, alcoholics’ family members are susceptible to a range of mental illnesses. Getting help for the alcoholic in your family is the only way to protect the rest of your loved ones from becoming collateral damage.
Characterizations of a PTSD Alcoholic Family
The constant stress caused by living with an alcoholic can have disastrous effects on a person’s mental well-being. The fear, guilt and lack of control associated with living with an alcoholic often leads to the development of PTSD. While alcoholism affects each family in different ways, there are a number of common themes that can be found in nearly all cases.
Living with Fear
Living with an alcoholic can be terrifying. Drinking to excess is associated with aggressive behavior and is a leading cause of domestic violence and child abuse. The family members of violent alcoholics live in constant fear that their loved one’s anger will be directed at them. And they know that even when things seem to be going well, a few drinks can send the household into chaos.
There is also the fear that the alcoholic will endanger family members’ safety in other ways, such as driving while drunk or neglecting to provide necessities like food, shelter and supervision. Family members fear that the alcoholic will put his or her own safety at risk, too.
Shamed into Silence
While alcoholism is a recognized medical condition, there is still a stigma attached to those it afflicts. This stigma often leads family members to hide their struggles from the world, rather than seek help or emotional support. Suppressing their emotions in this way can lead to the development of disorders such as chronic anxiety, depression and PTSD.
Loss of Control
It is nearly impossible to predict the behavior of an alcoholic, and family members often feel like they are subject to the alcoholic’s every whim. Children of alcoholics cannot depend on their parent when it counts, and the spouse of an alcoholic must constantly plan around their loved one’s drinking and reckless behavior.
This loss of control frequently leads to the development of a hyper-controlling personality as a coping mechanism. This emerging personality is a major risk factor for the development of mental illness.
Inability to Trust
The constant lying, betrayal and abusive behavior displayed by alcoholics inevitably leads to the erosion of trust. For the family members of an alcoholic, especially children, this often causes trust issues that persist throughout one’s life. When the family members of an alcoholic are unable to trust others, it becomes much more difficult to reach out for help.
Portraits of Affected Families
Growing up, Susan’s father suffered from severe alcoholism. While the family’s life appeared perfectly normal to others, Susan and her mother suffered from both physical and emotional abuse whenever her father drank, which was constant. After moving out and starting a family of her own, Susan believed that she had put her troubled past behind her. However, one night, during a fairly mundane argument with her spouse, Susan suddenly felt a sense of fear and anxiety she has not experienced since childhood. In the moment, she found herself “absolutely paralyzed.”
Bryan was raised by two alcoholic parents, and while he never experienced direct abuse, the constant anxiety associated with his parents’ drinking caused him to develop panic disorder and depression in his teen years. In college, he discovered that drinking numbed his emotional pain, and by the age of 20, he became an alcoholic himself.
These are just two examples of how the children of alcoholics can develop PTSD or a similar disorder, but the individual stories are endless. The important thing to recognize is that adult children of alcoholics often suffer from serious psychological problems, and that healing will require professional help.
Examine Your Past
Adult children of alcoholics often repress the memories of their traumatic childhoods. Unfortunately, this makes it incredibly difficult to truly heal.
The first step toward improved mental health is asking hard questions like, “What painful memories have I been ignoring?” and, “How did my alcoholic parent’s behavior affect me as a child?”
Examine Your Present
Make an honest assessment of your personality, flaws and all. Ask yourself how being raised by an alcoholic parent is affecting your present thoughts and behaviors. How has your painful childhood contributed to your current issues with depression, anxiety, etc.?
By viewing your current struggle with PTSD in the context of your total life experience, you will gain a sense of clarity and better understanding of the areas of your life that need improvement.
Reframe Your Beliefs
Many adult children of alcoholics will have internalized beliefs that are harmful to their mental health. For instance, they may feel responsible for taking care of everyone around them, or maybe they believe that their behavior is the reason their parent drinks (or used to drink).
However, by reframing flawed beliefs, these individuals can begin to regain control of their lives and start moving in a positive direction.
Learn New Emotional and Behavioral Tools
The final step is where professional help becomes indispensable. Tools such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help adults with PTSD discover new ways to cope with overwhelming emotions.
And for those struggling with both PTSD and substance abuse, dual diagnosis help can address the underlying causes of addiction, leading to lifelong holistic recovery.
We Provide Help for Families
If you believe a loved one has lost control over their drinking, we encourage you to contact a member of our experienced intervention team. The expert interventionists at Intervention Helpline can help get your loved one back on track before his or her alcoholism causes serious (or further) damage to the entire family.