Alcoholism in Families:
Impact on Children

Alcoholism in Families: 20% Grow Up with an Alcoholic

Children who are raised with one or both parents with alcoholism are at increased risk of developing life-long emotional problems.

In addition, research sponsored by the National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse reveals that children of alcoholic parents, especially sons of alcoholic fathers, are four to nine times more likely to have problems with alcohol than children of non-alcoholic parents.

The American Academy of Child Adolescent Psychiatry reported that most children of alcoholics also have experienced some form of parental neglect or abuse attributed to the disease.

Children of alcoholics are impacted with one or more of the following problems:

  • Guilt. The child may see himself or herself as the main cause of the mother's or father's drinking.
  • Anxiety. The child may worry constantly about the situation at home. He or she may fear the alcoholic parent will become sick or injured, and may also fear fights and violence between the parents.
  • Embarrassment. Parents may give the child the message that there is a terrible secret at home. The ashamed child does not invite friends home and is afraid to ask anyone for help.
  • Inability to have close relationships. Because the child has been disappointed by the drinking parent many times, he or she often does not trust others.
  • Confusion. The alcoholic parent will change suddenly from being loving to angry, regardless of the child's behavior. A regular daily schedule, which is very important for a child, does not exist because bedtimes and mealtimes are constantly changing.
  • Anger. The child feels anger at the alcoholic parent for drinking, and may be angry at the non-alcoholic parent for lack of support and protection.
  • Depression. The child feels lonely and helpless to change the situation.

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Signs of Alcoholism in Families on Children

Children of alcoholics often try to hide the fact that one or both parents is alcohol dependent. For those close to the child, there are a number of indicators that suggest a drinking or other drug-related problem may exist at home. These include:

  • Problems school with grades, attendance and/or truancy
  • Social issues that may include a lack of friends or aggression towards other children
  • Dangerous and risk-taking behavior, including abuse of drugs or alcohol.
  • Depression or suicidal thoughts or behavior

According to a November 2002 article published by the American Academy of Child Adolescent Psychiatry, alcoholism in families causes some children to act like responsible "parents" within the family and among friends.

They may cope with the alcoholism by becoming controlled, successful overachievers throughout school, and at the same time be emotionally isolated from other children and teachers. Their emotional problems may show only when they become adults.

Children in alcoholic households need to receive professional treatment and support as early as possible to help avert life-long emotional issues and trauma.

Through counseling and peer-support group involvement with organizations like Al-Anon and Alateen, children can learn to cope with their environment and the negative consequences associated with alcoholism in families.


Collaborative Study on the Genetics of Alcoholism (COGA), National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse

Children Of Alcoholics, American Academy of Child Adolescent Psychiatry, No. 17; Updated November 2002

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More about alcoholism in families on our effects of alcoholism page

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