Stages of Family Development with Addiction

One of the largest misconceptions of alcoholism, or any substance addiction, is that it is a personal problem. Several decades ago alcoholism was considered the responsibility of the individual. That person would either find a way to handle it, or suffer alone. However one thing that is often overlooked, forgotten, or disregarded is the effect alcoholism has on the family. And while the mother or father may suffer, they are not alone. There are several common changes that a family undergoes when faced with the corrupting effects of addiction.


It is common that families will look the other way when the first warning signs of addiction come about. Perhaps the mother or father drinks too much, and at times when it is not appropriate. However the children and the others in the family decide to ignore the encroaching situation, instead of confronting it.

Eliminate the Problem

If continued misuse of alcohol continues the family will have no option but to take action. Rationalizing or pleading with the individual will often occur at this time. Friends and family often try to reason with the individual to consider the wellbeing of their children or family. If all is well then counseling may begin before the family suffers. However the individual is often unwilling.

Disorganization and Chaos

If the addiction progresses then the internal structure of the family begins to break down. Family structure and monetary stability are often the first to be effected. People with children may see that their children begin to develop deviant behavior. Common behavior is anxiety, depression, poor scholastic performance, or criminal activity.

Reorganization Despite Problem

At this time the family is forced to adapt. They have no choice. It is common for the spouse or older sibling to take more responsibility within the family. While the spouse may take a second job to support the family, an older sibling might pack lunches for their younger brothers or sisters. The family unit as a whole evolves in order to survive. However at this stage the family has given up on trying to reform the alcoholic parent. They run out of energy.

Efforts to Escape

The family can only suffer for so long. There is no indicator to tell how long. However at some point enough is enough. The remaining family will often pack up and leave. Divorce is common and the children often lose contact with the alcoholic parent. With the family separated from the alcoholic parent may lose contact with his children. And with no support group that comes with a family, the individual may slip further into his or her addiction.

 Family Reorganization

At this point the family has cut ties for the alcoholic. They learn to create a new life living on their own. In ideal situations the alcoholic will find treatment and return to his family. Sometimes he or she will find treatment and at least get to be part of their children’s lives. However, sometimes the individual becomes lost. Sometimes an alcoholic finds no help and the family he left behind has to move on.

These are common stages in family development when faced with alcoholism. It is important to always remember that alcoholism and substance addiction effects more than just the individual. The alcoholic family is an escalating system that progresses significantly and detrimentally. And trying to adapt can reinforce the drinking behavior. The Beachcomber can help. If this pattern has begun then take notice and seek help, If not for yourself, then for your family.