Author: John Carter

Alcoholic Parents: How Children Are Affected

children of alcoholic parents

According to a study by the National Association of Children of Alcoholics (NACOA), there are over 11 million children in the U.S. under the age of 18 living in families with at least one alcoholic parent. The statistics provided by multiple sources further break this down to about 76 million adults in the country who have lived or are currently living with a family history of alcoholism. Published “The Laundry List,” which describes common characteristics shared by most adult children with a parent with alcohol use disorder. As painful as it is for someone to live with alcohol use disorder, they aren’t the only ones affected.

Studies show that children with alcoholic parents tend to perform worse on tests and are more likely to repeat a grade. Although evidence is conflicting, some behavioral changes appear to occur in children, adolescents, and adults who had a parent with AUD. Although the roles of genetics and childhood experiences are intertwined, these children may be more susceptible to substance use and other issues. The Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACA) organization was created to help people who grew up with addicted parents or in dysfunctional homes.

children of alcoholic parents

Adult children of abusive parents who were drunk may grow up fearing angry people and avoid conflict. Some adult children with Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) take themselves seriously and struggle with self-esteem. Children of AUD may also feel different from others, leading to avoiding social situations, difficulty making friends, and isolation.

We Care About Your Privacy

Even long after leaving your parent’s home, you could still be dealing with the aftermath of their alcohol addiction. Experts highly recommend working with a therapist, particularly one who specializes in trauma or substance use disorders. According to Peifer, a mental health professional can help you connect deep-rooted fears and wounds stemming from childhood to behaviors, responses, and patterns showing up in your adult life.

Babies whose mothers consume alcohol while pregnant can develop an array of physical and mental birth defects. Collectively known as fetal alcohol syndrome disorders, this group of conditions can range from mild to severe. Recovery involves discovering who you are beneath the trauma, pain, anxiety, disconnect, and illusion. With practice and support, we can start addressing these issues head-on and begin the healing journey. Rayne emphasizes that alcoholics do not drink out of apathy but in a desperate attempt to alleviate the burdens weighing on their shoulders.

  1. Our hope is merely to capture the spirit of the fellowships, and to approach people with the language they commonly use to describe the disease of addiction.
  2. If your parent with AUD is willing to attend therapy with you, family therapy can often help rebuild trust and pave the way toward healing.
  3. Recognizing the unique challenges faced by children of alcoholism, it is incumbent upon us as a society to step forward and extend a compassionate hand.
  4. This is a huge lesson for many—for better or worse, addiction is outside of friends’ and family members’ control.

These effects can last long into adulthood and make it difficult for adult children to have healthy relationships. Although people with AUD aren’t “bad” people (or “bad” parents), their alcohol use can create a home environment not suited for a child. A 2021 study shows that parental alcohol abuse significantly increases the chance of having a dysfunctional family environment. Having a parent with alcohol use disorder as a child can have negative effects, such as your own issues with alcohol as an adult — but that’s not always the case. Research shows that a child’s risk of becoming an alcoholic is greater if their alcoholic parent is depressed or suffers from other co-occurring disorders.

How does alcohol use affect children?

Parents with an AUD may have difficulty providing children with a safe, loving environment, which can lead to long-term emotional and behavioral consequences. If you’re the child of a parent who has or had an alcohol use disorder or other substance use problems, seek out support, especially if you suspect it’s causing issues for you. Therapists and other mental health professionals with experience dealing with addiction can help. In a study of more than 25,000 adults, those who had a parent with AUD remembered their childhoods as “difficult” and said they struggled with “bad memories” of their parent’s alcohol misuse. Some people experience this as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), like other people who had different traumatic childhood experiences.

