Children of alcoholics have a unique experience. We cannot ignore the fact that alcoholism affects the entire family. Children living in households with an alcoholic parent may have life-long emotional scars and are hindered by the ability to grow in developmentally healthy ways. The importance of a stable family unit is evidence when reviewing the effect of living in a home with an alcoholic parent. The sad news is that one in five adult Americans (18%) lived with an alcoholic parent during their formative years.
Children of alcoholics have an experience of family life that is different than many of their peers. This has many consequences. First, they tend to experience above average levels of stress which could be the result of worrying about their alcoholic parent, dissension between mom and dad, divorce, caretaking, or many other things.
In general, children of alcoholics score lower on measures of family cohesion and report higher levels of conflict within the family unit. At times, alcoholic parents may be more distant and non-communicative than other parents.
Children of alcoholics are more likely to use and abuse alcohol or other drugs. This may be because of learned behavior and coping mechanisms or it may be due to genetics although the genetic connection has not been proven at this point. In addition, they have a greater risk of behavioral issues including sensation seeking, aggression, and impulsivity.
These children have higher rates of physical and mental health problems which causes the health care costs to increase. In fact, the rate of total health care costs is 32% greater for them than for children of non-alcoholic families.
Children with alcoholic parent(s) reportedly have lower test scores in terms of cognitive and verbal skills. If they are unable to express themselves articulately, this will affect their performance in school, their peer relationships, their future romantic relationships, and their future job performance.
In fact, they are more likely to be truant, drop out, fail grade levels, and receive referrals to the school counselor. Other staggering statistics involve the future marriages of adult children of alcoholics. They are three times more likely to separate or divorce. The impact is not isolated to childhood alone.
Often times, the alcoholism is not the only factor that contributes to the startling effects on children. Alcoholism is often confounded with other factors that create a breeding ground for the types of problems about which we are speaking.
There are other risk factors commonly seen in the homes of children of alcoholics including child abuse – emotional, physical, and sexual.
Providing effective assistance for children of alcoholics can be challenging and complex. The entire family must be engaged in the treatment process to achieve an optimal outcome.
A variety of strategies may be deployed that include group family therapy, individualized counseling, medication and support group participation.
If you are an alcoholic parent, it is essential that you get help for your addiction as soon as possible. Your recovery will diminish the negative effects on your children. Do not be deceived into thinking that your addiction is not affecting anyone else.
For those trying to help a child of an alcoholic, here are some things that can help:
These children need support even after they have reached adulthood. For more information and facts about alcoholism, visit The National Association for Children of Alcoholics (NaCoA) website.