With alcohol addiction posing major health and social problems in the United States, and the family remaining the basic social unit, the effects of alcohol addiction by a family member on the functioning of that social unit is of paramount importance in understanding the degree to which alcohol addiction is disruptive to family life; understanding this may lead to better ways to mitigate the effects of addiction on at least the social components of the problem. The question was asked: When alcohol addiction is discovered or recognized in a family member living in the household, in what ways are the family dynamics -- the interrelationships and methods of communication -- altered? Some information was also developed regarding the most likely family member to feel the effects caused by another family member's addiction. Information was obtained from two groups with long and deep experience of dealing with the social disruptions of alcohol addictions, Alcoholics Anonymous and Al-Anon, the family/significant other organization allied with Alcoholics Anonymous. Questionnaires were provided to leaders of these organizations, whose assistance was requested in developing the information. The assumption was made that, because of the higher-power-based nature of the organizations, although the information was anonymous, it could be considered reliable. The findings were expected to demonstrate significant areas of negative impact on family dynamics of a member's alcohol addiction.
Several researchers have adequately documented that the social and health costs of alcohol use and abuse in the United States is a staggering figure. Because of this, interest in availability of alcohol and in strategies to affect its availability have risen, as has interest in development of intervention strategies, although these have also been found to have little influence on alcohol use. (Gorman et al. 1998, 661) Literally dozens of studies have been done regarding various aspects of alcohol use, many of them aimed at finding causal relationships between alcohol use and abuse and an array of factors form genetic pre-disposition to attitudes toward drinking by parents of young alcohol abusers: A few are included here, notably those of Bennette et al. (199), Johnson & Pandina (1991) and Costa et al. (1999). Some of these studies have investigated whether youthful alcohol abuse or overuse moderates with age, and if so, why and how.
Studies have been conducted, as well, to determine what sort of intervention works best for abusers of all ages. Included here are notes concerning the work of Beattie (2001) and Schuckit & Smith (2000).
All of these studies skirt one of the issues that might be considered central to the problems of alcohol in a society that views the family as its foundation stone; that issue is the effect of alcohol addiction on the family unit. A few studies have touched on aspects of that question, including those of Friedemann (1996) and Gorman et al. (1998).
The aim of this study is to determine whether alcohol addiction alters the family dynamics. In order to do that, it is necessary to obtain information from families that experienced the development of alcohol addition in one or more family members. There are several problems inherent in locating this study population. First, while it may appear that alcohol addiction has suddenly begun, in fact, it may merely have been recognized after existing for a length of time. If that were the case, it would be difficult to attribute any change in family dynamics to the onset of alcohol addiction vs. The recognition of alcohol addiction. Second, while it is possible to obtain public records regarding arrests for alcohol-based criminal activity, for example, this is not the sort of information that will contribute to an understanding of the effects of alcohol addiction on family dynamics. Third, there is a set of variables that may alter the precise effect of alcohol addiction on family dynamics. For example, would the dynamics be altered differently, or at all, if the mother were the addict? Or the father? Or one son, one daughter? Two children? A residential grandparent? Is there a difference in the effects if the addicted family member does not live in the household? And if so, is the effect mitigated? If so, in what way? These may, however, be issues for further study.
Purpose of the study
The current research question is this: when alcohol addiction is discovered or recognized in a family member living in the household, in what ways are the family dynamics -- the interrelationships and methods of communication-- altered?
The study will also investigate the degree of disruption depending on whether the family member addicted to alcohol is a parent, child or other. In addition, it will reveal whether the family member addicted to alcohol is aware that his or her addiction has any effect on the family, and what he or she thinks that effect entails. There will be no attempt to assess what the addicted family member or any other family member believes is the correct course of action to mitigate the effects nor to cope with the addiction itself.
Once the extent and parameters of the effects of alcohol addiction on family dynamics is described, it will be possible to begin to find effective remedies for the expected negative disruption, which in turn may have the effect of ameliorating the acknowledged serious social, if not health, costs of alcohol addiction to U.S. society.
While there has been considerable research on many aspects of alcohol addiction, a few areas are most pertinent to the current investigation concerning the effect of alcohol abuse on family dynamics. The most relevant areas of investigation to date and those that are most greatly contributive to the current research are: attitudes toward alcohol use and abuse, causative factors, treatment effectiveness, youth drinking and alcohol and violence. Following are brief notations regarding a few important studies in each of those areas.
Attitudes toward alcohol
An important aspect of the current study concerns the interaction between family members in a family containing a member addicted to alcohol. Parents, as important facilitators of the socialization and disciplining of children, can influence offspring's behavior both by instruction and by example, or, as Johnson & Pandina call it, modeling actions as well as defining norms (1991 71+). In addition, parents can provide positive attachment (Johnson & Pandina 1991, 71+) On the other hand, "A link between parental alcohol, cigarette, and other drug use with substance use by the child has been established" (Johnson & Pandina 1991, 71+).
Herd tackled a similar concept in a study comparing the influence of parent drinking attitudes and behavior on the drinking patterns engaged in by both black and white adults in the U.S., hypothesizing that parents as a source of influence on drinking behavior is critical, as well as being critical for imparting moral values and normative codes (Herd 1994 353+). Most research until then had been conducted with samples that included few or no black respondents (Herd 1994 353+).
Additional findings noted that parenting style can affect problem behavior; children whose parents did not provide love, warmth and closeness demonstrated increases levels of substance abuse, delinquency and coping strategies, according to Johnson & Pandina (1991, 71+). It may be assumed, for purposes of the current study, that parents who are addicted to alcohol would have impaired abilities to provide these nurturing actions.
However, Johnson & Pandina found that parental alcohol use was important in a child's choice to use alcohol to cope, that influence was secondary to general parenting styles when other problematic outcomes were examined (1991, 71+). In other words, vis-a-vis the current study, it may not be possible to assume that alcohol impairs a parent's ability to provide nurturing, and may therefore not upset the family dynamics automatically as much as hypothesized. In addition, it would be expected that ethnicity would have an effect. Herd noted that blacks in her study had a more conservative profile of parental drinking attitudes and behaviors that she thought "might stem from the ambivalent and often negative socio-cultural climate surrounding alcohol use among blacks described in previous ethnographic and historical studies (Herd 1994 353+).
Schuckit & Smith investigated alcohol use and abuse in terms of genetic and environmental factors, noting that those two factors were almost equally responsible (2000, 287) They were particularly interest in the level of response (LR) to alcohol, and noted that LR has been shown to predict alcohol problems or abuse or dependence and that lower LR is predictive, and is essentially unaffected by six other domains of life activity that they investigated as possible precursors or deterrents to alcohol addiction (Schuckit & Smith 2000, 287).
While the Schuckit & Smith study was concerned primarily with determining the most cogent correlation between response to alcohol use and later addiction, a study by Chermack et al. investigated the relationship between family history of alcoholism, a family history of violence, and the effect of childhood conduct problems on substance abuse, including alcohol. This was a much more sociologically oriented study…