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Help with Alcohol Addiction in the Family

Shadows of boy with mother, with father turns his back

When a family members’ drinking becomes problematic, it affects everyone in the family, not just the individual who is drinking. It’s like dropping a heavy stone in a pond and watching the ripples spread. Alcohol is by far the most commonly abused substance in the UK. The Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs found alcohol to be the most harmful drug to society and the fourth most harmful drug to users. Problematic alcohol use and alcohol addiction can severely and negatively impact an individual’s personal, professional, social, and financial life. Find out here about help with alcohol addiction at Help Me Stop or call 0208 191 9191.

Unfortunately, alcohol addiction doesn’t just impact the alcoholic or problem drinker. What once were stable and loving homes, can soon turn into divided war zones. Conflict becomes normal and trust begins to erode. Marriages and relationships can end. Children suffer.

How alcohol addiction impacts children

Research highlighted by Nacoa indicated that there are 3 million children in the UK living with parents with alcohol problems. Moreover, these children are:

  • Six times as likely to witness domestic violence
  • Five times as likely to develop an eating problem
  • Three times as likely to consider suicide
  • Twice as likely to experience difficulties at school
  • Twice as likely to develop alcoholism or addiction
  • Twice as likely to be in trouble with the police

As one 15-year-old girl told the NSPCC in 2018, ‘My mum is up and down – sometimes she’s fine and sober – but it can quickly change and she becomes worse again…[she] gets abusive when she’s drunk and gets angry at me and my sisters. I don’t like being at home.’

Read Neena’s personal experience and her plea to parents with alcohol addiction here.

Many of you reading this are probably health professionals so it is unlikely that the above will be new to you. For those who are not familiar with this, I cannot emphasise enough the impact of a parents’ drinking on children. Children of a problematic drinker or alcoholic live in constant fear and worry. They often have thoughts such as:

  • ‘Is my mum or dad going to come home safe?
  • Is my mum or dad going to come home sober?
  • ‘What kind of mood are they going to be in?
  • Who is going to be the target tonight?’

You may be asking yourself why I keep speaking about ‘problematic drinkers’ and ‘alcoholics’. One of the biggest reasons people do not address their drinking is that they do not see themselves as an alcoholic. Many don’t even see their drinking as problematic. For many, alcoholics are people who are drinking endless cans of cider, shuffling around the streets. They are not people in jobs, with a roof over their heads, drinking two or three bottles of wine after the working day. Surely problematic drinkers don’t go to work? Alcoholics can’t appear to function, can they?

But you ask children if their parent’s drinking affects them, you get a very different story. Neglect, physical and emotional abuse, and anxiety. Many children are not comfortable inviting friends’ home and often become isolate. They take on caring roles and look after younger brothers and sisters, or they become responsible for the home. Often, the damage is stored up in childhood and comes out years or decades later in adulthood.

How an adult’s drinking affects their spouse or partner

You don’t have to be an alcoholic for your drinking to affect your partner, spouse or your kids. You don’t even need to be drinking every day. If someone’s relationship with alcohol is causing problems, then it is causing problems no matter how much or how often they drink. The downside of using alcohol as a coping mechanism is that not only do people become reliant on it as a crutch, but the amount and the frequency of drinking escalates over time.

All too often when the drinker is challenged by their spouse or partner, they are dismissive of the accusations. Often, the drinker will blame their partner, or the pressure of work, for them drinking too much. As a result, many spouses or partners often feel fearful, hurt or shame. In some cases, they even feel a sense of failure, as if it is their fault.

It is also not uncommon for spouses, partners and whole families to hide the drinker’s problem. Embarrassment and shame are the main drivers here. In this respect, convoluted excuses are made, and justifications given, all of which just enables the drinker to continue.

Alcohol and women

Shame and embarrassment are also barriers for many adults to seek treatment. There has been an increasing number of women who are struggling with their drinking in private, many putting pressures on themselves to be perfect and ashamed to admit it that they aren’t. The perfect mum, the perfect partner, the perfect partner, mum and employee. Despite the advances in opportunities for women, men still dominate senior jobs and it is no mean feat that women have to fight tooth and nail to get to senior roles.

‘The pace at which most women live is punishing. You race home from a busy day at the office and have emails from work wating for you and food to prepare and laundry piling up. The easiest thing to do when you’re standing at the cutting board making dinner is pour yourself a glass of wine. It’s the ultimate decompression tool.’

