For Families With An Alcoholic Father
Addiction in the Family: Effects of an Alcoholic Father or Mother
In 2017, about 20 million people ages 12 or over had a substance use disorder in the past year and nearly 15 million of these people struggle with alcohol use disorder.1 While addiction takes a heavy toll on the user, leading to serious physical and psychological problems, substance abuse can be just as hard on the loved ones of addicted individuals.
Children of alcoholics often experience severe emotional and psychological distress as a result of a parent’s alcohol abuse, and in some cases, they may also suffer physical harm. The effects of having an alcoholic father or mother are far-reaching, but there are resources for family members of alcoholics that may help reduce the harm and risk for addiction in the future.
Alcohol Abuse in the Home
While responsible alcohol consumption in the home can be a healthy example for children, alcohol abuse in the home has many negative side effects.
Having an alcoholic father or mother at home can affect day-to-day family life in several ways. A parent struggling with alcoholism may disappear for days at a time, leaving children to fend for themselves.
In instances this, children may cope with their parent’s alcoholism in unhealthy ways. For example, an older child may take on the role of parenting and care for younger children in the parent’s absence.This could also put additional strain on the spouse of the alcoholic parent, who is left to work, care for children, and maintain the household duties on their own.
An alcoholic father or mother may also have trouble paying the bills, mistreat, abuse, or neglect their children, drive drunk or high, or get into legal trouble.
As a result, parents may split up or get a divorce or friends and loved ones may have to step in to help.
2 This lack of security and stability at home can have negative effects on children in the home, including social problems, issues at school, or psychological disorders later in life.
Children of Alcoholics: Effects of Living With an Alcoholic Father or Mother
According to one study, more than 10 percent of children live with an alcoholic parent at home.3 Although many alcoholics may believe their drinking habits won’t affect anyone else, children of alcoholic fathers and mothers are some of the most affected. Sometimes these effects can even go on to impact the children’s lives as young adults and mature adults.
There are many different effects of living with an alcoholic father or mother at home, but these are some of the most common.4
- Normalization of alcohol abuse. When children grow up in an environment where alcohol abuse is common and accepted, they may understand this behavior to be normal. This can lead to internal conflict and confusion when they realize alcohol abuse should not be a normal part of life at home.
- Trust issues. If a child’s alcoholic father or mother created an environment where dishonesty and broken promises were the norm, a child may develop serious trust problems that can hinder their relationships in the future.
- Low self-esteem. Children who grow up in an unpredictable and volatile home environment are also more ly to have low self-esteem. They may realize they are different than their peers, compare themselves to others and feel inadequate as a result. Children of alcoholics also tend to be overly critical of themselves, which can lead to depression, anxiety, and isolation.
- Fear of abandonment. Children of alcoholics may cling to toxic relationships later in life because they have a serious fear of abandonment. This often stems from an alcoholic father or mother who was emotionally or physically unavailable due to their drinking behaviors.
- A constant need for approval. Often times, children who grow up with alcoholic parents will constantly seek out the approval of others to validate themselves. They may be fearful of judgment and criticism, seek perfection, or overwork themselves to achieve a certain value or prestige via their accomplishments.
- Alcohol or drug abuse. In addition to becoming perfectionistic, many adult children of alcoholics may also mimic the behaviors they saw growing up, and develop their own substance abuse problems or addiction. While genetics do play a role in addiction, a child’s upbringing and home environment do too.
Positive Role Models in Recovery
Just as parents can be a negative influence on children when they are abusing alcohol, parents can also be very positive role models in recovery. Starting over after addiction and establishing a more stable and healthy life in recovery is an opportunity to show children that positive change is always possible.
Parents in recovery can also use the life skills they acquire in addiction treatment to manage their time better, cope with stress at home, and improve their personal health. These are all things they can pass along to their children.
Additionally, parents in recovery may also choose to be open and honest about their own personal struggle with addiction to illustrate the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse. In using their own life choices as an example, parents can show their children that the consequences of drug and alcohol abuse are real but there is a better and more healthy way to live.
