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Effects on family life


For many people, their family home is a safe place, where they can be themselves and leave behind the outside world. When someone is drinking, the home can be a place of conflict, uncertainty and chaos. 

Relationships between family members

    • A partner can feel alone and unsupported, if their partner chooses drink over them.
    • Family members may be short-tempered, withdrawn or aggressive, because of the stress and difficult emotions they are feeling.
    • Relationships and marriages may break down because of drinking.
    • Family members may feel confused between loving the person drinking and hating their drinking behaviour or the damage they are doing.

Family routines

    • Comforting family routines and rituals can be disrupted – for example, family mealtimes, regular bedtimes, birthdays, holidays and family celebrations.

Social life

    • Family members may become isolated from their friends and wider family.
    • They may be embarrassed to bring friends home or accept invitations to social events.

Rules and boundaries

    • ‘Normal’ rules about what is acceptable can be ignored or become twisted.
    • Family members may accept violence, lying and neglect as ‘normal’.
    • Rules may not be enforced and children may be allowed to behave badly, if all the attention is focused on coping with the effects of drinking.


    • There may be financial difficulties due to unemployment or the money spent on alcohol


    • A parent who is dependent on alcohol may be inconsistent, unpredictable, detached or abusive.
    • Children may not have the practical care they need, like clean clothes, regular meals or healthcare.
    • Children’s feelings and emotional needs may be ignored if a parent is focused on drinking or on coping with the effects of someone else’s drinking.
    • A parent struggling with dependence may rely on a child for emotional and practical support.

When all a family’s attention and energy is direct towards the drinker and coping with the effects of the harmful drinking, the practical and emotional needs of other family members can be ignored.

Read more:

How you or family members might feel

How children might feel

Signs your child may not be coping

What role do you play? Family coping styles

Support services for families

Helpful resources

Family Support Handbook: Helpful information for families affected by someone's alcohol or drug use, including understanding dependence, ways to cope and practical advice.

Parenting positively. Helping teenagers to cope with a parent’s problem drug or alcohol use: Guide for parents of teenagers who are affected by a parent's drug or alcohol abuse, from Tusla / Barnardos

Taking the Lid Off: Resource for families living with addiction and problematic substance use, including understanding of addiction and its effects on others and advice on what helps, based on the evidence.

Aisling McLaughlin, Tara O’Neill, Claire McCartan, Andy Percy, Mark McCann, Oliver Perra & Kathryn Higgins. Parental alcohol use and resilience in young people: A study of family, peer and school processes Funded by HSC R&D Division, Public Health Agency
Bremner, P., Burnett, J., Nunney, F., Ravat, M. & Mistral, W. (2011). Young People, alcohol and influences. Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Available at:
Burke, S., Schmied, V. & Montrose, M. (2006). Parental alcohol misuse and the impact on children. New South Wales: Centre for Parenting & Research.
BOTTLING IT UP: THE NEXT GENERATION. The effects of parental alcohol misuse on children and families.
Farrell, M.P., Barnes, G.M., & Banerjee, S. (1995). Family cohesion as a buffer against the effects of problem-drinking fathers on psychological distress, deviant behavior, and heavy drinking in adolescents. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 377-385
 Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (ISPCC) (2010). “If they’re getting loaded, why can’t I?” A large-scale exploratory survey examining the behaviour and attitudes of young people in Ireland towards teen and parental alcohol use, and the effects of parental alcohol use on young people’s lives. Ireland: ISPCC.
Mylant, M., Ide, B., Cuevas, E. & Meehan, M. (2002). Adolescent children of alcoholics: vulnerable or resilient? Journal of the American Psychiatric Nurses Association, 8:57.
 TAKING THE LID OFF A resource for families living with addiction and problematic substance abuse. ASCERT.
Tusla / Barnados: Parenting Positively. Helping teenagers to cope with A Parent’s Problem Drug  or Alcohol Use.
Velleman, R. & Templeton, L. (2007). Understanding and modifying the impact of parents’ substance misuse on children. Advances in Psychiatric Treatment, 13, 79-89.

Mary Murray (Ed) (2016) Western Region Drugs & Alcohol Task Force Family Support Handbook. Western Region Drugs & Alcohol Task Force, Galway.

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