For Families With An Alcoholic Father

When mum or dad is an alcoholic

For Families With An Alcoholic Father

One in five children in the UK are said to be negatively affected by their parents' drinking, and the effects can last well into adulthood. Four women – Karen, Liz, Hilary and Lynne – spoke to Jo Morris about growing up with a parent dependent on alcohol.

“Some people talk about what books they've read, or films they've been to see, but instead we talk about how drunk our parents were,” says Karen.

Karen and her friend Liz met at work in their late 20s and quickly bonded when they realised they had a shared history.

“It's not the same talking to somebody who doesn't know what it's ,” says Liz.

Gallows humour helps to deal with the horrible memories. the time Liz's mum sold her toys to get money for alcohol. Or the time Karen's alcoholic dad went to the pub instead of collecting her from after-school club.

“It's a bit Top Trumps – alcoholic-parent Top Trumps,” Karen laughs.

They both remember dreading the walk home from school.

“It's so disheartening,” says Karen. “You think: 'OK, I've had a nice break at school, but here we go again. I'm going to be really polite and be really nice, make sure that I don't say anything turn or give you any reason to have a go at me.'”

It was only when Liz was eight or nine that she noticed her friends did not have any such concerns and lived very different lives.

“I thought: 'Oh, you have your dinner cooked for you? I don't even have dinner.'

“That's when you realise it's horrendous and you feel very alone going through it.”

Once, her mum spent all her benefit money on alcohol, and all she could afford was a sack of potatoes.

“Potato weekend!” Liz laughs. “We literally had potatoes to live on for the weekend. So we had mashed potato, potato cakes, chips wrapped up in newspaper – she was very resourceful.”

Image caption “Potato weekend” – when Liz' mum spent all the money on drink

Food – or the lack of it – is a common theme.

Hilary, 55, grew up in an upper-middle class family in Sunderland, with a respected surgeon as a father. The family kept up appearances – but her mother drank.

“I can remember being at school, and a girl in my form opening up her lunch and saying: 'Oh my sandwiches haven't been buttered to the edge.' It was Planet Zorg compared to my life,” she remembers.

No-one was making sandwiches for Hilary. In fact it was left to her to look after her younger brother – putting him to bed, getting him ready for school, making sure he was fed.
She went from being very present to becoming a ghostHilary , on her mother

Her mum's drinking started out with a glass of wine “while cooking” but soon escalated to a bottle of vodka a day.

“She was hiding bottles, they were all over the place – in her shoeboxes, you'd find glasses of neat vodka behind curtains and if you put the oven on you checked there wasn't a bottle hidden in there.

Watching her elegant and educated mother fade away was very painful.

“You couldn't hold a conversation with her because she was drunk,” Hilary says. “It was she wasn't there really – she went from being very present to becoming a ghost.”

Liz's mother had been a model, but after she began to drink she never quite knew where to put on her make-up. “She looked Aunt Sally from Worzel Gummidge,” she says.

Liz's own life began to spin control, as a result of neglect. By the age of 15, Liz had become involved in an abusive relationship, and was put into foster care. It was thanks to her friends that she survived, she says.

“I've been good at choosing good friends who helped me through it, friends who weren't into drugs and drinking.”

Then, when she saw her friends go to university she decided she would, too – the only child in Surrey social services at the time who did. “I definitely deserve a prize for that,” she says.

Find out more

Image caption “It's walking on eggshells”

For Jabs, 22, living with her alcoholic father was “walking on eggshells”. All this week Woman's Hour will be hearing from adult children of alcoholics. Jo Morris spoke to six women of different ages and backgrounds, from all over the UK.

Now 37, with a young family, she visits her mother a few times a year but wants no further involvement – one reason why she has put off marriage to her long-term partner.

“I don't want her at my wedding,” she says. “But I'm too nice to think of her sat at home alone.”

Lynne's mother died 13 years ago from complications caused by her alcoholism. She rummages through a box of her mother's things that she put together after bereavement counselling.

“What was hard was that everyone in the church all stood up and said how great she was,” she says, remembering their complicated relationship.

“Every childhood memory is laced with the memory of my mum drinking.

“I cannot recall a day when she didn't send me and my sister with a note to the shop: 'Please sell my children two bottles of Olde English and four cans of Special Brew' – and I wasn't the only kid on the council estate doing that.”

I used to feel that I wasn't entitled to anything goodLynne

Her mother could get nasty when she was drunk, and even violent.

“It was so confusing and upsetting. Sometimes I'd barricade myself inside my bedroom. Even now, talking about it, I get that feeling in my gut that I want to leave the house.”

Today her flat is cosy and welcoming – the polar opposite, she says, of the home she grew up in. And this is important to her.

“I used to feel that I wasn't entitled to anything that was wholesome or good,” she says – but that's no longer the case.

