The Alcoholic Family

Most people that find themselves involved with an alcoholic are also part of an alcoholic family. Alcoholic families are groups of people who are jointly dealing with the results of someone’s alcoholic behavior while generally being in denial about the problem. If you don’t talk about it, maybe the alcoholic won’t get drunk tonight. Or won’t get angry. Or won’t leave. Or won’t get violent. And with their threats, the alcoholic perpetuates this family dynamic.

What are some of the characteristics of an alcoholic family?


  • Denial: If you don’t admit that it exists, maybe it will go away.
  • Money problems: Somehow there is always money for alcohol but never enough money for the rent, or food, or clothes for the children.
  • Secrets: Don’t tell anyone!
  • Enabling: They can’t help themselves so we have to help him.
  • Fear: Don’t make him mad when he is drinking or he will get violent.
  • Silence: Don’t talk about anything important to you because the alcoholic will use it against you.
  • Repressed anger: They love you, so if you are angry with them then there must be something wrong with you.
  • Shame: It must be my fault they drink.

Not all alcoholic families experience all of these, but most are very familiar with many of them.

Multi-generational Training

This family dynamic is self-perpetuating. Because no one talks about the problem, children learn coping behaviors that they take into their adult relationships without realizing that they are not normal. Even if no one in their future families is alcoholic, the behavior patterns continue. I grew up in one of those families. Many of the alcoholic family characteristics were there, even through my mother didn’t drink and my father only did occasionally. However, the silence, the secrets, the shame, the repressed anger, the denial, the enabling – they were all there. I believe they both must have experienced the same when they grew up and taught that to us kids.

No wonder I was perfectly trained to fall in love with an alcoholic.

Who’s in control?

In general, the person with the most erratic behavior controls the behavior of those around them. Unless your family has even bigger problems than alcoholism, the alcoholic is in control of the alcoholic family. The rest of the family tends to cater to their desires or whims. Whether it is to avoid confrontation, deal with the fallout of their behavior or simply because it is easier to give in, everyone else goes along. This only changes when the family decides that they won’t put up with it any more – a very difficult decision.

Who’s the alcoholic?

Anyone in the family can be an alcoholic, even children. Although for most behaviors one alcoholic is pretty much the same as another, there are difference that are discussed in these pages:

Alcoholic Husband

Alcoholic Wife

Alcoholic Teen

Alcoholic Child

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