First of its kind study reveals far-reaching benefits of recovery for families of dependent drinkers

New research published today (26 February) – the first of its kind – shows how the recovery journey of a dependent drinker can markedly improve the lives of their families, for as long as recovery is sustained.

In England, there are an estimated 595,000 dependent drinkers* and 222,000 children living in a household with a dependent drinker**. In 2016-7, only 108,696 dependent drinkers accessed treatment, but of those who did 61% completed successfully.

The ‘Family Life in Recovery’ project from the Department of Law and Criminology at Sheffield Hallam University and Adfam, funded by Alcohol Research UK, is the first piece of research of this scale to illustrate the far-reaching impacts of dependent drinking through the lens of family members.

The researchers found that in cases where a dependent drinker was in recovery, their family members reported improvements across multiple areas of their lives, including: in family violence, debt, emotional and mental health problems, involvement with the criminal justice system, and in healthcare use.

The study of 1,565 family members showed:

  • Family members are both a resource to support recovery, and people whose own lives can be transformed through recovery.
  • Heavy and dependent drinking is associated with a range of secondary problems within families, including:
    • mental health issues: over one-third of respondents reported receiving help or treatment for emotional or mental health problems at the time the survey was completed, compared with 72 per cent when the user was in active dependency
    • interpersonal violence: 32 per cent of respondents were victims of family violence during their family member’s active dependency, compared to 10 per cent during recovery. Almost 5 per cent were perpetrators of family violence during their family member’s active dependency, compared with just under 1 per cent during recovery
    • financial problems: overall, family members reported improved financial status when the family member was no longer in active dependency. Fewer individuals had debts, bad credit, were bankrupt and could not pay bills
  • Where recovery is successful, family members can experience significant improvements to quality of life and wellbeing, including less use of healthcare, reduced domestic conflict, and improved personal finances.
  • ‘Recovery’ journeys are experienced by families as a period of positive change, but also emotional challenge.
  • By comparison to successful recovery, relapse can lead to poorer physical and psychological health, and poorer quality of life for family members.
  • Family members also reported significant problems at work with more than half reporting work problems during the family member’s active dependency period.

Professor David Best, from Sheffield Hallam University and lead author of the study, said:

“This study is important in illustrating not only the impact of dependency on many areas of family life but also the restorative effects of recovery for the user, their families and communities. The research shows the importance of policies that promote recovery for substance users, and clearly indicates the benefits of including the family in the journey of recovery and reintegration.”

Vivienne Evans, Chief Executive of Adfam, said:

“This report is an invaluable addition to a growing body of knowledge about the impact of substance misuse on families. It supports and adds weight to Adfam’s 30-year mission to provide help and support for these families, who are such a key element of recovery, and yet need to have a journey of recovery for themselves.”

Dr Richard Piper, Chief Executive of Alcohol Research UK which recently merged with Alcohol Concern, said:

“The pressures of caring for a family member who is dependent on alcohol can be overwhelming. It’s clear that families are a key resource in supporting recovery, and that they benefit significantly where recovery is successful.

“This research highlights the need for a better focus on families and their role in the recovery journey. In particular, families need better access to support services.”

The new research report ‘Family Life in Recovery’ is available here.


Notes to Editors

*Public Health England (2017). Adult Substance Misuse Statistics from the National Drug Treatment Monitoring System (NDTMS): 1 April 2016 to 31 March 2017.
**Pryce, R. et al. (2017). Estimates of alcohol dependence in England based on APMS 2014, including estimates of children living in a household with an adult with alcohol dependence: prevalence, trends, and amenability to treatment. University of Sheffield, King’s College London and Public Health.

1. The surveys were completed by individuals who had a family member in, or attempting, recovery from dependent drinking. All findings, therefore, reflect the experiences of the survey respondents rather than the drinker in, or seeking, recovery.

2. Of the 1,565 family members who completed the survey, 40 per cent were parents of dependent children; 88 per cent were women; and the average age was 52. The majority (82%) described their ethnicity as White British or White. Around two-thirds of the sample were married or living with a partner. And just over half (51%) were in regular employment, and a similar number had a degree or postgraduate qualification.

3. Sheffield Hallam University is one of the largest universities in the UK, with more than 31,500 students. As one of the UK’s most progressive universities, providing opportunity through widening participation is at the heart of the University. 96 per cent of its young full-time undergraduate UK students are from state schools/colleges and 41 per cent are from low income backgrounds. Sheffield Hallam’s research is characterised by a focus on real world impact – addressing the cultural, economic and social challenges facing society today. 65 per cent of its research was rated world-leading or internationally excellent in the Research Excellence Framework.

4. Adfam is the national charity campaigning on behalf of families affected by substance misuse through research, advocacy, networking, training and direct support; follow us on Twitter @AdfamUK.

5. Alcohol Research UK recently merged with Alcohol Concern. The merged charity works across the UK to reduce alcohol-related harm. For more information visit: and Follow us at: @AlcoResearchUK and @AlcoholConcern.