Parents who struggle with alcohol abuse may feel guilty for their past mistakes and how those decisions may have affected their children.
However, many parents also find that the negative effects on their children are extremely motivating in the continuation of their own personal recovery.
This kind of mindset can serve as a reminder that parents in recovery have every opportunity to be a positive role model instead of a negative one.
Resources for Families of Alcoholics
If you are a child of an alcoholic father or mother, there are several resources out there that can help you cope.
You are not destined to repeat the addictive behaviors of your parent(s) and there are other people out there who have similar life experiences.
Seeking help and connecting with other children of alcoholics may help you move past a tumultuous childhood and heal the scars that are left behind. Here are a few resources to check out:
- Al-Anon: Al-Anon is one of the most well-known support groups for family members and loved ones of alcoholics. Members follow a 12-step program and regular meetings are held all over the U.S. and internationally.5
- Nar-Anon: Nar-Anon is intended to help family members and loved ones of individuals who are addicted to narcotics or who are in recovery. It is also designed to provide support for family members of alcoholics and much Al-Anon meetings, Nar-Anon meetings can be found in all 50 states nationwide as well as internationally.6
- Co-DA: This 12-step group is designed to help individuals in co-dependent relationships, whether they are directly affected by alcoholism or not.7
- School counselor: For children of alcoholics who are in grade school, middle school, or high school, a school counselor may be a trusted adult who can provide personal assistance and support.
- Therapist: One-on-one therapy can also help you work through painful memories or current struggles related to a parent’s alcohol abuse.
- Online support groups: There are also many online support groups where children of alcoholics can talk with one another and share helpful information and resources.
Addiction in the family has long-lasting effects and although parents in recovery cannot erase the past, they can work toward a better future. Call Nova Recovery Center today if you are ready to start over and build a healthy life of sobriety for yourself and for the benefit of your children.
Effects of Alcoholism on Families
The effects of alcoholism on families can cause more damage and pain than any other internal or external influence on the family unit. The impact of the drinker’s abuse or addiction is usually manifested differently with each member of the family and has long-term implications.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that more than one-half of adults in the U.S. have a close family member who has abused alcohol or is addicted to the drug.
Children of Parents who Drink
Unborn Babies: Women who drink during pregnancy pass the drug to their unborn children each time they consume alcohol. Maternal drinking causes babies to be born with irreversible physical and mental birth defects.
This condition is called Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) and these children grow up with facial abnormalities, growth retardation and brain damage that inhibits their ability to live normal lives.According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, severe damage from FAS affects around 5000 babies every year; additionally 35000 babies are born with milder damage from FAS.
Children: Children who are born without birth defects and live with a father and/or mother who is an alcohol abuser or addict experience severe effects that may include:
- Low self-esteem
- Feelings of guilt and despair
- Loneliness and fear of abandonment
- Chronic depression
- High levels of anxiety and stress
They may believe that their parent’s drinking is their fault and frequently cry, have nightmares and wet their beds. Once they get older, children may not easily make friends. They may hoard things, develop phobias or exhibit perfectionist traits.
Through the effects of alcoholism on families, children often feel they are different that other people and develop a poor self-image that they carry throughout life.
They have difficulties in school and establishing relationships with friends and teachers. And fewer children of alcoholics go to college compared to the national average.
In addition, living in an alcoholic family also suggests that children are more susceptible to child abuse, including incest and battery.
Adult Children of Alcoholics: Once children become adults, the effects of alcoholism on families continue to impact their lives. They experience difficulties trusting others and have relationship issues.
Depression is common, as is anxiety, aggression and impulsive behavior. Adult children of alcoholics continue having a negative self-image, which causes them to make poor choices and accumulate failures in their work, social and family lives.
Speak with an Addiction Specialist
Speak with an Addiction Specialist
Spouse or Partner
Alcoholism has a transforming effect on the spouse or partner that can create significant mental trauma and physical health problems. Divorce rates among couples where one or both partners drinks is much higher than average.
