How Alcohol Addiction Affects Families: The Importance of a Strong Support System

A happy couple with three children showing a strong support system
March 8, 2022
|   Updated:
October 26, 2023

Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD), colloquially known as alcoholism, is a non-discriminatory disease that affects the individual who suffers from it and all people who love them. It is a chronic disease that can tear families apart and cause hardship and turmoil in different relationships. 

As alcohol addiction is considered a family disease and can be detrimental to the family structure, it is crucial that recovery for someone with AUD involves their loved ones. 

Alcohol addiction can be a long and lonely journey that can cause harm to those who love them. However, having a strong and steady support system can be an integral part of treating addiction and a necessity to remaining in recovery

With the right people standing beside you, the journey to overcoming AUD can be less scary and recovery more achievable.

Alcohol Use Disorder: The Effect on Marriage or Romantic Partnerships

A married couple dealing with the effects of alcohol use disorder

When someone suffers from alcohol addiction, they are often unable to make anything other than drinking a priority. Even with the desire to stop and receive help for their drinking problem, AUD is a disease that makes changing behaviors nearly impossible without some type of treatment or severe intervention. 

Alcoholism puts those who suffer from it at risk of emotionally, physically, or mentally ultimately harming themselves and those around them who love them. Some risks that those with AUD may experience include stealing or overspending money, neglecting responsibilities at home or work, physically harming themselves due to intoxication, suffering from anxiety or depression, experiencing legal problems, etc. 

With these risks come consequences, not just for the person struggling with alcohol addiction. Those who suffer from an alcohol addiction and are in serious relationships or partnerships put the wellbeing of their partner at risk for these consequences as well.  

The risks mentioned above make being with someone who experiences AUD extremely tumultuous and can significantly strain their relationships. This can cause many different negative effects on marriage/partnerships.

The Effect on Finances

It is no secret that finances are one of the most significant issues married couples deal with. In fact, 22% of divorces are due to financial turmoil in a marriage, with adultery and incompatibility being the only two reasons that exceed this reasoning. 

Those who struggle with alcoholism often will spend whatever money they deem necessary to satisfy their need for alcohol. This disease can manipulate the priorities of those with AUD and cause financial struggles in their lives.  

In a marriage, most often, money is a shared entity. When one person in the partnership overspends, ignores a budget, or uses shared savings to spend on alcohol, their partner also suffers.

Indulging in alcohol is an expensive habit, whether at home or out at a bar, and it can put a tremendous strain on a spouse and marriage. Losing or misusing money can harm their livelihood and result in serious turmoil. In addition, this specific strain can lead to other issues that can have an even greater effect on the relationship.

Imbalance of Household Responsibility

Woman reaching for items on the top shelf

Those with AUD can suffer from many different ailments that make completing their responsibilities difficult or impossible. Not only does being under the influence of alcohol affect things like your motor skills or ability to make decisions, but conditions like hangovers can make fulfilling your duties impossible as well.  

Alcohol abuse can result in a physical disparity, where a person cannot make it to work or help get the kids from school because they are under the influence or extremely fatigued from too much drinking. Alcohol abuse can also result in mental despair or anguish, leaving someone depressed or anxious and unable to show up for their partner in non-physical ways. 

As partnerships and marriages are a team effort, when one half of the team cannot meet the other half where they need them, the relationship can feel those effects. When a partner with alcoholism does not perform their role and duty in the family, the other partner must pick up the slack to keep the household afloat. 

This is not only unfair but can feel exhausting to the partner who does not suffer from AUD. This imbalance of household responsibility can cause resentment, heartache, and possibly divorce. 

Lack of Trust

When someone suffers from AUD, they are often ashamed and embarrassed by their disease resulting in secretive behavior. This secretive behavior can involve overspending or abusing money on alcohol, lying about where they have been and what they have been doing, or underselling how much alcohol they have consumed.

This type of secretive behavior can have a negative effect on one’s relationship. Though the person struggling with AUD loves and wants to be honest with their partner, this disease has a way of prioritizing drinking over anything else. 

Lying to protect themselves and their disease can hurt a marriage as their partner may lose their trust. Without trust in a relationship, there is often turmoil and conflict, causing both parties to suffer. 

The Effect on Children

A mother comforts her daughter

Unfortunately, marriages are not the only entity that can be affected when one suffers from AUD; children of those who suffer from AUD feel the effects of this disease as well. 

When a parent suffers from AUD, children are often isolated, neglected, or confused. The unpredictability of their parents' behavior can make them feel as if they may be at fault, and they struggle with understanding that their parent is suffering from a severe disease. 

When a parent has AUD, their child is more at risk for both emotional/mental and behavioral issues. Some effects on children include PTSD, anxiety and depression, severe codependency, low self-esteem, promiscuous or dangerous behavior, and an eventual substance abuse issue later in life. 

As we’ve previously mentioned, AUD is a family disease, and unfortunately, children are at risk for negative effects if this disease is not adequately treated or managed.   

