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The Effects of Alcohol and Substance Abuse on the Family System - Essay Example

7 pages
1791 words
University of Richmond
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Substance abuse has been attributed to contributing to making a family dysfunctional. This paper will explore the statistics in the country and illustrate the breakdown of the family system and the stages of progression. Adverse childhood experiences will also be examined and how they may result in childrens brains developing differently from healthy children. The coping mechanism of a child in a chaotic family may overcompensate as a defense to the experience, and hence begin to manifest in behaviors such as violence, substance use, behavioral problems, and other actions that put their health at risk.

A 2013 study in the United States explains the extent of substance use in the country. 24.6 million Persons of 12 years and older, had used a prohibited substance in 30 days participating in the survey. 9.4% of the same population demographic was shown to have used a psychoactive drug in their lives (Chambers 107). Loss of employment and income, costs channeled to the treatment of substance abuse illnesses, resultant premature deaths, crimes related to substance abuse, adjudications, damaged property under the influence of substances all result from substance abuse.

There were also 22,000 cases of neonatal abstinence syndrome in infants in the United States in 2012 that are a consequence of prenatal exposure to opioids (Chambers 108). When the infants are born, they suffer the symptoms equivalent to those of withdrawal such as seizures, hypertonia, sweating, and appetite upsets, crazy sucking, irritability, trouble being consoled when crying etcetera and are often born prematurely and have low birth weight. Infants whose mother abused cannabis will have increased risk of electroencephalographic changes and disturbed sleep cycles and other neurobehavioral abnormalities.

A 2002 2007 study dreadfully reveals that in every five children under 18 years in the United States, one is born in a family with at least a member who has Substance Use Disorder (SUD). It is estimated that this number could be at least 8.3 million in population (Fischer 79). These children are three folds more likely to be victims of emotional and physical abuse and four times more probable to face neglect from their families. 27% of these children with SUD parents require the intervention of child protection services during their preschool years. Regarding effects on the brain development in children, this comes from their mothers. If a mother drinks heavily during pregnancy, this interferes with the proper development of the brain of the child and even during adolescence; that is long after they were exposed to too much alcohol while in the womb, unlike children who are not born from SUD parents.

Research indicates that partners and children in the family can become enablers of the other members Substance Use Disorder. They may engage in codependent behaviors that enable their partners substance abuse as a coping mechanism, hence unwittingly becoming part of the dysfunctional family system (Bailey JA 263). Codependency is common with women in their acts of caregiving for their substance use disorder partners due to their beliefs on relationships. Research shows that it is more likely that women who had a parent with SUD will engage in substance abuse as a dysfunctional behavior to obtain self-worth. This occurs due to the exploitative or abusive relationship they had with their parents, and subsequently, they become dependent on abusive relationships to obtain self-confidence in adulthood as explained in Horneys morbid dependency theory.

Children will also have high likelihoods of engaging in codependent behaviors. One of the children in the family will assume the responsible/hero role, mostly the eldest child, who will take up family roles that are above his age level (Bailey JA 263). Another child may understand the placating child responsibility, channel most of his strength and time towards solving the family issues, and often forget their needs. The child is mostly driven by shame and urge to change the apparent gloomy perspective on life.

Psycho-behavioral difficulties are symptoms exhibited by children and adolescents who are housed in families with a parent with Substances Use Disorder. These children are three-fold more likely to miss school and twice as likely, compared to their peers, to sustain injuries. A study revealed that 23% of these children had not visited child health services of routine checkups in the first two years since their birth. These children, mainly due to maltreatment, are more likely to suffer from ADHD (Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder), stress-related disorders, trauma, anxiety disorders, oppositional defiant disorder and other mental health difficulties. They are also four times more vulnerable to engaging in similar behaviors of substance abuse.

A research study illustrates that the reasons why couples drink together are due to a maladaptive coping mechanism to alleviate their interpersonal distress. This study reveals that couples who are insecure about their relationship are more likely to engage in binge drinking as a mediating mechanism than secure couples. However, the drinking is associated with increased problems and distress in the relationship hence, perpetuating a vicious cycle which includes marital alcohol harms. Attachment anxiety, yearning for closeness with the partner, and attachment avoidance, the desire for emotional independence from a partner, are some of the attachment theories that explain drinking-to-cope in relationships as a relationship enhancing strategy. Partners drink to increase their intimacy levels or improve their assertiveness/power in the relationship. In attachment avoidant, however, the partners engage in alcohol drinking separately as a coping mechanism to seeking emotional liberation. This is especially true when there is an unfulfilled problem, and one partner is escaping the partners excessive demand on the issue. This demand-withdrawal also reinforces partners insecurities.