As alcohol abuse or addiction progresses, the non-drinking spouse often grows into a compulsive care-taking role, which creates feelings of resentment, self-pity and exhaustion. The marriage suffers from:
- Poor spousal communication
- Increased anger and distress
- Reduced intimacy and sexual desire
- Increased marital abuse
- Depleting finances spent on alcohol
Often the spouse and children become codependent, as one of the effects of alcoholism in families. Codependents, who are also referred to as enablers, further the alcoholic’s drinking problem by trying to protect them and keep them trouble.
This may include telling an employer a lie about why the individual didn’t come to work, telling friends stories to explain the alcoholic’s behavior, or handling a responsibility that should have been taken care of by the drinker.
Codependents make the problem worse by permitting the drinking to continue.
Effects of Alcoholism on Families … Is there Help?
Treating alcoholic families is difficult and complex. Often treatment is not entirely successful for family members, even when the alcohol abuser or addict eventually reforms.
The effects of alcoholism in families are difficult to overcome; yet without treatment, they can be devastating for the long-term. With the right approach and support, positive steps can be taken to improve lives.
Healthcare professionals may recommend a multi-faceted treatment approach that includes group family therapy, as well as individualized treatment for each family member Treatment may take the form of one or more of the following:
- Out-Patient Programs
- In-Patient Programs
- Peer Support Groups
- Psycho-Social Therapy
- Medication-Assisted Treatment
|Free Expert Advice Available Now|
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AllPsych Journal, Alcoholism and Its Effect on the Family by Tetyana Parsons, http://allpsych.com/journal/alcoholism.html
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, http://www.niaaa.nih.gov
National Healthy Marriage Resource Center, http://www.healthymarriageinfo.org
Alcoholism Symptoms – List of signs and symptoms that are common to someone with a drinking problem.
Dealing With Alcoholism – Help preventing alcoholism. The key for most people is early education.Alcoholism in the Family – Alcoholism can have life long implications for both the drinker and their families. Learn about the negative impact of an alcoholic family member on all of those affected.
Alcoholism and Youth – Information on underage drinking, the factors that contribute to it, health risks and prevention.
Al Anon – Information about Alanon, a self-help group for people who live with or are affected by an alcoholic.
Support for Families of Alcoholics – Find out how alcoholism affects the family, especially the children of alcoholic parents. Resources for support of family members.
Return HOME from Effects of Alcoholism on Families
What Happens to Children of Alcoholic Parents?
Recent evidence has suggested that children of alcoholics are at a significant risk for a variety of cognitive, emotional, and behavioral problems when compared to peers who were not raised by alcoholic parents.
2, 4-6 Children from parents who are addicted to substances are the group most at risk for later developing problems with drugs and alcohol, ly due to both genetics and environmental factors.
7, 8 Children of addicted parents are also most ly to suffer child abuse and neglect, compounding existing predispositions towards mental illness and substance abuse. 2, 9
The Home Environment: What it is Living with Alcoholic Parents
The family environment of alcoholics is typically marked by a significant degree of chaos.
Alcoholic families tend to be driven by a system of rigidity, such as lack of flexibility and arbitrary rules, that predispose children to develop a sense of overwhelm or confusion.
10 This response is marked by feelings of fear that remain unexpressed or unresolved, which can lead to emotional shutting down and detachment from loved ones. 2, 5
At times, children of alcoholics may begin to feel as though they are responsible for the problems associated with their alcoholic parent.At times, children of alcoholics may begin to feel as though they are responsible for the problems associated with their alcoholic parent. 3 They may even believe that they created the problem.
For example, the child of an alcoholic may feel responsible and needlessly guilty for needing new shoes or clothes because they believe that this in some way contributes to the family's stress over finances. They might assume the role of needing to take care of their “sick” parent – a role that can sometimes remain intact in later relationships.
Children of alcoholics endure chronic and extreme levels of tension and stress as the result of growing up in the home with a parent struggling with alcohol abuse. 10
Very young children may exhibit symptoms of:
- Nocturnal enuresis (i.e., bed wetting).
- Separation anxiety.
- Frequent nightmares.
