For Families of Addicts


Causes of alcoholism

Many of the people who seek alcohol addiction treatment have parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, or siblings who’ve also struggled with alcohol abuse. However, alcoholism isn’t inherited in the same way you’d inherit blue eyes and blond hair. Addiction develops as the result of a complex interaction between genes and environmental risk factors.

Genes That Affect Alcoholism Risk

There is no single gene responsible for developing alcoholism. However, research does suggest that certain combinations of genes are responsible for increasing the risk of developing an alcohol use disorder. For example:

Personality traits: Genes linked to personality traits such as impulsivity and disinhibition are also associated with an increase in substance abuse disorders.

Predisposition to mental health disorders: The same genes that are linked to depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders are also associated with an increased risk of alcohol abuse, but this is often attributed to the tendency of people suffering from mental health disorders to try to self-medicate.

Changes in how alcohol affects the body: Some gene combinations create changes in the body’s dopamine reward systems, leaving people to experience greater levels of reinforcement or reward from alcohol use and thus increasing the likelihood of problem drinking.

Race: Genetic variants in people of different races have been linked to an increase in alcoholism, with Native Americans have the highest number of alcohol use severity phenotypes.

Although the average person doesn’t have access to sophisticated genetic testing, you can reasonably determine your genetic risk for alcoholism by counting the number of blood relatives who also suffer from alcohol use disorders.

Environmental Factors That Affect Alcoholism Risk

Certain environmental factors can increase the risk of a child developing an alcohol use problem, even if there are minimal genetic risk factors at work. For example:

Societal acceptance: Regularly seeing television shows, movies, and music that portray drinking as a harmless way to have fun normalize the behavior.

Parental modeling: Seeing parents deal with everyday stress by becoming intoxicated sets this behavior up as normal in child’s mind.

Peer pressure: Friends who encourage regular drinking promote a pattern of overindulgence.
Exposure to outside trauma: Children who are exposed to verbal, physical, or sexual abuse are more likely to experiment with alcohol.

Age at first drink: Multiple studies have shown that the younger you are when you take your first drink, the more difficulty you’ll have regulating your alcohol intake. These studies proved instrumental in setting the legal drinking age to 21.

Genetics Aren’t Destiny

When discussing the causes of alcoholism, it’s important to keep in mind that many diseases are caused by a combination of both genetic and environmental factors. For example, someone with a parent, grandparent, or sibling who suffers from Type 2 diabetes is considered genetically predisposed to the condition. Even with this added risk, a commitment to eating a well-balanced diet and getting regular physical exercise can drastically reduce their risk of becoming diabetic. Lifestyle changes made after a diagnosis can also be beneficial, sometimes creating enough of a change in blood sugar levels to allow diabetics to reduce or discontinue their insulin all together.

Children of alcoholic parents have two to four times the risk of becoming alcoholics as adults. This risk factor remains even in cases where the child is adopted and raised in a family where neither parent has an alcohol use disorder. However, despite this increased genetic risk, less than half of children with an alcoholic parent grow up to abuse alcohol themselves. Some protective environmental factors that can prevent alcohol abuse include:

Receiving education on the negative effects of alcohol use: Having a full understanding of genetic risk factors and the health effects of alcohol abuse is associated with lower levels of problem drinking.

Developing strong social connections to family and friends: Feeling loved and supported by the people around you makes you less likely to want to turn to alcohol for comfort.

Developing positive ways to cope with stress: People who use exercise, meditation, music, art therapy, or other stress-relieving activities to handle everyday pressures are less likely to abuse alcohol.
Seeking help for mental health disorders: Counseling and support from a trained mental health professional reduces the desire to self-medicate with alcohol.

You can’t control your genetic makeup, but genetics alone won’t determine your fate. If you’re ready to break the cycle of addiction, help is available. St. Joseph Institute’s addiction treatment facility can address the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual issues underlying your alcohol abuse and set you on the path to a lasting recovery.

By Dana Hinders

 

To learn more about our programs or for a campus tour of St. Joseph Institute, please visit our website.

adult children of alcoholicsAdult children of alcoholics are often described as “co-victims” who develop many of the same characteristics associated with alcoholism, even if they’ve never taken a drink themselves. If you’re struggling to come to terms with the trauma you suffered due to a parent’s drinking, read on for tips about how to begin the healing process.

1.Realize That It’s Not Your Job to Save Anyone but Yourself

Many adult children of alcoholics feel an intense need to “save” others. Growing up, they may have been forced to comfort younger siblings, cook meals, and handle other adult responsibilities while a parent was struggling with addiction—leaving them to feel as though the weight of the world rests squarely on their shoulders. They also fear abandonment, which makes them stay in unhealthy relationships instead of moving on to find someone who treats them with the respect they deserve.

Change can be scary, but you are worthy of healthy relationships. It’s okay to cut ties with friends or family members who are using their toxic negativity to prevent you from taking the steps you need to be happy. These people don’t support your desire to change because they’re not emotionally ready to take a step forward in their own lives.

2. Accept Your Emotions

The majority of adult children of alcoholics struggle to express their emotions, especially the anger they feel surrounding their childhood trauma. One of the first steps in the healing process is giving yourself permission to express how you feel about your past as well as your current circumstances.

