Alcoholism’s Effect on Families – Shameless

The Gallagher Family, Told from the Perspective of Frank
The Gallagher Family, Told from the Perspective of Frank – screenshot from , 4/26/17 3:29 PM

Alcoholism is another major theme that runs throughout the Shameless series. Frank Gallagher is a single, absent, alcoholic father whose decisions take a profound toll on his children. According to Charles Grant, Lawrence Rosenfeld, and Kenneth Cissna, “The children of alcoholic parents constitute one important segment of our society whose communicative competence may be jeopardized severely in childhood.” (49). In other words, the way the Gallagher children exhibit effective and appropriate communicative behaviors is partly caused by Frank’s habits. 

To illustrate the extent of his alcoholic problems and the strain he puts on his children, in “Summertime,” Frank Gallagher, in his classic drunken stupor, bets a man at the bar 10 thousand dollars that he cannot get tasered twice and still be standing. To Frank’s dismay, the bar patron wins the bet and Frank now owes him $10,000. To raise this money, Frank uses his youngest son Liam as a way of coercing people to giving it to him. When this does not work, the man takes Liam as hostage, refusing to give him back until the money is brought to him. Fortunately, the conflict is resolved when Kev, Veronica and Lip give up the marijuana they grew to give to the man in lieu of money (Abbott, “Summertime”). This insane scenario is just a brief glimpse into the ruckus caused by Frank Gallagher. 

Gallagher children gathered around table with drunken Frank passed out on floor - screenshot from Shameless episode "Pilot"
Gallagher children gathered around table with drunken Frank passed out on floor – screenshot from, Shameless episode “Pilot,” 5/1/17 1:32 PM

“‘Don’t talk, don’t trust, don’t feel’ are the primary messages in families with alcoholics” (McElligatt cited in Grant, Rosenfeld, and Cissna, 49), and is one of the main messages lived by in the Gallagher family. In “Can I Have a Mother,” Ian opens up to Lip about his dreams of getting in to West Point and Lip quickly shuts him down (Abbott). In the episode following this, Ian proceeds to give Lip the silent treatment and refuses to open up to him about his future dreams anymore (Abbott, “A Bottle of Jean Nate”). This automatic shutdown is very much representative of the mantra previously stated. 

In “The Legend of Bonnie and Carl,” Carl is depicted in detention in his school, making friends with another child there as well. When the girl asks why Carl is in detention he laughs the question off by saying he is in for bullying (Abbott). Flash forward to “Carl’s First Sentencing,” Carl is depicted in a court room, being sentenced to one year of prison for being caught moving drugs with his accomplice, Chuckie. In response to the judge’s inquisition of a comment Carl says, “I did something really dumb and I shouldn’t have. I trusted a f****** r***** with a man’s job. Next time I move a bunch of drugs, I’ll be smarter.” (Abbott, “Carl’s First Sentencing). According to Theodore Jacob, children exposed to adolescent alcoholism are more likely to experience interpersonal and cognitive difficulties and are at high risk for general psychiatric disturbances as adults (321). Carl, being the one most exposed to his father’s antics, has exhibited a multitude of general psychiatric disturbances such as this one.