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Posted by Admin on January 30, 2011

ABSTRACT: This research paper details the social effects of alcoholism. As part of this, it focuses on the short and long term impact alcohol addiction has on the family and its social interaction. A major part of this study is devoted to the effect alcoholism has on children. In discussing this, an exploration is made of the link between children of alcoholics.

Style: APA; sources: 10; Pages: 8

Limitations of this study: Alcoholism is the only area taken up for this study. No other forms of addiction, such as drug addiction, substance abuse and so on are covered in this study. In addition, a watertight compartmentalization is not made of the short and long term effects of alcoholism –they are intertwined. Another area that is not treated separately is the effect of alcoholism on the different members of the family, because generally everyone in the family suffers from an addicted member. The effect it has on children and that on the spouse of the addict is not disjointed.

Thesis and overview:

Understanding alcoholism: Alcoholism defies a clear-cut, comprehensive definition. Although there is no one way by which it is defined, an alcohol addict is one who fulfils the following criteria among others: an irresistible urge to consume alcohol, loss of control once s/he starts consuming alcohol, and a relapse into the habit following a session of rehabilitation. (Swift, 1999, p. 207) Although there is no conclusive finding regarding whether alcoholics are born or are made, research seems to suggest that there is a strong, if not irrefutable link between alcoholism and genetics. Having said this, it should be reiterated that this relationship is at best shaky, for it is commonplace to find children of alcoholics turning out to be non-alcoholic; by the same coin, it is also equally true that not all alcoholics had an alcoholic parent. (Ullman & Orenstein, 1994)

Whether the family has alcoholic mothers or alcoholic fathers, the common denominator is that their educational and social backgrounds matter little in making them alcoholics, although alcoholics are usually more prevalent in the working class. Thus, the nature of the problem is that it is spread across all strata of the society, and any child from any age or social or economic group is susceptible to have an alcoholic parent. (Hunt, 1997)

Effects on family: The effects of alcoholism on the family can be felt from the earliest stage of the child’s upbringing. Parents who are alcoholic are known to be far inferior to non-alcoholic parents as caregivers to the family. These parents, apart from denying the necessary care to children, also generally suppress children from talking about this habit among the social circles in which they interact, are generally inconsistent and unpredictable in dealing with children, and are usually rigid in their expectations from their children. There is also a subtle effect alcoholism has on Children of Alcoholics (COAs): they make them more easily vulnerable than their counterparts to “…antisocial behaviors, problems with intimacy and trust, perfectionism, underachievement, low self-esteem and low self-worth, depression and/or anxiety, and lack of understanding of normalcy.” (Hunt, 1997) It is also proven that such children are prone to psychosomatic ailments such as headache, depression, insomnia, eating disorders and stomach upsets. They are also likely to develop learning disabilities. (Stark, 1987) These effects do not simply vanish at some later stage of the children’s life; even into their adulthood, as a result of growing up in the shadow of an alcoholic parent or adult in the family, they exhibit undue nervousness, fretfulness, maladjustment in the family, and generally end up becoming unsuccessful parents themselves. In addition, there is a very heavy impact alcoholism has on the emotional development of children –they are known to suffer from labeling and stereotyping as COAs, which causes major personal and social consequences. (Hunt, 1997) A direct result of alcoholism is that there is a sense of embarrassment in bringing home a friend or relative to the family with an alcoholic. “In the majority of cases, the alcoholic member is doing his or her drinking at home–sometimes privately, but often in full view of the rest of the family. Home-based events, such as meals and family entertainment, frequently occur at times when the alcoholic member is intoxicated. The family must also decide how friends and strangers are to be treated when active drinking is going on. Are they to be welcomed into the home, or kept at bay until the storm has passed? How is the day to be planned? How are household chores to be carried out when one is presumably never confident about what state one’s alcoholic spouse or parent will be in at any particular moment?”  (Steinglass, Bennett, Wolin & Reiss, 1987, p. 177) Alcoholic adults in the family can also sometimes mar social and family occasions such as vacations or even daily assembly at dinner time by creating scenes on such occasions; this leads to a situation of conflict in the family, because children are deprived of love, so central to a family. “There may also be continuous conflict within the family because the alcoholic parent is too erratic to play a key role in everyday decision making, but refuses to accept a subordinate role. Relationships between siblings may resemble a warring band more than a supportive group because of competition for the scarce supply of adult attention. (One of) the nonalcoholic parent(s) can be so wrapped up in reacting to the whims and needs of the alcoholic that he or she cannot provide a stable environment and is unresponsive to the children’s needs.”  (Ullman & Orenstein, 1994) This means that the sense of bonding among the family members is lost.  The loss of happiness and peace of mind far exceeds any other loss, and is economically incalculable. It is not uncommon to find education of the children being disrupted because huge proportions of the family income get frittered away on alcohol consumption by one or many members of the family. When these children, deprived of love, try to find other avenues from which they can fill this lacuna at home, there is a likeliness that they may end up looking for comfort with the wrong people; this can lead to further family and social tensions. (Ullman & Orenstein, 1994) One of the easiest and most readily available outlets such children seek to find is drugs. Adolescents from this kind of background are particularly liable to get attracted to drugs.  This is the stage of life when dramatic developmental, physical and emotional vicissitudes take place. This is when, on account of these very great changes, adolescents, who make the graduation from one stage of life to another very important one, are in need of very strong emotional support from their families. Most drug abusers fall into the habit not because of adolescence per se, but when the family deprives them of these supports that they so badly need, a direct fallout of alcoholism, as we have seen. Drug abuse, especially during adolescence, can have baleful effects on the individual. (Trad, 1994) The major precipitator of these is the social factors, consisting of the family, whose relationship with psychological factors is inseparable. (Mcdonald & Towberman, 1993) This triggers a chain reaction –drugs can lead to a strong antisocial component: crime. If people who land up in jails for having committed crimes have one extremely strong factor in common, it is their social environment, a prime factor among which is the existence of an alcoholic in the family. A study done during 1990-91, which was spread across four states in the US, and had respondents from ten inner-city high schools and six correctional facilities threw up some interesting facts, all of which point to the irrefutable evidence of a link between the criminals and their social background. (Curtis, 1998, p. 1233) Or, these children can turn to alcoholism itself as a source of solace. It has to be admitted, though, that this link is subjective and is dependant on how the family views alcoholism by one of its members. (Ullman & Orenstein, 1994)

