How Caregiver Alcoholism Impacts Children

Published: 20th November 2016
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Copyright (c) 2014 Liddle Kidz Foundation Infant and Children's Pediatric Massage

The statistics surrounding parental alcohol abuse is staggering; one in five college students come from a background of parental alcohol abuse. And more than 78 million Americans, or 43% of the adult population, have been exposed to alcoholism in the family, according to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependency. In California alone, 68% to 78% of children are in the foster care system due to drug and alcohol abuse.

Growing up in environment of alcohol abuse directly effects a child's emotional growth, with the child experiencing deep and painful traumatic events. Due to the child experiencing their caregiver's alcohol consumption many children may feel an immense amount of guilt and may even blame themselves for their parent's use. By being in a constant state of turmoil, the child will experience high levels of anxiety (that persist into adulthood). The child will worry about their parent, as well as, the fights and violence that often ensue from adults under the influence. Many children fear their own actions, unable to know what will set their parent off.

Embarrassment is another large part of the child's life, they will hide their home life, not inviting friends over and even more troubling, refraining from asking for help. Trust issues that last into adulthood are also common. The child has been let down so many times by their parents, they may find themselves unable to form close relationships and trust others. While children thrive on consistency and schedules, an alcoholic home's schedule is set by the bottle, thus creating a chaotic and constantly changing daily pattern. Some children experience extreme anger, and may act out this anger in class or in other activities. The anger is really centered on their parent's drinking and the lack of safety they feel. Depression is also common for children of alcoholics; they feel lonely and helpless to change the situation.

While the child may work hard to keep the alcoholism a secret from teachers, friends, and relatives there are warning signs that can signal a drinking or other problem at home;

- Frequent absences (parent approved or not and failure in academics.)

- A clear lack of friends, withdrawal from classmates or an aggression towards other students.

-Stress and anxiety related issues such as frequent physical complaints of headaches or stomachaches.

- Risk taking behaviors including abuse of drugs or alcohol, stealing, or other delinquent behavior.

There is quite a spectrum of behaviors for children of alcoholics; some may experience a few or all of the above symptoms. Many children take on a parental role in the family by caring for their siblings and the alcoholic parent. The early amount of responsibility may make the child become socially and emotionally isolated but also very controlled and "overachievers.". As the child reaches adulthood, they can begin to unravel and the trauma will show through.

Alcoholism runs in families, with children of alcoholics four times more likely to become alcoholics themselves. Early intervention is the key to curbing this statistic. Caregivers, family members and teachers must be able to recognize and assist children in these situations. Whether or not the parent is seeking treatment, children might benefit from being introduced to educational programs, and/or mutual help groups (Al-Anon, Alateen).) Child and family psychiatrists can greatly help the child understand that their parent's addiction is not their fault, help create healthy coping mechanisms and prevent future alcohol abuse.


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