Substance abuse in the family may begin with the couple engaging in substance use such as alcohol in relationship-drinking context and, therefore, can become predictors of marital alcohol problems such as violence. Substance abuse disorder in the family begins with the denial of the problem and addiction. The abuser also distorts the facts and variables about this addiction due to reduced awareness of their condition. They consequently have no oversight on the impact of their substance abuse on the effects of their relatives and their relationships and their self-esteem.

The couple in the family begins to fight often, and violence becomes habitual in the family with common emotional and physical abuse (Brennan 267). Communication breakdown between the partners becomes pronounced with extensive and frequent periods of nagging, judging, complaining and blaming. The family may experience economic vulnerability due to family funds being channeled towards alcoholism and alcoholism-related behaviors. Due to the social perception of addiction as a social failure, the family tries to keep the situation secret and attempts to remedy the situation by pressing the alcoholic to change.

As the problem exacerbates, disorganization and chaos set into the family and the family system begins to change. Family traditions, rituals, and habits start to break down. At this stage, the effect on the children from the strain in the family begins to become perceptible. They begin to adopt codependent behaviors due to the psychological impacts of the family chaos.

Children of these families may also feel responsible for conflicts in their families or liable to find a solution to the problem and will begin to manifest as they assume roles in the dysfunctional family system (Brennan 268). When one of the children thinks the hero role, the other child is likely to consider a scapegoating position and engage in an anti-hero role.

Due to the smothered psychosocial development of the child, they assume sophisticated defenses against emotions. Claudia indicates four personalities adopted by these children as they reclaim family roles. They include the placating child who on sensing conflict in the family; attempts to bring in someone who may soothe the situation. These children will go to lengths to attempt to solve the familys problem and forget their self-protective boundaries. Another is the Mascot child who tries to conjure up a sense of humor personality to alleviate the tension amid a family conflict. The responsible child, on the other hand, shoulders the responsibility of the family and feels liable to protect the familys honor and respect. The adjusting child learns to become invisible to the family; a means to remove themselves as additional problem or baggage to the family. Lastly, the scapegoating childs behavior illicit attention at him puts them at higher risk for abuse currently and throughout adulthood.

When matters of substance abuse in families get out of hand, the relatives may seek escape from the active partner. This stage involves legal suits for separation or divorce. This is usually the most challenging moment for the family; especially the children and the repercussion are the breakdowns of the family (Smith 2). According to Claudia Black, a psychologist, children in a family with a parent with SUD have an increased risk of incest, neglect, and violence. These children will experience in one form or another incidence of reproachful remarks, irritable scolding, denial of affection and love, verbal abuse, unfavorable and unhealthy comparison with another sibling, character assassination, and being ignored.

Children who have been neglected and have been shown little love and attention have broken attachment and become wary of adults. They show little trust as adults and often hold deep pain within that also influences their behaviors and choices on life, based on fear-based perspectives. They incline towards avoidance of pain in relationships. These children will require rehabilitation by a psychologist (Smith 3). The responsible child needs to be taught to yield some control and become a good listener. The scapegoating child needs to learn to take responsibility and independence, the adjusting child to acknowledge his strengths and passions, the mascot keeping attention and appropriateness in interruptions, and the placating child to recognize their intrinsic worth.

It is therefore apparent of the adverse effects of substance abuse and alcoholism on the family system. If the alcoholic or drug addict eventually seeks help and retract from his condition, the family may reconcile and begin a recovery phase especially if the family members have empathy for the alcoholic member. The family will later reorganize and realign roles albeit with adjustments to remedy acquired extreme behaviors and personalities. However, if the victims of substance abuse and alcoholism do not seek help or even change, the consequences are dire on the family system; thus, measures should be taken to help them so that families can stay happily together. Finally, it is also clear that children that are raised in families that have rampant substance use and alcoholism have higher chances of even engaging in the same, hence it is essential to control the consumption to raise good families.

Works cited

Bailey JA, Hill KG, Oesterle S, Hawkins JD (2006). Linking substance use and problem behavior across three Generations. J Abnorm Child Psychol, 34(3):263-9.

Brennan, K. A., & Shaver, P. R. (2005). Dimensions of adult attachment, affect regulation, and romantic relationship functioning. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 21: 267283.

Chambers, J. (2005). Strengths for Coping with Family Conflict. Reclaiming Childr...

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