Impact on Children of Alcoholics

Impact on Children of Alcoholics
When a child is left with a parent who suffers from alcohol abuse or substance use disorders, the results may have profound psychological and emotional effects. A parent’s alcoholism problem may even result in long-lasting issues that may persist well into adulthood. Moreover, such a dysfunctional environment may lead to maladaptive characteristics that may harm a child’s psychological well-being.

Impact of Alcoholism on Kids

Growing up inside a home with an alcoholic parent abuses alcohol can have unpredictable consequences. Problematic drinking behavior in adults will often have a cumulative or gradual effect on the development of a child. While each situation within a family affected by alcohol abuse is unique, experts believe that an alcoholic parent may exhibit certain patterns and behaviors. These can be transmitted to kids in both spoken and unspoken ways. Unfortunately, some rules develop over time inside an alcoholic home, which may include the following:
  • Don’t talk to anyone about family problems
  • Don’t share your feelings out in the open
  • Avoid communicating with other people
  • A child can’t be perfect but is expected to be anyway
  • A child must aim to benefit others and can’t be selfish
  • A child must not do the same bad behaviors as their parents do
  • A child must always perform well rather than enjoy themselves
  • Avoid conflict above everything else
Because of the restrictions and limits placed on kids, they may adapt in ways that will ensure their safety and survival. When children are faced with such options, they will often be devoid of the chance to learn healthier behavior patterns as they grow up. This will ultimately cause harm to their mental health.

Codependency in Alcoholic Families

This kind of relationship is particularly common in individuals who grow up in families with an alcoholic parent or some kind of dysfunction. Common codependent traits include:
  • Enmeshment (which means there are no set boundaries in the relationship)
  • Caretaking
  • A lack of coherent identity
  • Excessively denying the problem
  • Difficulty in recognizing normal behavior in other people

What Are Common Characteristics of Children of Alcoholic Parents?

As mentioned above, a dysfunctional family dynamic can cause children to adopt a role or develop traits that will help them survive such an environment. Researchers have studied the various stereotypical roles that children may assume inside a home with an alcoholic parent or family members. These include becoming: While these roles aren’t universally supported in this research, they represent the wide range of developmental paths that children can take as a result of the pressures associated with an alcoholic home. A common trait among kids of alcoholic parents is the sense of hyper-responsibility, to the point where they feel responsible even for things beyond their control. On the other end of the spectrum, other kids may develop a lack of responsibility if they’re unable to change their circumstances, adapting a “what’s the point?” kind of mentality.

Growing Up With an Alcoholic

Unfortunately, kids who grow up inside an alcoholic home will likely have difficulties identifying and expressing emotions as a result of inadequate emotional support. Moreover, growing up in an alcoholic home can rob a child of their ability to develop correct behaviors that will help them adapt to stress in later stages of their life. There is also research that shows how children of alcoholics often have higher levels of stress and also have a difficult time coping. Alcoholic parents will become so invested in continuing their behavior that special milestones such as birthdays, sports, and school events, will be forgotten. As a result of their experience and observations, they learn that they can’t trust anyone or put their faith in anyone. While alcoholic behavior is painful, children are often taught to bury their feelings to avoid the wrath of their drunk father or mother which then can attribute to negative feelings and habits for adult children in the future.

Will Children of Alcoholics Also Become Alcoholic?

Just because a child’s parents were alcoholics doesn’t necessarily mean that they will become one too. However, it’s important to note that alcoholism runs in families, and children inside such environments are four times more likely to be at risk compared to children who don’t have alcoholic parents. There is also research that shows how children who come from alcoholic families may also be more vulnerable to drug dependence, tobacco dependence, and substance abuse.

Is Alcohol Addiction More Likely in Adulthood?

Studies show that a traumatic childhood will likely contribute to the development of alcohol dependence and mental health issues. Many children who have been exposed to trauma in their earlier years are also more likely to abuse alcohol to self-medicate symptoms related to trauma and even self-destructive behavior. While children or adult children of alcoholics won’t necessarily become alcoholics themselves, there is an inherited predisposition for the disease of alcoholism. Moreover, they will have an increased risk for various other health problems.

Healing from a Parent’s Alcohol Addiction

Healing is a long and difficult journey, and children should be aware that what has happened to them is not their fault. They were powerless to handle the situation or to create any kind of change within the household to provide a better environment. However, children who were part of an alcoholic family can work to overcome the characteristics mentioned above. While they may not have known completely why they developed such traits, they need to know that these can’t be changed in an instance. The years of damage done during their youth will take persistence and patience before they can finally heal from the effects of their parent’s alcoholism and substance abuse. The journey of substance abuse and addiction treatment will look different for everyone and will vary depending on the individual’s developed traits and age. While the road isn’t easy for young children of parental alcohol abuse, everyone can cultivate healthier relationships, more appropriate coping skills, and build a sense of self-worth. It is best to address these issues within a therapeutic environment with a professional who has extensive experience in treating kids or adult children of alcoholics. Individual therapy, family therapy, and support groups are good places to start — these will help the child and adult children address issues related to stress management, conflict, trust, alcohol abuse, and denial. References:;year=2016;volume=9;issue=1;spage=17;epage=22;aulast=Sidhu;type=3
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