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Health Centre

Rebuilding Relationships

“ No man is an island, everybody is a part of the whole” - John Donne

We feel the need to relate to other human beings and to express and receive affection. Alcoholism isolates you from sources of affection. Sooner or later your world is going to get dreary.

The pattern of behaviour in an alcoholic’s family

  • When the alcoholic is inebriated, he uses violence - verbally or physically. When the alcoholic gets sober, the spouse gives reign to his/her resentment over the alcoholic and the relationship. A festering bitterness prevails in the household.
  • There is a lack of trust. Nobody trusts you to handle money or be punctual anymore.
  • There is a lack of communication. Time is spent in battling with the problem of drink. There is not much time or the atmosphere for discussing family decisions. The real issues take a backseat.
  • You are supervised (or nagged) even over simple things. You have to be reminded or persuaded even to complete your daily routine, if you have had a bad drinking bout. This attitude continues even when you are sober.
  • A sense of negligence prevails. The house gets an unkempt look The children may either get coddled or treated with harshness when the level of frustration gets high. There seems to be no pride in any aspect of home making.

How your alcoholism may affect your child

Your child:

  • Lacks a role model: The school may teach honesty and integrity. But the child sees anger, violence, irresponsibility and dishonesty at home. The conflicting values leave the child confused. It may slip quite easily into lying or may get cynical about the right values.
  • Loses self-esteem: The child gets a lot of negative feedback about you, both from you and others. The child internalises it all and feels a little ashamed of you.
  • Is afraid and anxious: Infants and young children need to be cuddled and hugged as an expression of love and care. When there is tension in the household, the child tries to cling to someone. It cannot cling to you because it is never sure of how you might react. The child may cling to its mother but this sometimes vexes her and she shows it. So the child ends up being depressed. A child may not be able to deal with this feeling. It may begin to be afraid - of the future, tense situations, other people’s anger and so on. This affects the way the child handles situations as an adult too.
  • Becomes preoccupied: Due to the disturbances at home or due to the fact little attention is paid to the child, it is unable to concentrate on studies.
  • Is unable to have fun: This simple joy of childhood is not possible for children of some alcoholics. They are burdened by the angry, serious business of life as witnessed at home. They never see much joy in the house. They are not able to let go and have good fun that children should normally have.
  • Is unable to communicate or trust: The best way the child can handle you is to keep away from you. It cannot confide in you or trust you to respond in any particular way. For instance, if the child won a prize, you might laud the child if you were sober. If you were drunk, the news might not have any impact or worse you might mock the child!

How your child may deal with the situation:

The home atmosphere obviously has a major part to play in the development of a child’s personality. When there is a lot of disturbance in the household, the child tries to cope with it in one of the following ways:

  • By Being rebellious: Some children become angry and aggressive at an early age. They are confused and scared and respond in a negative manner. It is quite possible that these children have tried normal behaviour and have been ignored. Now their negative actions attract attention. Even if it is for scolding, they seem to count! They like this sense of power. Children of alcoholics run a greater risk of becoming alcoholics themselves.
  • By Being responsible: The eldest child often tries to play the adult role. The eldest boy would probably take his inebriated parent home or get the parent to bed and clear away the bottles and the mess that the parent has made. The girl child would play mother, when its mother is coping with the drunk father, and take care of the house and help the younger children. To others, this child might seem exemplar. But the child itself suffers the loss of a carefree childhood. Later in life the child might suffer stress-related illnesses.
  • By adjusting: Some children do not make demands. They do what they are told. They detach themselves emotionally, physically and socially as much as possible. They try to avoid confrontation. It is surely a peaceful way of coping. But these children grow up to be submissive adults. They find it difficult to assert themselves or say ‘no’ in any situation. So they get pushed around in job situations, relationships and even at home.
  • By placating: Some children try to mediate when there is a problem whether it is between the parents or between their siblings and the alcoholic. They are aware of the emotional needs of others and try to prevent suffering. They even put themselves to risk when doing this. These warm, sensitive and caring children neglect to take care of themselves.

Alcoholism is a family problem and recovery is a family struggle.

In your period of abstinence, you have to recognise the cause of the behaviour of your family members. Before branding your spouse as incompatible or the child as ill-behaved you have to accept responsibility for your role in the souring of the relationship. Rebuilding normalcy in the family requires a lot of effort on your part. It is, without doubt, worth it.


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