- Crying or problems with becoming unusually upset.
Older children of alcoholics exhibit symptoms of:
- Depression (e.g., apathy, excessive guilt, feelings of hopelessness and helplessness).
- Obsessiveness (e.g., overly rigid, intense need for perfection, hoarding, isolation and withdrawal, excessive self-consciousness). 9
Growing up in a chaotic and unpredictable environment causes the adult child of an alcoholic to internalize messages of distrust, insecurity, and belief that they should suppress their emotional responses. 10, 12 These maladaptive beliefs can lead to symptoms of mental health problems over time. 13
Studies have shown that adult children of alcoholics are more ly to exhibit symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, agoraphobia, dysthymia, social dysfunction.
Studies have shown that adult children of alcoholics are more ly to exhibit symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, agoraphobia, dysthymia, social dysfunction.13 Children who grow up in homes with an alcoholic parent are more ly to experience episodes of trauma, neglect, or abuse. 9 As such, the rates of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are also higher in this population compared to peers who did not grow up in an alcoholic home.
19Children of alcoholics exhibit higher rates of antisocial personality traits than what would be expected in the general population. This finding is most significant for male children of alcoholic fathers. 13, 15
Adult children of alcoholics are also more ly to abuse substances and are at significant risk for developing problems associated with addiction to a substance.
7, 8Male children of alcoholic fathers are most at risk for developing later problems with substance abuse than are female children of alcoholic fathers.
The propensity to abuse substances is affected by genetic and environmental factors, in addition to the influence of mental health struggles.
Interpersonal Effects: How Alcoholic Parents Impact Your Relationships
It is widely accepted that early experiences have the ability to shape the ways in which we interact with others later in life. 16 Adult children of alcoholics have significant difficulty recognizing their own needs and often are not able to have appropriate balance in their relationships with others.
3 They are more ly to exhibit patterns of an insecure attachment style than their peers who were not raised in alcoholic homes. 9Insecure attachment refers to a maladaptive pattern of relating to others, which stems from fears related to the potential for rejection or abandonment.Individuals with insecure attachment have been found to be at greater risk for developing psychopathology throughout adulthood.
12 Thus, adult children of alcoholics may exhibit the following insecure attachment patterns in their relationships with friends, coworkers, romantic partners, family members, and even their own children 3:
- Avoidance of intimacy or emotional closeness/connection.
- Difficulty or being unable to share vulnerable thoughts and feelings.
- Limited or lack of emotional response to others.
- Limited or lack of empathetic response.
- Neediness along with emotional distance.
- Overly critical.
- Excessively rigid and perfectionistic.
- Intolerant of uncertainty or changes in the environment.
- Chronic anxiety and sense of insecurity.
- Feelings of helplessness.
- Feelings of excessive guilt.
- Controlling towards others.
- Excessively blames others.
- Erratic, impulsive, and unpredictable.
- Superficially charming or engaging.
These patterns of behavior with interpersonal relationships can prevent the adult child of an alcoholic from appropriately developing positive relationships. They may lack skills in appropriate social contact, be unable to demonstrate appropriate guilt or remorse, and exhibit impaired ability to consider cause and effect. 16
The chronic stress of growing up in a chaotic and unpredictable environment, such as the one adult children of alcoholics experience can lead to significant alterations in:
- The structure and function of the brain.
- The way the body responses to and manages stress.
- The expression of the individual's genes, including what is eventually passed down to later generations.
Growing up with a parent who struggled with alcohol abuse is stressful and can lead to many negative long-term effects. 2 If you or someone you love is struggling with psychological distress, relationship problems, trouble at work or school, or other problems that may be related to being the adult child of an alcoholic, then it is important to seek help from a trained professional.
Participating in outpatient psychotherapy can help the individual understand the impact that growing up with an alcoholic parent had on their development, as well as how these impacts may present themselves on a day-to-day basis in their current lives.
Further, outpatient psychotherapy can also help the individual learn and practice ways of recognizing maladaptive behavior patterns, improve critical thinking skills and impulse control, strengthen stress management capabilities, and enhance their ability to develop secure and intimate attachments with others.