And even when these children become adults, it may continue to be a challenge to deal with their parent’s addiction and its lasting effects. According to the National Association for Children of Alcoholics, it’s important for children of alcoholics to know they are not alone and that alcohol addiction is a disease. Children also need to know that their parent’s alcohol addiction is not their fault and that they can’t fix it, but there are safe places and people who can help. Nearly 8 percent of women in the United States continue drinking during pregnancy, and up to 5 percent of newborns suffer from fetal alcohol syndrome. These children have a 95 percent chance of developing mental health problems such as anxiety and depression. They also are at high risk for attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, substance abuse and suicide.

Parents’ use of alcohol and teens’ lower performance in school have shown an association in research. This could be related in part to the behavior issues among children of parents with an AUD. If a child’s parent was mean or abusive when they were drunk, adult children can grow up with a fear of all angry people. They may spend their lives avoiding conflict or confrontation of any kind, worrying that it could turn violent. All participants attempted to control what and how much their parents drank—and anticipated how drunk they would get. Remarkably, the children learned to differentiate between the effects of low-alcohol beer, strong beer, wine, and liquor by identifying bottles, cans, or labels.

children of alcoholic parents

Eventually and with the help of others, adult children will come to view alcoholism and other drug addiction as a disease and family dysfunction as the inevitable result. They will come to understand that their past cannot be changed, but they can unlearn their harmful coping mechanisms, tend to their childhood trauma and find “a sense of wholeness [they] never knew was possible.” By young adulthood, 53% of children with alcoholic parents show evidence of an alcohol or drug use disorder, with children of alcoholics starting substance use earlier and increasing rates faster than their peers. Research suggests that about one in 10 children lives with a parent who has an alcohol use disorder, and about one in 5 adults lived with a person who used alcohol when they were growing up.

I’m In Recovery

The adult child in recovery can observe and respond to the conflict, emptiness and loneliness that stem from a parent’s substance abuse, and they can mourn the unchangeable past. They can own their truth, grieve their losses and become accountable for how they live their life today. The solution for adult children is found in the relationship between a person’s inner child and parent, which are two different sides of self. They may be able to recommend the next steps, including referring you to a mental health professional if necessary. In the absence of a stable, emotionally supportive enviornment, you learned to adapt in the only ways you knew how.

The ACA has group meetings (based on the 12-step principles of “Alcoholics Anonymous”) that are specifically designed to help adult children overcome the lasting damage of parental drinking. Children who grow up with at least one parent with alcohol use disorder can have an increased chance of experiencing negative health and behavioral outcomes. A 2014 review found that children of parents who misuse alcohol often have trouble developing emotional regulation abilities. Children of alcoholics are four times more likely than other children to develop an alcohol addiction. While about 50 percent of this risk has genetic underpinnings, the actual home environment also plays a role.

Children largely rely on their parents for guidance learning how to identify, express, and regulate emotions. But a parent with AUD may not have been able to offer the support you needed here, perhaps in part because they experienced emotional dysregulation themselves. This state of hypervigilance is a common symptom of both post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and anxiety disorders. All of these behaviors can make it more difficult to form healthy, satisfying relationships.

Having experienced this struggle firsthand, he recognizes the importance of addressing the underlying trauma and finding closure in peace. All participants tried to adjust or navigate around their parents when they drank, or when the drinking escalated into verbal fights and/or violence. Given this secrecy, the investigators wanted to better understand their experience, with a particular interest in what kinds of support they need and the coping strategies they use. Our hope is merely to capture the spirit of the fellowships, and to approach people with the language they commonly use to describe the disease of addiction. Sherry Gaba, LCSW, is a licensed psychotherapist/author specializing in addictions, codependency, and underlying issues such as depression, trauma, and anxiety.

The children’s stories also demonstrated competence, in which they employed effective strategies to cope with the myriad of challenges wreaked by their parent’s alcoholism. Hagströma and Forinder found that these coping strategies changed as the participants grew from children to adolescents, and to adults with increasing independence from their parents. On the one hand, the children framed themselves as vulnerable victims forced to navigate their parent’s alcoholism, which often encompassed severe neglect, domestic violence, and sexual abuse. They described feeling powerless, without resources to cope with distress and risk, and a desperate need for protection and care.