Alcoholism, also called alcohol use disorder, is widely known as a family disease. When a parent abuses alcohol, it not only affects the parent with the addiction but every person in the family, especially children.
It is estimated that 76 million people in the United States have been subjected to alcohol abuse in the family. More than 26 million of those affected are children, as mentioned by Stephanie Brown, founder of the Alcohol Clinic at Stanford Medical Center, who created the developmental model of alcohol recovery.
Living in a home with alcohol abuse can be unsafe, unstable, and filled with disruptions in everyday routines. The home is filled with tension, stress, and anxiety. Children need and crave stability in their lives. When a parent drinks, all that is gone.
Consider these facts about children of parents with alcohol use disorder:
Living with a parent in active alcohol addiction is rough on children. Many times, kids feel they need to be the adult when the parent is too drunk to handle everyday chores, like making meals or doing the laundry. Children often become much more responsible when the parent or parents are not taking care of family obligations.
Children may grow up with trust issues. They might feel like they cannot trust anyone because of the lies and deception that people with alcohol use disorder create. As they age, children could have trouble with intimate relationships, friends, and other adults in their life.
Some people who drink too much can become mean and occasionally violent. Abuse can take form verbally and physically. Children may learn to back away from angry people or confrontation to avoid those negative effects.
Also, children might also display perfectionist tendencies. They may be obsessed with doing everything perfectly to avoid criticism or angry reprisals. This behavior could cause children to become self-judgmental and feel like they will never be good for anyone or anything.
Children of all ages are very much affected by the behavior of their parents. Young children are sensitive to the nuances in tone of voice, behavior, and mounting tension in the home. They need stability in their life and guidance about how to manage their family situation. They need to know the difference between a good role model and a bad one.
Good role models can come from any aspect of a child’s life. They can be a friend’s parents, teachers, activity leaders, clergy, or any other trusted adult. It is important for a child or for children to know they have a safe place to go or have someone dependable to call if they need help.
Older children are often left to care for younger children, thus, usurping the normal activities of their age group. They might miss practices and rehearsals, games, matches, recitals, or performances. They might feel like they need to skip going to a party or gathering of friends to stay home and care for younger siblings.
Parents and other adults who have alcohol use disorder put their health in jeopardy. This, in turn, jeopardizes the family. Excessive alcohol use can cause cirrhosis of the liver, heart disease, and more.
Pregnant women who drink risk serious harm to the fetus. Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder is the diagnosis given when alcohol affects the fetus’ development in the womb.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, “an estimated 1 in 8 women drinks during her pregnancy, putting her child at risk for a variety of issues including low IQ, learning disabilities, speech and language delays, behavioral problems, vision and hearing problems, and problems with vital organs, among others.”
Other ways a parent or parents who struggle with alcohol abuse may affect children and the family:
When young children grow up and become adults, they carry most of what they learned into adulthood. Their learned behaviors favor isolation, low self-esteem, attempts to please people, and perhaps fear of authority.
Adult children of a parent with alcohol use disorder behave in ways that adults who have not had alcohol-addicted parents might find hard to understand. An Adult Children of Alcoholics article notes that grown children may become addicted to alcohol or may marry or be involved with someone who drinks too much. They could also feel the need to be with someone who needs “rescuing,” or may prefer a relationship that is volatile over one that is more workable.
Younger children need to know there is someone they can trust and count on. They need a stable force and a calm and understanding demeanor. If you are that person, know that it might be tough to explain why a parent drinks too much alcohol and behaves the way they do.
Encourage children to come to you when they need to. Let them know it’s OK not to be home. Help them out of the isolation they feel they need. Give them reasons to be their own person.
Teenagers who need help, guidance, and camaraderie should check out Alateen. Alateen is part of Al-Anon, but it’s specifically for teens.
Adult children of parents with alcohol use disorder can be stuck in their ways of coping. It is essential, though, to break out of dysfunctional mindsets and find help. Al-Anon is one such place to find help. Meetings are held throughout the US have been beneficial to those who attend.
Psychology Today. A Toxic Brew. Pamela Weintraub. from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/articles/200702/toxic-brew
Alcoholism: the Family Disease That Affects Every Member. Alcoholism Is a Devastating Family Disease. Buddy T. September 08, 2019 from https://www.verywellmind.com/why-is-alcoholism-called-a-family-disease-63294
US Health and Human Services. Understanding the Diverse Needs of Children whose Parents Abuse Substances Jessica M. Solis, Julia M. Shadur, Alison R. Burns, and Andrea M. Hussong. June 2012. from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3676900/
National Association of Children of Alcoholics from https://nacoa.org/
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. September 9 is International Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders Awareness Day. September 5, 2019. from https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/news-events/news-noteworthy/september-9-international-fetal-alcohol-spectrum-disorders-awareness-day
VeryWell Mind.The Effects of Parental Alcoholism on Children. Buddy T. July 25, 2019 from https://www.verywellmind.com/the-effects-of-parental-alcoholism-on-children-67233
Adult Children of Alcoholics. World Service Organization. The Problem. from https://adultchildren.org/literature/problem/
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. September 9 is International Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders Awareness Day.. September 5, 2019. from https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/news-events/news-noteworthy/september-9-international-fetal-alcohol-spectrum-disorders-awareness-day
KidsHealth.org. TeensHealth. Coping When a Parent Has an Alcohol or Drug Problem. D'Arcy Lyness, PhD from https://kidshealth.org/en/teens/coping-alcoholic.html