One big misconception about alcohol abuse is that it affects only the person who is drinking. The effects of alcoholism are often felt strongly by those closest to the alcoholic, namely the immediate family. And when an alcoholic’s family includes children, the repercussions can be severe, often lasting well into adulthood for kids who grow up with an alcoholic parent.
It is estimated that 1 in 10 kids in the U.S., about 7.5 million children in total, are living in an alcoholic household where one or both parents have a drinking problem. These children are at increased risk of developing a host of mental health problems and other serious consequences. Kids can suffer the effects of parental alcoholism well into their own adulthood. Keep reading to learn about some of the long-term effects of alcoholism in children.
Alcoholism, Neglect and Abuse
Alcoholic parents are more likely to neglect or abuse their children. Research has shown strong links between maltreatment of kids and alcohol use, especially when parents or guardians drink at levels that are hazardous or harmful. This is because drinking excessively reduces self-control and makes an individual more likely to act violently towards loved ones. Alcohol consumption is associated with aggressiveness, impulsiveness, mood changes, and impaired thinking, all of which can affect how parents behave around their children, ultimately leading to poor parenting.
Parents who are alcoholics often spend large amounts of time drinking. They also need time to nurse hangovers. Many alcoholics encounter legal problems and need time and money to deal with them. As a result, alcoholism can impair a parent’s sense of responsibility towards their children. It can reduce the amount of time and money spent on a child’s care, sometimes to the point that even the child’s basic needs are neglected.
Child maltreatment due to alcoholism can take many forms, including physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional ill-treatment, commercial exploitation, and more. Abuse can result in long-term harm to the child’s health, emotional wellbeing, and development.
Parental Alcoholism and Health Problems in Kids
Researchers have found that children living with alcoholics are at greater risk of mental health problems like depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, social phobia, separation anxiety, obsessive-compulsive problems, and self-harm. Children of alcoholics are also at increased risk of behavioral problems like impulsivity, poor conduct, and difficulty adjusting, which can last into adult life. Parental alcoholism can lead to developmental delays, such as cognitive and language deficiencies, in children.
Alcoholism Runs in Families
Living with an alcoholic, especially during the impressionable childhood and adolescent years, can have a lifelong impact. Studies have found that children of alcoholics are four times more likely to develop alcohol problems themselves.
Research shows that genetics is responsible for some of a person’s risk of developing alcohol use disorder. However, alcoholism runs in families for reasons that are both genetic and environmental. In a household with alcoholic parents, there is easy access to alcohol. This means adolescents, and even younger kids, are at higher risk of drinking for the first time.
Other Effects of Parental Alcoholism
Children of parents who abuse alcohol or have an alcohol dependence are at increased risk of various negative outcomes, many of which have long-term consequences. These include risk of violence, separation from the family, teenage pregnancy, poor academic performance, dependence on social welfare due to parental unemployment, and substance abuse problems.
Psychological and Emotional Impact of Parental Alcoholism
Growing up around an alcoholic can have a lasting impact on a child. Because children of alcoholics do not have a good example to follow in terms of what a harmonious relationship looks like, as adults, they often end up guessing what it means to be “normal”. This can result in adult children of alcoholics feeling confused or conflicted in their relationships.
Another thing that is commonly noted in adult children of alcoholics is trust issues. These kids grew up in households in which lying and keeping secrets was the norm. They can, therefore, as adults, have serious difficulty trusting others.
Sometimes children of alcoholics develop a fear of all angry people because of the abuse they suffered as a kid at the hands of an alcoholic parent. They can spend a lifetime avoiding conflict of any kind and letting people take advantage of them because they’re deathly afraid of making others angry. Children of alcoholics also tend to judge themselves harshly and may constantly seek the approval of others. These are all personality traits that can have long-term effects on their relationships at home and work.
The Bottom Line
Most countries have limits on blood alcohol concentration and other measures to prevent harm from drunk driving. Similarly, smoking is prohibited in many public places to protect third-parties. It is concerning, however, that something as harmful as parental alcoholism is not more severely regulated in our society. The physical and emotional scars that children of alcoholics develop can be deep and can last well into adulthood. A better understanding of the long-term effects of alcoholism in children is needed so that it can serve as a strong argument for implementing stronger and more effective strategies to protect kids from harmful drinking in parents and guardians.
If you are a parent who is struggling with alcoholism, you can save your children from a lifetime of emotional and physical repercussions by getting help as soon as possible at a professional alcohol treatment center. The sooner you seek rehab, the less harm alcohol will cause your family.
Discover Recovery is a leading alcohol treatment center in Washington, staffed by an experienced team of healthcare professionals, many of whom are recovered addicts themselves. We know what it takes to overcome alcoholism, and we are here to help. Take that first step today and call us. It could be the best gift you’ll ever give your children.