Parental alcoholism affects the whole family although each member of the family may affected differently. Specifically, being an alcoholic parent has negative effects on children at every stage of their development. Here are six of the effects of parental alcoholism.
- Effect on the fetus. Even before a child is born parental alcoholism may have a harmful effect on the fetus. Research shows that the amount of alcohol consumed by the mother is related to the level of harm to the child. Consumption of alcohol during pregnancy could result in the mother giving birth to a child with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) which could cause birth defects. These babies are usually underweight. Furthermore, there could be deformities to their skull and brains which has implications for their learning and problem solving skills.
- Diminished self-esteem. While children with high self-esteem largely have positive image of themselves, children of alcoholics usually have poor image of themselves. The fact is that the core of children’s self-esteem comes from their interactions in the family setting. Therefore, children growing up in homes with an alcoholic parent lack the kind of relationship with their parent that is a vital source of their self-esteem. They sometimes feel that they are different from others especially their peers, and feel guilty and ashamed.
- Psychological problems. Family stressors, including parental alcoholism, affect children indirectly as well as directly. Parents’ psychological health may impact how they behave toward their children and may create pain and anxiety in these children. This is likely to affect the children’s psychological functioning and they may exhibit symptoms of depression, anxiety, conduct disorder and drug abuse. Also, children of alcoholics are at greater risk of developing drinking problems themselves than children of non-alcoholic parents.
- Effects of deprivation and abuse. Within the context of parental alcoholism, there are many instances when children are not provided with their basic needs. In these extremely unstable home environment issues of emotional, physical abuse, and incest are sometimes evident. Here, the web of secrecy prevails and so abuse is maintained. The deprivation and abuse deepens with the children’s inability to predict what their parents will do next. Thus children from homes with parental alcoholism tend to avoid peer activities, especially taking friends home out of shame and fear.
- School problems. Children with an alcoholic parent have difficulty in school for a variety of reasons. Many are not equipped with the basic skills to succeed in school placing them at risk. The problem lies in the fact that these children live in stressful home situations where they might not be able to study, but more so, they lack the necessary support and encouragement for efficacy in the school setting.
- Unhealthy coping mechanisms. Children develop certain responses and behaviors from living with the parent with drinking problems. One child could become an enabler who hides the problem, or lies for the alcoholic to maintain an image of a healthy family. Another child might take on the role as mascot, giving comic relief in the painful family situation. Still another child might be the scapegoat, on who the ills of family situation are blamed. Finally, the lost child appears "invisible”. Each child responds differently, but each response is detrimental to his or her physical and psychological development.
- Need for control, due to chaotic home life
Children of alcoholics feel a strong need for control, largely due to the highly chaotic world in which they live. They have to take on the role of adult, as their parent is often out of it when on a bender.
And as a result, these children are forced to take on more responsibility than is normal for their ages. And they often turn into control freaks later in life.
- Resentment and fear
If a parent is an alcoholic, their child will suffer grave emotional consequences. Instead of being nurtured by the parent, children of alcoholics often feel no emotional stability.
They instead experience resentment and fear. They do not understand why their parent drinks the way they do. And they often get angry about it and fearful of just what crazy thing will happen next.
- Growing up too fast
Oftentimes, children who have a parent with a drinking problem grow up too fast. They may have to play the role of the parent instead of the child. And they may see things that they should not be exposed to - all because their drunken parent does not use good judgment.
Children of alcoholics may also have little supervision. As a result, they may end up watching television that is not suitable for kids. They may get involved with things on the Internet that are not appropriate for them either.
- Possible learned behaviors around substance abuse
Finally, children of alcoholic parents may think that drinking to oblivion is a normal way of coping with problems and life. And that is simply because they see this behavior from their parents.
These children may grow up to be substance abusers themselves. They may also believe they are doomed to become just like the alcoholic parent - and then engage in the behaviors to make this fear a reality.
Alcoholism devastates families. And it has long-lasting effects on its youngest victims - the children of adults who cannot stop drinking.
For Teenagers Living With a Parent Who Abuses Alcohol/Drug
When Parents Have Problems: A Book for Teens and Older Children With an Abusive, Alcoholic, or Mentally Ill Parent