One way to become more emotionally honest is by writing down your thoughts in a journal. Then, gradually work on opening up with others in your day-to-day life. Instead of pushing down your irritation when a friend stands you up for your planned movie night, tell her it upsets you when you make plans and she abandons you at the last minute. If your spouse promises to help with the laundry and spends the night watching TV while you do all the chores, tell him you feel unappreciated when he ignores your request for assistance.

3. Use Affirmations to Stop Self-Criticism

Growing up in a home environment filled with dysfunction can lead you to believe that you’re somehow flawed. Young children often blame themselves for family troubles, creating patterns of self-criticism that last long into adulthood.

Affirmations are a form of self-suggestion. Choose a few positive statements that reflect your new outlook on life or specific goals you want to work on, then repeat them to yourself several times per day until they become your new truth. If desired, you could also write your affirmations down and place them in locations throughout your home where you’re sure to see them.

Some affirmations that may resonate with adult children of alcoholics include:

  • I am choosing to be proud of myself and all that I’ve accomplished.
  • I can find inner peace within myself as I am.
  • I deserve wonderful things.
  • I am in charge of my own life story.
  • I am worthy of love and respect.

4. Give Yourself Permission to Have Fun

Adults who grew up with parents who struggled with addiction often complain that they find it hard to relax. Their brains are programed to expect stress and drama, leaving them constantly on edge.

Developing hobbies and special interests is an important part of being a well-rounded human being. Take the time to explore whatever personal passions you’ve always thought were too frivolous. Enroll in a dance class, learn a foreign language, take up oil painting, or plant a garden of fresh produce to add to your gourmet home-cooked meals. No matter what sparks your interest, strive to find at least a few hours each week to devote to the pursuit of fun.

5. Know You’re Not Alone

The stigma surrounding addiction may make you feel like your experience is unusual, but you’re not alone. The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependency estimates that about one in eight people in the United States is an adult child of an alcoholic. Finding a network of support through Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACoA) can help you work on building a brighter future for yourself. ACoA’s support groups are based on a modified version of the 12 steps for addiction recovery used in Alcoholics Anonymous. Al-Anon Family Groups are another excellent option to consider, since they have groups for spouses or partners, teens, and adult children of alcoholics.

 

By Dana Hinders

To learn more about our programs or for a campus tour  of St. Joseph Institute, please visit our website.

Couple Holding Hands

Watching your spouse or partner struggle with addiction isn’t easy, but this challenge doesn’t have to mean the end of your relationship. With patience, commitment, and determination, your marriage can emerge from this struggle stronger than ever before.

Start a New Chapter in Your Relationship

Try to look at your spouse being in recovery as an opportunity to build a new marriage and start a fresh chapter in your own personal love story. Let go of past mistakes, hurt, and anger.  Focus on discovering who your partner is as a sober individual and give yourself permission to fall in love all over again.

One way to build a new marriage with a spouse in recovery is to set aside a regular “date night” to talk and reconnect, just as you did when you first met. Some great sober date ideas to consider including going for a walk in the park, visiting a museum together, going bowling, checking out an arcade, or volunteering for a non-profit organization you both support.

Listen Without Judging

Addiction is difficult to truly understand unless you’ve struggled with substance abuse issues yourself. However, being willing to listen without judgment can go a long way towards creating a better marriage when your spouse is in recovery.

In today’s fast-paced world, we’re often guilty of multi-tasking instead of taking the time to truly communicate. At the end of the day, put down your phone, turn off the TV, and give your spouse your undivided attention. Recovery is an ongoing process, so setting aside 15 to 20 minutes each day to reconnect in this fashion can go a long way towards keeping your spouse on the path of sobriety.

Make Time for Self-Care

When you’re the spouse of a recovering addict, it’s easy to become so overwhelmed by your partner’s needs that you neglect to take care of yourself. However, self-care is an essential part of building a strong marriage. You can’t be a supportive partner without creating a strong foundation for yourself.

Self-care includes eating healthy foods, exercising regularly, and getting the rest that your body needs, as well as finding time for activities you enjoy apart from your partner. This may include solo pursuits such as gardening or reading as well as catching up with old friends. When your own mind, body, and soul have been nourished, you’ll be able to bring your “best self” to the marriage.

Start a Journal

Keeping a journal can be a wonderful way to explore your feelings surrounding your spouse’s recovery without creating additional tension in your marriage. When you’re feeling hurt, angry, or disappointed, writing in your journal can help you work out your issues before you’re tempted to lash out at your spouse.

If you don’t consider yourself much of a writer, try making lists or creating an art journal that combines doodles and collages with words that express how you feel. If you’re not fond of writing by hand, create a special folder on your laptop for journal entries. There’s no right or wrong way to journal—all that matters is you choose an approach that works for you.

Seek Counseling

Marriage counseling is so much more than just a last-ditch strategy to avoid divorce. Any couple going through major life changes can benefit from marriage counseling. Having an objective third party to offer advice, guide discussions, and teach communication techniques can help you feel more confident as you work towards your sober future together.

If you have children who are struggling to understand your spouse’s addiction, family counseling sessions may be beneficial as well. An experienced therapist can help your family address parenting challenges and brainstorm ideas for how you can all support each other.

 
To learn more about our programs or for a campus tour  of St. Joseph Institute, please visit our website. You can also call us directly at 877-727-4465. 

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