After moving to London she built the life she wanted to have. She feels loved by her husband and friends. “I'm just basking in that,” she says.

Image caption When Lynne's mother died, she collected her belongings in a box

She pulls out something else from her bereavement box – a ticket from the hospital from when she was born, saying how much she weighed.

“I was amazed that she still kept this,” she says, clearly moved.

“Consciously making the decision to not have a child myself is the legacy of it all.

“In my heart I was so afraid I wouldn't be able to look after someone else, and I might repeat her mistakes. Is it in the genes, could this come out in me? That is something I've always thought.”

Hilary does have a child, a teenager, and relishes the opportunity to be the attentive mother she herself lacked. She has also made sure that, un her own mother – a former nurse, who ended up spending her life at home – she is always busy.

“I learned my lesson from my mum,” she says.

“I play a lot of sport, and I work – I need structure.

“I think mum was lonely and sad. That gets me. I think she could have been helped.”

She remembers coming home from a Christmas party as a teenager to find her mum at the bottom of her stairs holding a carving knife, threatening to kill herself. She had drunk the Christmas port and replaced it with Ribena, which led to a row with her husband.

Image caption Hilary's mother hid bottles all over the house

Hilary drove her mother to hospital and got her admitted to the alcohol dependency unit there. The next day at Christmas lunch nobody in the family acknowledged what had happened.

“It was the great lie. We never spoke about anything in the family.”

Today she still hates liars.

How many kids go through this? Keeping all this pressure, stress and anxiety to themselves because they have nobody at school to talk to?Karen

“And I loathe people who fraudulently present themselves as something they're not, because that is how I was brought up.

“The fact that I couldn't talk about how it was probably contributed to my hideous depression,” Hilary says.

Shame and secrecy are words that come up often, talking to these women.

All of them wish they'd had someone to talk to about their parents' drinking when they were growing up.

Liz and Karen, who find comfort in sharing stories with each other now, had nobody to turn to as children, and couldn't see a way out.

“When you're eight or nine you can't go anywhere,” says Liz, who was bullied about her mum's drinking. “It's not your fault if your parent is alcoholic.”

Karen nods in agreement. “How many kids go through this? Keeping all this pressure, stress and anxiety to themselves because they have nobody at school to talk to – it's really sad and horrid and there are kids going through this now,” she says.

Lynne feels badly let down by the authorities.

“I find it staggering that my mum was sectioned and no-one said: 'What is happening to this young teenager?'

“Actually that is what makes me the angriest. All that support system in society – school, doctor, social services – where were they?”

Support for children of alcoholics

NACOA – The National Association For Children Of Alcoholics

ADFAM – Supporting families affected by drugs and alcohol

Al-Anon – For families and friends of alcoholics

For Hilary, there was help of sorts in the shape of her Uncle David – her mother's brother.

“No other adult had helped me up to that point, no other adult intervened.”

She describes how he bundled her and her siblings into his car and drove them round and round, so that they relaxed and started to tell him stories about her mother's drinking.

He convinced Hilary's mum to stop drinking for three months so that Hilary could concentrate on her A-levels.

“He made us feel safe, suddenly the sun shone in my life.”

Her mum only remained sober for those three months, but it meant Hilary passed her A-levels, and then she escaped the stresses of home for university.

She has never forgotten Uncle David's kindness, and she still visits him every week.

Karen's dad stopped drinking 13 years ago, but she still has a recurring nightmare that he's started up again. “I still have that panic of: here we go again.”

Does she talk to her parents about what happened? “It's never discussed.”

“Now I'm a parent, the thought of acting that to my child is unbelievable,” she adds.

“The stress we get into about what to feed our children.”

Liz agrees: “Yes, five a day.”

“And you got a sack of potatoes to last the weekend!” jokes Karen.

And they both erupt into laughter again.

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Listen to Jo Morris's reports on Woman's Hour on BBC Radio 4

*Some names in this article have been changed

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What I Learned from Having a Father with Alcoholism

For Families With An Alcoholic Father

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.

6. Love

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.

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Addiction in the Family: Effects of an Alcoholic Father or Mother

For Families With An Alcoholic Father

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.


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Effects of Alcoholism on Families

For Families With An Alcoholic Father

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

Call 877-322-2694

24/7 Helpline

Speak with an Addiction Specialist

24/7 Helpline

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:

  • Interventions
  • Out-Patient Programs
  • In-Patient Programs
  • Peer Support Groups
  • Psycho-Social Therapy
  • Medication-Assisted Treatment

Free Expert Advice Available Now

  • Speak with a treatment specialist 24/7
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Free Expert Advice Available Now

  • Speak with a treatment specialist 24/7
  • Privacy guaranteed
  • Discuss your treatment options



AllPsych Journal, Alcoholism and Its Effect on the Family by Tetyana Parsons, //

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, //

National Healthy Marriage Resource Center, // 

Related Information

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

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