Treating Both Addiction and Underlying Mental Health Problems
If you are struggling with both addiction and symptoms of a psychiatric condition, there is help available. Depending on the severity of the substance abuse, both inpatient and outpatient options are available. Outpatient options include:
- Group Therapy.
- 12-Step Outpatient Therapy.
Inpatient options may include rehab centers that treat dual-diagnoses (mental health + substance abuse disorder), or other inpatient mental health facilities.
1. Eigen L, Rowden D. Section 1: Research – A methodology and current estimate of the number of children of alcoholics in the United States. In Abbott, Stephanie's: “Children of Alcoholics: Seleceted Readings (Volume II ed.). Rockville, MD: National Association for Children of Alcoholics (NACoA), pp. 1-22.
2. El Guebaly N, Offord DR. The offspring of alcoholics: A critical review. Am J Psychiatry 1997;134(4):357-365.
3. Fisher GL, et al. Characteristics of adult children of alcoholics. J Subst Abuse 1992;4:27-34.
4. Christoffersen MN, Soothill K. The long-term consequences of parental alcohol abuse: A cohort study of children in Denmark. J Subst Abuse Tr 2003;25:107-116.
5. Kroll B. Living with an elephant: Growing up with parental substance misuse. Child Fam Soc Work 2004;9:129-140.
6. Lieberman DZ. Children of alcoholics: An update. Curr Op Pediatrics 2000;12:336-340.7. Stone AL, Becker LG, Huber AM, Catalano RF. Review of risk and protective factors of substance use and problem use in emerging adulthood. Addict Behav 2012;37(7):747-775.
8. Obot IS, Wagner FA, Anthony JC. Early onset and recent drug use among children of parents with alcohol problems: Data from a national epidemiologic survey. Drug Alcohol Dep 2001;65:1-8.
9. Dube SR, Anda RF, Felitti VJ, Croft JB, Edwards VJ, Giles WH. Growing up with parental alcohol abuse: Exposure to childhood abuse, neglect, and household dysfunction. Child Abuse Neglect 2001;25:1627-1640.
10. Nodar M. Chaotic environments and adult children of alcoholics. Professional Counselor 2012;2(1):43-47.
11. Fulton AI, Yates WR. Adult children of alcoholics. J Nervous Mental Disord 1990;178:505-509.
12. Wyrzykowska E, Glogowska K, Mickiewicz K. Attachment relationships among alcohol dependent persons. Alcohol Drug Addict 2014;27(2):145-161.
13. Mathew RJ, Wilson WH, Blazer DG, George LK. Psychiatric disorders in adult children of alcoholics: Data from the Epidemiologic Catchment Area project. Am J Psychiatry 1993;150(5):793-800.
14. West MO, Prinz RJ. Parental alcoholism and childhood psychopathology. Psychol Bull 1987;102:204-218.15. Sher KJ. Psychological characteristics of children of alcoholics. Alcoh Health Res World 1997;21(3):247-254.
16. Masten AS, Best KM, Garmezy N. Resilience and development: Contributions from the study of children who overcome adversity. Devel Psychopathol 1990;2:425-444.
17. Windle M. Concepts and issues in COA research. Alcohol Health Res World 1997;21(3):185-191.
18. Thompson RG, Lizardi D, Keyes KM, Hasin DS. Childhood or adolescent parental divorce/separation, parental history of alcohol problems, and offspring lifetime alcohol dependence. Drug Alcohol Dep 2008;98:264-269.
19. Hall, C. W., & Webster, R. E. (2002). Traumatic symptomatology characteristics of adult children of alcoholics. Journal of Drug Education, 32(3), 195-211.
What I Learned from Having a Father with Alcoholism
Health and wellness touch everyone’s life differently. This is one person’s story.
I heard mumbling coming from the first-floor master bathroom and wandered in to find him nearly unconscious with three empty handles of gin tossed into the gigantic Jacuzzi tub. I lifted him up from the bathroom floor, looked into his bloodshot eyes, and inhaled the sharp odor of gin. He started crying and saying things I — his 14-year-old daughter — shouldn’t hear.
