Parental Alcoholism and the Long-term Effects in Children

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.

In this article, we discuss:

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.

How Alcoholism Affects the Family

Alcoholism is a common addiction that affects not only the people drinking but also their families. This is even more true in cases where people have been addicted to alcohol for prolonged periods. As with any drug addiction, alcoholism negatively affects different areas of a person’s life, in addition to impacting those such as family and friends around them.

Its impact on children

In a household, alcoholism has the most significant impact on children. Children of alcoholic parents often feel frustrated and guilty as they cannot understand the reason for a loved one behaving the way they do and often end up thinking that they are responsible for parental drinking. They experience mixed feelings of anger and sadness because they don’t understand why someone they care about is acting abnormally.

Alcoholism can disrupt a child’s daily routine as they may start missing out on regular meals or flouting their bedtime. They may even have to take on extra responsibilities to try to create some order in the house. The circumstances forcing them to handle responsibilities early on can make them moody, and their behavior might become unpredictable. They may lose interest in making friends and even feel scared about attending school and socializing.

The older children in the family can have even more problems, such as becoming obsessed with perfectionism, hoarding things, isolating themselves from others, and being overly self-conscious. This is attributable to them worrying about being different from everyone else. They struggle socially and psychologically and might face challenges in school because of their dysfunctional family environment, making it difficult for them to study and make friends. The effects of these emotions and thoughts can be so profound that they continue to take a toll on them well into adulthood. As a result, they struggle to maintain healthy relationships, make good decisions, and have a positive outlook. They might also continue to feel anxious and depressed and become introverts.

Its impact on spouses and partners

Alcohol addiction can cause a person to lose their focus on work, and they may start neglecting their financial responsibilities in order to deal with the effects of drinking. This pushes their spouse or partner to take on more responsibilities to make up for the loss of income or less money in the household. They may have to look for a job or switch to a higher-paying one if they are already employed. Moreover, the person struggling with alcoholism may put themselves and others in unsafe situations when drinking or trying to get alcohol, which can be both draining and dangerous for the partner/spouse.

Aside from the financial and emotional strain, alcoholism can also lead to domestic violence and child abuse. Studies indicate that 92% of domestic violence victims reported the assailant having used alcohol on the day of the assault. Yet another study showed that 60-70% of those who attack their spouses misuse alcohol.

While the prevalence of alcohol in abuse situations does not necessarily mean that drinking causes domestic violence, it is a common factor. Some studies even challenge the notion that alcohol misuse triggers domestic violence. For example, many men who are into heavy drinking do not necessarily abuse their partners. Instead, researchers believe that violent behavior is linked to a larger pattern of abuse not influenced by alcohol. Although some people try to use alcohol as an excuse for their actions, this is usually not the actual cause of domestic violence.

Co-dependency and enabling addiction

It’s natural for families to want to keep their loved ones safe and together. If someone in the family struggles with alcohol use disorder, others might feel embarrassed and try to hide it. Families might also try to control or ‘cure’ alcoholism or even let it continue to keep the family together. They may try to help the person with the addiction wean off alcohol, but often to no avail. As a result, the person may continue drinking to their own and the family’s detriment.

Although these actions are done with good intentions, they can make alcoholism affect everyone in the family even more. Instead, it is better to get help from outside and help break the cycle so that everyone in the family can rebuild their lives without alcohol.

How to Cope with Addiction in the Family

If you or someone in your family is struggling with alcohol-related addiction and would like to know some effective measures to tackle the situation, here are some steps you can take and stop the addiction from affecting the entire family, especially kids:

Acknowledging addiction:

When trying to break free from the habit of excessive drinking, it is crucial to admit that it is more than just a bad habit. It can take time, but accepting that it is an addiction is the first step to changing the situation. If it’s a family member, support them in a non-judgmental way and motivate them to face the addiction. Accepting addiction as a disorder, where healthcare professionals might be involved to help the person get better, can bring relief to the whole family.

Breaking patterns:

When looking to break old drinking patterns, recognizing addiction as an illness can help. Engage in positive self-talk to release the feelings that you can’t stop or control the addiction. Considering the negative effects of your own or the drinking family member’s behavior and how you can change the patterns to start the recovery process is crucial.

Improving self-esteem and self-worth:

The effects of addiction are often social withdrawal or self-neglect, which often leave you feeling lost and without a sense of self. Work on getting back the confidence or helping the family member struggling with addiction to regain their self-esteem. Think about how you can recover the whole family instead of just the person drinking.

Managing emotions:

Alcoholism can often cause you to experience a range of emotions toward yourself. Embrace these emotions; feel the feelings. It may be difficult to break free from the cycle of blame and resentment at first, but as you find healthy ways to manage and express your emotions, things will start to feel better.

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Seeking help:

Schedule to regularly meet other alcoholic families and support groups who can talk about similar experiences with addiction and family recovery. They will be able to offer constructive feedback on how they dealt with alcohol-related problems and what you can do in your situation.

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.

Why So Many U.S. Families Are Affected By Alcoholism

The spike seen in the drinking rates among American adults between 2002 and 2013 was substantial, with more individuals indulging their alcohol cravings to an extreme. The reasons cited are high stress levels and a demand to meet the growing family needs in modern society. As responsibilities increased, so did today’s adults’ dependence on alcohol. It is easy for occasional alcohol consumption to turn into binge drinking and for binge drinking to become an addiction. Consequently, addiction harms not only the person drinking but also their families.

Grappling with a substance use disorder such as alcoholism creates ongoing issues that do not get resolved on their own, and these issues often require the joint effort of everyone in the family. Family therapy is often instrumental in helping families identify and understand the root causes of their problems and develop potential solutions.

More often than not, the main solution often tends to be the person with alcohol use disorder actively seeking treatment. It can be challenging to convince yourself or a family member with alcohol-related issues to seek help, but there are many tools and resources available for those affected by alcoholism and their family members.

What can be done to support the alcoholic

Whether the person chooses to enter an alcohol rehabilitation program or partake in support group meetings, the backing of family members can contribute significantly to the person’s recovery. Friends and family must provide unconditional support and encouragement as they play the vital role of a caregiver who can help the person navigate the complexities of alcohol addiction recovery.

Helping the Family

Suppose a person with alcohol addiction refuses treatment, such as in the case of a high-functioning alcoholic. In that case, the family may struggle to persuade them due to a lack of consequences. Despite this challenge, family members should not give up. Various treatment programs exist that can help such a family member, including detox, support groups, and counseling tailored to meet their individual needs.

The impact of drinking alcohol and alcoholism on family relationships can be devastating. Spouses of individuals with alcohol problems are at a higher risk of emotional or physical abuse, while children may experience academic and psychiatric issues. Getting therapy and counseling at a treatment facility is crucial for families dealing with the effects of alcohol abuse to initiate their journey toward recovery.


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.

Resources For Children Of Alcoholics

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