You’ve probably heard the term “secondhand smoke,” which refers to environmental tobacco smoke accidentally inhaled by nonsmokers. Secondhand smoke is a dangerous hazard that causes a wide range of damaging health effects, and even death. But what about secondhand drinking?

Although alcohol can’t be absorbed through the environment, the negative impacts of alcohol abuse extend far beyond the alcoholic. For those closest to people struggling with alcohol use disorder, these secondhand effects can be just as serious as the effects of secondhand smoking.

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What Is Secondhand Drinking?

The term “secondhand drinking” describes the negative impact of alcoholism on the family and friends of people with alcohol use disorder. Sometimes, these drinking behaviors also affect coworkers, law enforcement, and complete strangers.

Studies show that one in five adults in the United States—an estimated 53 million people—experience harm as a result of someone else’s drinking each year.

What Are the Effects of Secondhand Drinking?

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Photo by bady abbas on Unsplash

Children of alcoholic parents are among those most affected by secondhand drinking. Children of alcoholics commonly experience increased anxiety and depression, issues with self-esteem, guilt, embarrassment, anger, and a negative outlook on life. They are also more likely to choose alcoholic partners and to struggle with alcoholism themselves.

Having a parent who struggles with alcohol or drug addiction is identified as an Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE). ACEs are linked to health problems, mental illness, and substance abuse in adulthood. They may also negatively affect education and job opportunities.

Other ACEs include:

Physical abuseVerbal abuseSexual abusePhysical neglectEmotional neglectWitnessing domestic violenceHaving an incarcerated family memberHaving a family member with a mental illnessExperiencing parental divorce, death, or abandonment

Unfortunately, all of these other ACES are more likely to occur in a home with an adult who drinks heavily. The more ACES a child experiences, the greater the risk of negative effects into adulthood. Chronic stress and trauma repeatedly activate the brain’s fight or flight stress response, causing developing brains to “wire” unhealthy protective behaviors and coping strategies.

Because high levels of trauma alter the brain, they also change behavior and can lead to a lifetime of physical, mental, and social difficulties. Trauma-impacted individuals commonly report anxiety, depression, feelings of inadequacy, people-pleasing behaviors, issues with sleep, and higher rates of a wide range of chronic illnesses.

How to Prevent the Effects of Secondhand Drinking

Drinking doesn’t only affect the drinker—it also impacts their partner, friends, family members, and especially their children.

It’s possible to prevent or mitigate some of the effects of secondhand drinking. For example, one can call a friend or take an Uber after a night of drinking. There are also support groups like Al-Anon for loved ones of alcoholics.

However, the most effective way to reduce the impact of secondhand drinking is to stop drinking or drink in moderation. Of course, changing long-term habits, especially those related to addiction, can be extremely challenging. It takes willpower, consistency, and support.

If you’d like to change your relationship to alcohol, both for yourself and the people you love, you have options. Complete abstinence isn’t a requirement, nor is inpatient addiction treatment. Ria Health offers a convenient, 100 percent online program for alcohol misuse.

As a Ria member, you set your own goals and we help you reach them. Our evidence-based program includes recovery coaching, medication for alcoholism, digital tracking tools, online support groups, and more. Best of all, it’s fully accessible from your smartphone. You can get support on your own schedule, from the comfort of home.

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If you’re ready, take the first step for yourself and your loved ones today. Read more about how Ria Health works, or sign up for a free call with a member of our team.