The Importance of a Strong Support System  

Though it may be difficult, those in the family of one who struggles with alcohol abuse may benefit from being supportive in their treatment and recovery. Just as the disease affects the whole family structure, so does the treatment. 

AUD makes people feel poorly about themselves; most often, those who struggle with it are more upset with themselves for past behavior than those in their social circles. They may feel shame and embarrassment, and because of this, when they are ready to seek out help, it is crucial that they have a strong support system. 

This disease is also very lonely and isolating; many people who struggle with it experience these feelings and long for connection and understanding. Showing them that they are not alone and that they do not have to go through this scary process by themselves shows them love and compassion and makes the journey or treatment seem less difficult and daunting. 

This may be difficult for family members who have been negatively affected by their loved ones' alcohol addiction, especially for spouses or children. However, with encouragement from those they love, recovery is much more achievable. 

Having people believe in you, even after they may have been negatively affected by your disease, shows the one with AUD that there are people in their corner rooting for them and wishing for their everlasting health. Quite frankly, recovery is not nearly as achievable without a support system. 

How to Support Your Loved One in Recovery

A woman supporting her loved one in recovery

Supporting your loved one in recovery can happen in many different ways. There are tools and e-sources out there for those who suffer from AUD and those who are close to someone who suffers from AUD. 

Most importantly, find a system or systems that work for you and your loved one that will best help the person struggling with AUD, as not everyone needs the same type of support. 

Educate Yourself

Often there is an unfortunate stigma surrounding alcohol abuse, and those who know someone who suffers from AUD may falsely believe that AUD is just a selfish choice. 

However, understanding AUD as a chronic disease and its risks and symptoms will help loved ones be more compassionate and understand how AUD is, in fact, a disease and needs to be treated like one. 

When family members can see alcohol abuse for what it truly is, it will be much easier to understand why your loved one is suffering and allow for more empathy when they are trying to achieve recovery. 

Assist in Finding Them Proper Treatment

Stepping into treatment can be extremely daunting for those with AUD. Not only is their entire life changing, but the many different options for treating addiction can be overwhelming, making it easier just to forgo getting help altogether. 

It is important to stand by your family member with AUD and help them find the right treatment plan for them. This can range from attending outpatient and inpatient rehabilitation centers, starting with Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings, or obtaining an alcohol testing device like Soberlink’s Remote Breathalyzer. 

Treating addiction is not one-size-fits-all, and finding the right combination of tools that works for a person can be unnerving and time-consuming. That is why having the support and help from a family member can be beneficial and possibly crucial for getting someone with AUD into longstanding recovery.

Be Patient and Understanding

It can be frustrating to watch a partner start to heal from AUD then experience a slip-up or relapse, especially when you have put in the time and effort to help them get there. However, it is crucial that you remain patient and understand that your partner is human, AUD is a severe disease, and mistakes may happen.

Though it can be challenging, showing your family member with AUD that you will be there through the good and the bad of recovery will encourage them to keep going and continue to aim for sobriety. They know that you will support them regardless of a slip or relapse, as these are common in early recovery.

How to Support Yourself Through Your Loved One’s Recovery

A woman comforts a man who had challenges with a loved one's recovery

As mentioned, AUD is a disease that affects the whole family, and therefore, treatment is also a family affair. This means not only does the person who has AUD need alcohol recovery tools but so do those who are supporting their loved one through treating their addiction. Just like they say when getting on an airplane: don’t put on your loved one’s oxygen mask until you’ve put on yours. 

The effects of this disease can last a lifetime if not properly taken care of. If you are in the recovery circle of someone with AUD, here are ways to make sure you are also supporting yourself:

Therapy or Counseling

Talking to an unbiased third party may be beneficial to helping you recover from the trauma of loving someone with AUD. As those who experienced this in their homes are more likely to experience PTSD or other emotional disorders, it is crucial to have a place to talk about your feelings and experiences.  

This may look like therapy or counseling by yourself, or maybe it will include your loved one recovering from AUD. Whichever way you choose, talking to a professional candidly will allow you to heal from this experience. 


If talking to an unbiased third party does not sound appealing to you, attending an Al-Anon meeting may be a better option.

Al-Anon is a meeting space where people who have loved ones struggling with AUD can come together to discuss their experiences with being in a relationship with an alcohol abuser in a judgment-free zone with others who have experienced something similar.  

It is a place where those attending the meeting also are suffering from a loved one who has AUD, and it can be a place to feel seen and understood. Doing this and attending these meetings can be highly healing for those who love someone with AUD. 

AUD: The Family Disease 

AUD can be detrimental to many families, but it doesn’t have to be catastrophic. Though it can negatively affect all involved, healing can also take place. 

Without the support of loved ones, recovering from an alcohol addiction may be a much more arduous journey than if those who loved you supported you. Though it is difficult, supporting a loved one through AUD recovery can benefit all involved and be potentially lifesaving. 

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