For Families With An Alcoholic Father

What Are the Effects of an Alcoholic Father on Children?

For Families With An Alcoholic Father

Alcoholism is a destructive disease.

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, approximately 18 million people in the United States suffer from some kind of alcohol use disorder. This includes anyone whose drinking causes any kind of harm or distress, though not all of these people are considered to be alcoholics.

Someone suffering from alcoholism can experience strong cravings for the substance, the inability to stop drinking once they start, a physical reliance on alcohol, and other symptoms.

While alcohol abuse can have serious health ramifications for the abuser, including damage to the liver and brain, as well as increased risk for injuries and suicide, not all of the effects of alcohol abuse are felt by the individual struggling with alcoholism.

Often, the effects of their disease are felt most strongly by those closest to the person, namely their children. A child is incredibly susceptible to parental influence and neglect. As a result, growing up with an alcoholic parent can have serious consequences in both the short-term and the long-term.

Having an alcoholic father can have a significant impact on a child, putting them at risk for a multitude of problems during childhood and into adulthood. It is important to promptly identify these situations and take proper steps to ensure the damage done to a child is stopped and future risk is mitigated.

Issues Related to Alcoholic Parents

According to Psych Central, approximately 28 million children have an alcoholic parent, and children who grow up with an alcoholic parent run a higher risk of becoming alcoholics themselves. This is attributed to the role of genetics and environment in the development of an addiction to alcohol.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), genetics account for roughly half of a person’s risk for developing an alcohol use disorder.

However, more than half of the children of alcoholics don’t struggle with the disease, so having an alcoholic father or mother isn’t a sure sign that the child will struggle with addiction later in life.

The environment in which a child grows up can have a serious effect on their risk for alcohol issues in adulthood. Most simply, exposure to alcohol on a regular basis seems to increase a child’s risk for future alcohol abuse.

Depression or other physiological difficulties experienced by a parent in the throes of alcoholism can also increase the lihood of the child experiencing problems with the substance later in life.

Alcoholism leading to aggressive behavior or violence can have a similar effect as well.

Alcoholism in the family home can have a significant impact on the most basic operations of the family. Families dealing with alcoholism have been shown to experience problems, such as:

  • Lack of communication
  • Little to no structure in the home
  • Increased conflict
  • Subpar parenting
  • Isolation from the community
  • Financial issues

How Living with an Alcoholic Father Affects a Child’s Daily Life

Living with an alcoholic father can change a child’s day-to-day life quite a bit, according to Very Well. The idea of “normal life” becomes somewhat abstract, leaving the child guessing what normal life should be since they often don’t experience it directly.

Their ability to enjoy things also tends to be diminished, which is a truly sad factor when it comes to children.

Trust issues often arise in the children of alcoholic parents.

Their experience with broken promises and their parent consistently falling short chip away at their ability to trust in the way a well-adjusted child would. This can also lead to trouble developing meaningful and intimate relationships as well as abandonment issues.

Trauma in childhood also makes it more ly that the person will go on to develop issues with substance abuse, intimacy, and other mental health problems later in life.

Due to a lack of attention from their own fathers, they may seek out attention and approval from other adults.

Children of alcoholic fathers also have the tendency to feel they are different from most children, and this has an alienating effect. They may lie to cover up for their fathers’ behavior, often feeling embarrassed at admitting the truth about what’s going on at home.

Even though these children have ly been greatly hurt by the actions of their alcoholic fathers, they often have an innate desire to protect them.

As a result, a kind of role reversal often takes place in the relationship between an alcoholic father and their child, with the child “parenting” the father.

The child may clean up messes made while the father was drunk or apologize for the father’s actions if he acts poorly in public due to being intoxicated. As a result, the child is often robbed of the traditional protection of a parent.

According to NIAAA, the child of an alcoholic may be more ly to experience some form of abuse in the home, though some studies have found this to be inconclusive.

Susceptibility to physical and sexual abuse may be associated with having an alcoholic parent, but the strength of this correlation remains unclear.

However, being abused as a child can put a person at a greater risk to experience alcohol problems in the future.

While many behavioral issues may be present in school-aged children of alcoholics, as these children become adults, they remain at a higher risk for various problems. Emotional and behavior issues later in life are common for those who grew up dealing with the alcoholism of a father or mother.

According to Adult Children of Alcoholics, some effects that can be experienced down the road include:

  • Isolation
  • Fear of authority
  • Loss of identity
  • Compulsive personality
  • Fear of anger
  • Emotional confusion
  • Fear of abandonment

Mitigating Risk

While it’s clear that the child of an alcoholic parent is at a greater risk to develop some kind of alcohol problem, there are ways to mitigate this risk. Avoiding underage drinking is a big first step in preventing the development of alcoholism down the road.

Not only is it illegal, but drinking at an early age has been shown to correlate with alcohol issues later in life.

As one becomes an adult, it is important to keep the consumption of alcohol to a moderate level.

Maintaining responsible drinking habits can be a challenge for the children of alcoholics, as their genetic and environmental influences could become impediments in controlling daily intake.

It is recommended that females drink no more than one alcoholic beverage per day and males drink no more than two alcoholic beverages per day. Moderate drinking is crucial for someone who is already at a higher risk for alcohol abuse.

Should one have a concern about their drinking habits or their risk for alcoholism, it is always wise to consult a professional on the matter. Doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals can direct a person to specialists, groups, and organizations that can best suit their needs.