I thought that I could fix my father — in the movies, when the character you love is about to die and there’s a dramatic scene right before the bad guy surrenders. In the end, everyone lives happily ever after. I however was definitely starring in a different movie.
That January, I was returning from boarding school, unaware of and unprepared for the changes that awaited me at home. I discovered my father was an alcoholic, and my mother was battling the emotional turmoil of our family crisis. That may have been the first time I felt completely useless — a feeling a parent should never make their child feel.
Fast-forward a few years later, while I was away at college, finishing lunch with my friends, when my mom called.
“Dad passed away this morning,” she said.
I collapsed on the sidewalk. My friends had to carry me back to my dorm room.
Having a parent with alcoholism can be endless disappointment. Even in their darkest moments, they’re still your hero. You still love them for who they are. You know it’s not really “them” — it’s the alcohol, and you’re hopeful the horrors will all end soon. That hopeful ending is what keeps you going, even when the process is confusing and distracting and sad.
In the years of growing up with and without a father who drank and wondering if alcoholism defined “me,” I’ve learned a few things, often the hard way. These mottos, which I live by now, all resulted in a better, healthier “me.”
1. Don’t compare your life to others
Constant comparison isn’t just a thief of joy. It also limits what we think our capabilities are as an evolving person. You’re constantly wondering why your home life isn’t others, something you shouldn’t have to focus on as a kid.
2. Be the bigger person
It’s easy to set your default emotions to being bitter when life feels “unfair,” but life isn’t about what’s fair. You might feel you’re being duped because the person you care about isn’t doing what’s obviously right, but getting worked up about these choices won’t affect the other person. It only affects you.
Take a deep breath and remember to be kind. Hate never wins, so love them through their troubles. Hopefully they’ll come around on their own. That’s how alcohol recovery works — the person needs to want it. If they don’t come around, at least you’ll be at peace with yourself. It would suck to stoop to their level and have it backfire.
3. You are not their addiction
In high school, I struggled with the idea that I’d become a certain person because alcoholism was in my blood. And while genetics have proven to be a huge factor for addiction, it doesn’t define you.
I was a mess from excessive partying and drug abuse. I treated people horribly, but I wasn’t really “me.” Today, I’m nowhere near that person now, mainly because I gave my lifestyle a total makeover. Once I rid my thoughts of believing that alcoholism defined who I was, there was a shift in my overall being.
4. Practice forgiveness
I learned this early on, mainly from attending Sunday school at church: In order to free yourself of hateful thoughts, you have to treat others the way you want to be treated. I’m guessing if you really messed up, you’d want to be forgiven, too.
5. Don’t enable
There’s a big difference between being compassionate and being a crutch. It’s hard work to emotionally support and uplift another without draining yourself. That “emotional support” they might need may be disguised as doing a simple favor, but it could end up contributing to the problem — especially if it gives others an excuse to continue bad behavior.
Just be loving to everyone, always, includingyourself.
7. Avoid drinking and parenting at the same time
Don’t let this happen. Kids know everything. They see you every day and are constantly observing. They’re innocent and vulnerable and unconditionally loving and will pick up on (and forgive you for) any behavior — good or bad. Set the most insanely loving, nurturing, honorable example you can, all the time.
Children need to see gratitude, especially in the hardest of times. It’s from this that they learn, and they’ll teach their own children the gratitude, thoughtfulness, and love they’ve observed — not necessarily what we think we’ve taught them.
So be gracious. Be thoughtful. Be good.
Lifestyle and mom blogger Samantha Eason was born and raised in Wellesley, Massachusetts, but currently lives in St. Louis, Missouri, with her husband and son Isaac (aka Chunk).She uses her platform, Mother of Chunk, to fuse together her passions for photography, motherhood, food, and clean living. Her website is an uncensored space that covers life, both the beautiful and the not so beautiful.
To tune into what Sammy and Chunk get into daily, follow her on Instagram.