What Effects Does Alcohol Have on the Family & Society?

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A 2010 research report comparing the dangers of 20 different substances identified alcohol as the most dangerous drug to society. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism said that society in the United States paid in excess of £1.0 billion in 1998 in costs that relate to alcohol abuse and alcoholism.

Alcohol abuse and alcoholism affect families and individuals with trauma that often lasts throughout a lifetime.

Most Dangerous to Society

In a 2010 interview with BBC, David Nutt, a British researcher who spearheaded a study to evaluate social and individual dangers of 20 different substances, said that research results isolate alcohol as the most dangerous drug to society. This research focused on 20 different drug types that included alcohol, heroine, crack cocaine, cocaine, tobacco and cannabis. Alcohol scored as the most dangerous to society. Heroin and crack cocaine rated second and third. The other substances in the top six were cocaine, tobacco and cannabis.


Consider the estimated cost of alcohol abuse. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism estimated the 1998 cost of alcohol abuse to be £120.0 billion. Immediate care of alcoholism and the effects of alcoholism in terms of alcohol-related deaths, injuries, long-term care and employment issues are among the factors affecting the cost of alcohol abuse and alcoholism to society. The American Medical Association has treated alcoholism as a disease since 1956.


Empathise with families with a member who abuses alcohol. Alcohol abuse leads to family dysfunction and codependency. Both of these states are unhealthy for family members. According to a 2008 article by Tian Dayton, PhD, individuals "who live with addiction are often times traumatised." Dayton notes that unexpected and often frightening events associated with alcohol use often interrupt normal routines. The denial of emotions of fear, shame, anger and trust often leads to dysfunctional families that do not acknowledge that a problem exists.


Acknowledge the state of codependency. Individual family members often become codependents, or individuals that accept responsibility for the actions of others. A codependent will hold onto a relationship even if it is abusive or dysfunctional. According to Dayton, family members "may bend, manipulate and deny reality in their attempt to maintain family order." Codependency breeds denial that a problem exists. Codependents look for external sources to elevate self-esteem. In addition, characteristics of codependents include confusing love and pity, having a strong need for recognition and having problems with intimacy and personal relationships. Such codependency can take a heavy toll not only on the family unit but on each individual member of the family.

Personal Toll

Note the mental and physical toll of dealing with alcohol abuse. Individual family members who endeavour to maintain a sense of familial normalcy, may resort to various self-coping mechanisms. Some of these coping strategies, according to Dayton include "shutting down their own feelings, denying there is a problem, . . . withdrawing, acting out or self-medication." Over time, such stress can lead to trauma that affects the individual mentally with codepended intellectualising. The physical trauma emanates from how stress affects the limbic system. The limbic system regulates the emotions, the appetite and sleep.