The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependency estimates that there are 26.8 million children exposed to varying degrees of alcoholism in families in the US. Children with an alcoholic parent are four times more likely to become alcoholics themselves or to marry an alcoholic later in life than are children of non-alcoholic parents. These children often experience neglect or abuse, but may feel they have little or no resources to use or people to turn to, as their own parents cannot be counted on to offer support or help.
Children of alcoholics often experience an array of difficult or conflicting emotions. They may feel guilt, as though their own existence is the reason that their parent drinks. Depression and anxiety are common results of the tension at home, as well as embarrassment at their parent’s behavior and anger at both parents for the drinking problem of one and enabling behavior and lack of protection of the other. Children living in homes with alcoholics may have difficulty trusting people and forming close relationships, as they have learned at home that people can change suddenly and cannot be expected to keep promises. The chaotic and frightening environment at home can trigger mental and emotional disorders in the sensitive child, which may remain with them throughout adulthood.
If one or both parents cease drinking, then after time the family life may return to a healthy environment in which children can thrive. Whether or not the parents receive therapy for their problem, it is important for the child to know that there are resources available which offer emotional support and a safe environment. Getting support early is one helpful way to decrease the chances that the child grows up dealing with alcoholism, drug abuse and emotional disorders. Children can find support from group therapy, family therapy, their school counselor, and by attending Al-Anon meetings. Realizing that millions of other children live with alcoholism in the home can go miles towards making a child feel less isolated and alone. Group therapy with other children can offer the child a support group of people their own age, helping them learn how to create and maintain relationships.
Caregivers, teachers, and friends may notice some of the signs that a child is living in a family with alcoholism. If you notice one or a combination of the following signs, then reach out and encourage the child to find support:
- Poor performance in school
- Frequently tardy or absent
- Depressive behavior or suicidal thoughts
- Alcohol or drug abuse
- Emotional instability
- Stealing or acting delinquently
- Acting out for attention
- Negative self-image
- Aggression towards other children; starting fights
- Frequent physical complaints
- Inability to maintain friendships, or lack of effort trying to foster relationships
If you are a parent in a home dealing with alcoholism, then speak to your child truthfully about the disease in your home, in a manner appropriate to their age level. Let them know that they are in no way responsible for their parent’s drinking, and that no one can control another person’s alcoholism. Try to maintain normalcy and a schedule in the home, and find the child professional support as soon as possible.
“Children of Alcoholics.” American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. n.p. Dec. 2011. Web. 14 Aug. 2013.
“Children of Alcoholics.” American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. n.p. n.d., Web. 14 Aug. 2013
Henry Hernandez is a father and therapist who has worked with a lot of children dealing with acoholic parents. Henry works for a drug rehab center in Orange County, CA, www.stephouserecovery.com. Henry can be found on Google+.
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