Ann Dowsett Johnston, author of ‘DrinK: The Intimate relationship between women and alcohol’


Ann’s Ted Talk from 2014 is still as relevant today as ever.


You can also read Joanna’s story about the stressful juggle of working parenthood and how that pressure fed into her alcohol addiction.

Alcohol and work

The point I’m really trying to make is that alcohol has no respect for your gender, ethnicity, or social status. If you’re a healthcare professional, then we know we are not immune. In 2019, researchers from University College London (UCL) and Birkbeck, University of London, found that over one in four doctors binge drink and 5% meet the criteria for alcohol dependence. Banking and finance, law, HR, IT, teaching, and many other professions don’t escape. I am sure some of you can look in your profession and see where colleagues may have a poor relationship with alcohol – but what about yourself?

  • How honest can you be with yourself?
  • What have others said or maybe noticed?
  • What are you taking home to your family today?

The good news is that thousands of people do stop every day, with specialist help and support. Alcohol addiction treatment programmes such as Help Me Stop do work if individuals are brave enough to take a leap of faith. For help with alcohol addiction, Help Me Stop provides a 6-week face to face non-residential rehab programme in London. We also offer a six-week Online Rehab programme in the mornings and evenings which is the most affordable, intensive treatment for addiction in the UK. To speak to the team directly about these programmes, contact us here or call 0208 191 9191.

The role of the family in alcohol addiction recovery

Having a family member with a drink problem affects everybody. Numerous studies and years of research show that there are strong correlations between family functioning and drinking outcomes. Family behaviours can contribute to changes in drinking, and, conversely, changes in drinking can contribute to more positive family functioning. The Moos R.H. & Billings A.G. study examined the longitudinal course of functioning in families of men receiving treatment for alcohol problems. At 2-year follow-up, they compared family functioning for men who were in recovery to men who had relapsed. Wives of men in recovery (compared to wives of men who relapsed) drank less, were less depressed and anxious, had fewer negative life events, and had higher family incomes. Similarly, the children of the men in recovery showed fewer symptoms of emotional distress. As a whole, families of men in recovery had greater family cohesion, greater expressiveness, a higher orientation toward recreational activities, and greater agreement in how they viewed the overall environment of their families. The same goes for women who seek treatment.

Undertake treatment, keep your sobriety and positive change occurs

Alcohol addiction treatment programmes such as Help Me Stop do work if individuals are brave enough to take a leap of faith. Help Me Stop provides a six week Dayhab treatment programme in central London and west London, as well as our Online Rehab which is open to anyone, anywhere. To join our online addiction treatment programme, all you need is a wifi connection and a computer or tablet. Contact us in confidence or call 0208 191 9191.

Help Me Stop’s family programme

At Help Me Stop, we know families play a key role in fostering the initiation of recovery. Over 50% of our enquiries come from family members concerned about their partner’s, son’s or daughter’s drinking. We know that family behaviour can increase the probability that an individual will seek help with alcohol addiction. And we also know that family behaviours that support the initiation of change, including reinforcing positive or desirable behaviours related to sobriety, help motivate the drinker to seek help. It’s also vital to allow the drinker to experience the naturally occurring negative consequences of their drinking. It is important, therefore, that specialist family support is provided at this stage.

The Help Me Stop family programme is available for up to two relatives or friends of people who join our non-residential alcohol treatment programme or our Online Rehab. Helena attended the Help Me Stop family programme while her loved one was in treatment with us. She invited us to her local cafe, where we chatted about her experience of getting help with addiction in her family. You can read and watch Helena’s video blog here.


When you’re close to an alcoholic or problem drinker, you know that the drinking is just a symptom of the problem, not the problem itself. Many drinkers appear to have everything to live for; work, family, home, interests, financial security but there is always something underneath this that is hidden. Stopping drinking is just the first step in recovery. Once that happens, the real work can start.

Get alcohol addiction help today: 0208 191 9191, email enquiries@helpmestop.org.uk or contact us here.


Chris Cordell is Help Me Stop’s Director of Operations. He is a senior associate member of the Royal Society of Medicine, Certified International Recovery Specialist, and a member of the International Society of Addiction Medicine and Addiction Professionals. He was also a former advisor, alongside the Director of Policy and Research (UK Drug Policy Commission) and the Head of Drug Strategy Unit Delivery Team at the Home Office, in contributing to the “Whole Person Recovery: A user-centered systems approach to problem drug use” – a National Investigation into UK Drug Policy.

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