Forgiveness Helps Families Cope with Alcohol Misuse

Individuals who misuse alcohol can experience significant emotional and physical damage. Acute alcohol consumption can lead to extreme health consequences and can create psychological impairments that interfere with everyday tasks. These difficulties can make it hard for those who misuse alcohol to keep employment. This financial stressor then further exacerbates an already tense circumstance. The family members also have to deal with the repercussions of the alcohol use. People with alcohol problems are often the catalysts for family conflicts, financial devastation, and overwhelming stress and worry. The culmination of these factors can cause deep resentments within families dealing with alcohol misuse.

Mental health professionals and therapists who work with people trying to conquer alcohol misuse often include the families of the clients. Overcoming past hurts, trust, and anger issues are essential to ensure a successful recovery. Michael Scherer of the Department of Mental Health at Johns Hopkins University recently led two studies that looked at these issues among family members of people facing alcohol misuse. In his first study, Scherer asked 190 family members how much forgiveness and trust they felt for the client with alcohol misuse issues compared to the other members of the family. In the second study, he examined how family harmony influenced the answers.

Scherer discovered that the participants felt lower levels of both forgiveness and trust toward their alcohol-using relative compared to other relatives. This finding was expected, as trust is often violated by those with addiction issues. In the second study, the results demonstrated a clear link between positive family cohesion and positive levels of forgiveness and trust. Specifically, the families that were the closest and most harmonious were much more forgiving and saw the alcohol misuse as an uncontrollable act. They perceived that their family member was not able to stop the misuse and felt higher levels of trust toward that relative than those in less cohesive families. Scherer believes these findings are clinically important. He said, “Increasing forgiveness within the context of existing family-based alcohol treatment protocols may be related to intra-familial support and the development of more adaptive coping strategies.”

Scherer, M., Worthington, Jr., E. L., Hook, J. N.,  Campana, K. L., West, S. L. (2012). Forgiveness and cohesion in familial perceptions of alcohol misuse. Journal of Counseling and Development 90.2, 160-168.

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  • kel

    May 24th, 2012 at 12:22 AM

    had this happening my family about a decade ago.the trust is eroded and it doesn’t come back without abstinence.and abstinence required trust and care.its vicious.

  • Lori

    May 24th, 2012 at 4:14 AM

    Kind of difficult to always be offering forgiveness to someone in your life who is continually hurting you.
    I know that it would be the right thing to do, but sometimes those feelings of forgiving don’t come too easily, especially after years of being hurt by them.

  • julie h

    May 24th, 2012 at 12:10 PM

    Saying that you will forgive someone is one thing but doing it in practice is quite another. I have many times offered peace and forgiveness but still experienced that biting feeling that deep down inside I would never let someone live down what they had done to me to cause me that hurt and anger. I guess that’s only natural, and if there was some kind of class that I could take that would magically allow me to let it all go then I would enroll in a skinny minute. But that’s just it, there’s nothing magical about it. It has to be something that is offered with no reservations and no strings attached and getting to where you can do this is quite the difficult journey for most of us. I won’t say that I will stop trying to get to that point, but I also know that it will never be easy for me to let the hurt go.

  • Tanner

    May 24th, 2012 at 4:30 PM

    I have tried to do the whole forgive and forget thing, but it just doesn’t work when it comes to my family. There’s just too much there to work through and overcome, and if I am done with the relationship and have decided that it is healthier for me to be away from them than to be with them, then why should I even have to go through the motions of forgiving? let’s just say that I continue to try to forget and move on to a new and better chapter of life.

  • cheri

    May 24th, 2012 at 11:29 PM

    you have created a healthy balance by stepping back and
    allowing yourself the right to heal and protect yourself
    from more damage by risking involvement w/your family-it
    sounds like a good plan, to me. you can still forgive, &
    keep your distance, because i’ve had similar experience
    w/facing the reality of broken trust and shattered family ties…good luck to you,keep your chin up and i
    hope you find God to get your life back on track!

  • Faith

    May 25th, 2012 at 2:22 AM

    We need to remember that forgiveness does just as much for the forgiver, if not more. It frees us from anger & bitterness. But forgiving does not mean that we cannot set boundaries. Forgiving does not mean I will allow the abusive person to abuse me again. It means that I will let go of the past and not let it pollute my life any longer.

  • madison

    May 25th, 2012 at 2:02 PM

    Forgiveness is hard- I don’t think that any one ever said it was easy. But for those of you who struggle with that, just think for a minute how much lighter you may have the chance to feel if there was someway that you could find to let go of it for a while. Start with committing to it for a day, then a week, then a month, and by them it will almost feel like it did not exist at all. I am not asking that you forget about it, because I know that the things that happen to us in the past are the things that make us who we are today. But have they made us better? Sometimes the answer is yes and sometimes it is no. But I think that one big way of working through it all is to let go of the bad and focus on the good that you are sure to have in your life. You may not think that it’s there but it is. However sometimes it takes letting go of some of the bad to be able to see a little more clearly the good that you do have in life.

  • Hollis

    May 26th, 2012 at 6:58 AM

    I agree with Madison. This is not something that I think that anyone would expect you to grant overnight, because it takes a lot more time than that to come to terms with that within. But if you haven’t ever experienced how good it feels to finally be free of all of that hate, then you have never felt tryly free before. It gives you the energy back that holding to all of that animosity has taken away from you. It lest you be you again without leaving you to feel that you have compromised yourself.

  • Jeff Fawn

    May 28th, 2012 at 7:19 AM

    so easy to talk about forgiveness, so difficult to actually do

  • Bev

    July 28th, 2012 at 4:59 PM

    Knowing that addiction is a disease doesn’t always make it easier to forgive. Sometimes all you can do is endure the moment, let go of it when it’s over and then forgive. And then the next day do it all over again, and the next and the next, and the next……….

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