If an adult knows that a child is suffering due to their parent’s alcohol abuse, it’s imperative that prompt action is taken. The parent needs professional help in order to get well, and the child needs to be protected.

There are various community resources that can help, and oftentimes, it may be necessary to stage an intervention to prompt the father or mother to accept the need for help.

Generally, children should not be present at the intervention in the interest of their safety and mental health.


If a child is growing up with an alcoholic parent, the deck is not necessarily stacked against them. They do have a greater risk of developing problems with alcohol abuse, but that does not mean that their fate it their hands. There are plenty of resources available to ensure that someone avoids the same mistakes their parent may have made.

Full recovery for an alcoholic parent is the ideal result. While the recovery process can be long and trying, maintaining focus on the child’s needs can be an inspiring factor for the adult.

While a person has to find their own personal motivation for recovery and can’t build their foundation for recovery on another person, the goal of being a better parent can be hugely motivating.

Therapy is an essential tool, especially in determining what steps need to be taken to improve a situation.

Every family dynamic is different, and a therapist can determine the best way to approach the issue with the parent who is struggling and how to begin the process of repairing relationships that were damaged due to active addiction. Depending on the ages of the children involved, certain types of therapists may be more appropriate, such as those with experience treating young children or teens.

Small education and therapy groups have proven to be effective tools for children dealing with an alcoholic father or mother.

The opportunity to relate to peers struggling with the same issue can be valuable, especially in understanding the situation.

It’s incredibly important that the child understands that they are not the cause of their father’s drinking, as many assume some level of responsibility.

If there is another parental figure in the picture who is sober, that parent can serve as a strong foundation of support for the child.

As the child deals with the repercussions of their alcoholic father, they can benefit from an established routine in other areas of life.

Knowing that they can rely on consistency from other adult figures can help them to feel safe and protected as they process issues related to their father’s alcoholism.

Last Updated on May 27, 2019

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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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What Are the Potential Impacts of Parental Alcoholism on Children?

For Families With An Alcoholic Father

One misconception that many people dealing with alcoholism have is that their drinking is not affecting anyone else.

Of course, that's not true, and children of alcoholic parents can be among those most impacted.

Unfortunately, the effects of growing up around alcoholism are sometimes so profound that they last a lifetime, affecting the way kids-turned-adults see themselves and others, interact in relationships, and more.

Parents struggling with alcoholism may be surprised or concerned after reading on about the impact their addiction can have on their children now and through adulthood. Their kids, however, may find relief knowing what may have contributed to some of the issues they may face today.

Because they may not have had a good example to follow from their childhood and potentially never experienced traditional or harmonious family relationships, adult children of alcoholics may have to guess at what it means to be “normal.”

Because alcohol use is normalized in families with alcoholism, children can often struggle to distinguish between good role models and bad ones.

As a result, many will end up feeling conflicted, confused, and self-conscious when they realize that drinking is not considered normal in other families.

After growing up in an atmosphere where denial, lying, and keeping secrets may have been the norm, adult children of alcoholics can develop serious trust problems. Broken promises of the past tell them that trusting someone will backfire on them in the future.

If a child's alcoholic parent was mean or abusive when they were drunk, adult children can grow up with a fear of all angry people. They may spend their lives avoiding conflict or confrontation of any kind, worrying that it could turn violent.

Some adult children of alcoholics find it difficult to give themselves a break. If they had a tumultuous upbringing, they often don't feel adequate when comparing themselves to others and feel that they are never good enough. They may have little self-worth and low self-esteem and can develop deep feelings of inadequacy.

Children of an alcoholic parent may find themselves thinking they are different from other people and therefore not good enough. Consequently, they may avoid social situations, have difficulty making friends, and isolate themselves as a result.

Many adult children of alcoholics take themselves very seriously and can be their own worst critics, leading to anxiety, depression, and social isolation.

It can often be difficult for an adult child of an alcoholic to lighten up at social gatherings when they associate these events with trauma, tension, or feelings of dread.

In addition to judging themselves too harshly, some adult children of alcoholics constantly seek approval from others. They can become people-pleasers who are crushed if someone is not happy with them and live in fear of any kind of criticism.

Perhaps to avoid criticism or the anger of their alcoholic parent, many children from alcoholic homes become super responsible or perfectionists, and can become overachievers or workaholics. On the other hand, it is not uncommon for a person to go in the opposite direction, mirroring the same bad behaviors they may have witnessed during childhood.

If an alcoholic parent was emotionally or physically unavailable, the adult child can develop a debilitating fear of abandonment and, as a result, hold on to toxic relationships just because they don't want to be alone.

A Word From Verywell

The emotional and psychological scars that children of alcoholics can develop can be so deep that they last well into adulthood. If you have an alcohol problem and you have children in the home, please try to find help.

Focusing on the love of your children and how your drinking may be affecting them can go a long way toward motivating you to scale back your drinking or stop it altogether. They deserve that positive change—and so do you.

wise, if you are the child of a parent who is or was an alcoholic (or had other addiction problems) and are experiencing one or more of the issues above or any sort of psychological distress, please seek out support. You are not alone, and you deserve help and treatment.

Thanks for your feedback!

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Article Sources

  • Eiden RD, Molnar DS, Colder C, Edwards EP, Leonard KE. A conceptual model predicting internalizing problems in middle childhood among children of alcoholic and nonalcoholic fathers: the role of marital aggression. J Stud Alcohol Drugs. 2009 Sep;70(5):741-50. DOI: 10.15288/jsad.2009.70.741.

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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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Media captionSix women shared their stories with Woman's Hour

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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