In addition to all these, there are indirect and secondary social aspects of alcoholism –one of the direct results of alcoholism, domestic violence, costs the American exchequer anywhere between $ three billion and $ 10 billion a year by way of losses accrued on account of absenteeism, reduced employee turnover, healthcare costs and so on. (Overman) Obviously, this is a major cost of alcoholism.

The positive side of a family with an alcohol: After all these illustrations about the ill-effects of alcoholism on the psychological, emotional and social upbringing of COAs, it is worth exploring if there can be positive fallouts of alcoholism.

While admitting that these findings are at best largely based on assumption, whose effect can be inadvertent, some researchers classify these positives from alcoholism under the following sequence of behavior: COAs, after being exposed to alcoholic parents over a period of time, normally assume four roles. One of these is that of the ‘hero’. The eldest child usually assumes this role, by which it becomes some kind of a surrogate parent, taking on all the roles of the parent, from caring for the younger children to running the household. This child is normally a great achiever, doing extremely well at academics and exhibiting a flair for leadership qualities. The next in line is the ‘scapegoat’, or what is termed the problem child. What this child does is to invite trouble on account of its misbehavior and earn scorn for its actions. The third role some COAs assume is that of the ‘mascot’. This kind of child puts on a brave face over all the tumultuous events at home, and is the most jovial, deflecting the sorrow of the home with its own sense of humor. Finally, there is the existence of another role, that of the ‘lost child’, which is reclusive and isolated.  (Stark, 1987) The one possible positive of this assumption of roles is that it could have an indirect benefit –it could inculcate some sense of leadership in COAs. Again, it needs to be reemphasized that this argument is tenuous – COAs need not necessarily react in only this manner; further, even if an alcoholic parent can induce leadership qualities in the child, it would only happen to the child who actually wears the mantle of responsibility, and not among each of the children.

These findings are not to suggest that it is only the children of alcoholics who suffer; if there is another person who takes the burden equally, it is the spouse. It is generally found that wives of alcoholics suffer in almost all areas of a happy married life: “talk or communications, mealtime, joint recreation and social activities, and sexual intimacy. The increasing failure of the husband to provide satisfaction in these areas leaves the wife almost entirely without a means of role fulfillment as a spouse. Predictably, wives react in anger and sorrow. The drinking husband, also predictably, reacts with hostility to his wife’s unhappiness. Ultimately, as will be seen, she withdraws, hurt and alienated, and he is further cut off from the society of nondrinking companions.  (Wiseman, 1991, p. 117)

Conclusion: As can be seen, it is indisputable that alcohol is a social evil of the highest order. While some concrete, researched issues are covered under this paper, these still do not constitute a comprehensive set of effects alcohol causes. For instance, it can never be estimated to what extent COAs, had they been born to non-alcoholic parents would have developed into. In the absence of the proper conditions for emotional development, this addiction by just one leading member of the family can have caused irreparable loss to society. For who knows if that child had the potential to be a real achiever, but had its creativity drowned in the parent’s habit? It is also common to hear stories of how people have committed some of the most violent and criminal acts under the spell of alcohol. It is thus that only some tangible issues are addressed here. The solution to deep-seated problems such as alcoholism needs to be tackled on an individual basis, taking several factors into consideration. It needs to be seen as a battle that needs to be won with tact and patience. These, however, are beyond the purview of this paper.

Written By Ravindra G Rao




Curtis, R. (1998). The Improbable Transformation of Inner-City Neighborhoods: Crime, Violence, Drugs, and Youth in the 1990s. Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 88(4), 1233. Retrieved November 15, 2005, from Questia database.


Hunt, M. E. (1997). A Comparison of Family of Origin Factors between Children of Alcoholics and Children of Non-Alcoholics in a Longitudinal Panel. American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, 23(4), 597+. Retrieved November 15, 2005, from Questia database:


Mcdonald, R. M., & Towberman, D. B. (1993). Psychosocial Correlates of Adolescent Drug Involvement. Adolescence, 28(112), 925+. Retrieved November 15, 2005, from Questia database:


Overman, Stephanie. (1997, August) Preventing Domestic Violence From Spilling Over Into the Workplace. Restaurant. Org Retrieved from


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Steinglass, P., Bennett, L. A., Wolin, S. J., & Reiss, D. (1987). The Alcoholic Family. New York, NY: Basic Books.


Swift, R. M. (1999). Medications and Alcohol Craving. Alcohol Research & Health, 23(3), 207. Retrieved November 15, 2005, from Questia database:


Trad, P. V. (1994). Developmental Vicissitudes That Promote Drug Abuse in Adolescents. American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, 20(4), 459+. Retrieved November 15, 2005, from Questia database:


Ullman, A. D., & Orenstein, A. (1994). Why Some Children of Alcoholics Become Alcoholics: Emulation of the Drinker. Adolescence, 29(113), 1+. Retrieved November 15, 2005, from Questia database:


Wiseman, J. P. (1991). The Other Half Wives of Alcoholics and Their Social-Psychological Situation. New York: Aldine de Gruyter.


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