Alcohol misuse takes heavy toll on family and friends

Posted on: Tuesday, 12 April 2011

While the challenges faced by people with alcohol problems are well documented, new research by Eastern Health’s Turning Point Alcohol & Drug Centre has revealed family and friends can also pay a heavy price.

In a paper to be presented at the Keith Bruun Society’s 37th Annual Alcohol Epidemiology Symposium which starts in Melbourne today, researcher Morgan Schlotterlein says individuals’ drinking habits can affect all areas of other people’s lives - emotionally, physically, mentally and socially.

“The experiences of family and friends should be considered as important secondary effects of alcohol consumption,” Ms Schlotterlein said.

“Many are faced with the problem every day, having constant confrontations with the drinker, feeling threatened by their behaviour or always feeling upset. For others, these challenges may not be present every day, but worry and anxiety certainly are.”

The qualitative study involved people who called Eastern Health’s Turning Point Alcohol & Drug Centre support service, DirectLine.

Ms Schlotterlein, along with co-authors Anne Marie Laslett and Priscilla Robinson, found that people coped and responded to the problematic drinking behaviour of someone close to them in many ways.

“Those with a perceived notion that they are responsible for the wellbeing of another, such as a partner, feel a corresponding sense of failure or inadequacy when they cannot fulfil their responsibility,” Ms Schlotterlein said.

“But those people who don’t primarily identify themselves as being responsible for another person, such as friends or housemates, are less likely to be acutely affected by the drinking behaviour.”

Ms Schlotterlein said the research also highlighted the need for appropriate services and support for the family and friends of people with alcohol use problems.

She said further research on coping mechanisms, practical strategies and ways to bring about attitudinal and behavioural change among friends and families in order to reduce the negative effects was also needed.

“The consumption of alcohol is culturally very acceptable in Australian society; however this should not mean that the associated harms to others are also acceptable,” Ms Schlotterlein said.

More than 200 alcohol experts from around the globe will gather in Melbourne this week for the annual symposium, which is hosted by Eastern Health’s Turning Point Alcohol & Drug Centre and the Burnet Institute.

The symposium runs from  April 11 – 15. Topics to be covered include studies of determinants and consequences of drinking, drinking practices, attitudes and the social and institutional responses to drinking related harms.