Impacts on Children Growing Up With Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

by The Discovering Alcoholic on August 11, 2009

Thank you author and speaker Lisa Frederiksen of Breaking the Cycles for this regular series sharing her decades long experience of dealing with family alcoholism and alcohol abuse. Click here to see the rest of the series.

Breaking the Cycles at The Discovering Alcoholic

One in four children will be exposed to family alcohol abuse, alcoholism or both before the age of 18. The impacts of this are significant for these children and include:

Guilt – seeing themselves as the cause of their parent’s drinking or the cause of their non-drinking parent’s reaction to the drinker. If I had cleared my plate and done the dishes, she wouldn’t have gotten mad and started yelling at dad about his drinking.

Anxiety – constantly worried about the situation at home — worried about being gone and not able to protect a younger sibling who is still at home; worried about going home and finding a parent passed out; worried about driving with the parent who drinks too much.

Embarrassment – ashamed to have friends over; ashamed to have friends know, believing their parent’s drinking is a reflection of them – that somehow they are as shameful as the parent who drinks too much.

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Inability to have close relationships – the inability to trust their parents from one day to the next and the constant disappointment of broken promises causes children to be distrustful of others which in turn causes others to not trust them.

Perfectionism – believing there is one more thing they can do to be “perfect” and somehow that perfection will make everything okay. If I get straight A’s, he’ll be so proud of me and won’t be so worried all the time and quit picking on mom. If I keep the entire house clean and make sure my little sister is being good, she won’t get so mad at dad, and then he won’t drink.

Anger – utter frustration at their own powerlessness (something they are not consciously aware of nor understand) causes deep-seeded anger — at the parent who drinks for not stopping their drinking and at the parent who doesn’t drink for not protecting them and at their fellow students or teachers or friends — often the unwarranted targets of their anger.

Fear – afraid their parent might die; afraid their parents might get divorced; afraid their parent might come to their school play drunk; afraid their parent might “forget” to pick them up; afraid their parents fighting will get so bad, they’ll start hitting.

We must find ways to help these children who don’t even realize they need help. Teachers, pediatricians, pastors, relatives and/or other adults should do whatever they can to talk about what happens when a family member drinks too much. This kind of talk can be in general terms — the way a person might talk about what might happen if a person doesn’t eat healthy foods and get plenty of exercise or drives too fast and disobeys traffic laws.

Children growing up with alcohol abuse and alcoholism need to understand that the drinking is not their fault; that the drinking causes a lot of confusion and fighting and anger in a family; that it’s important to find someone they can talk to to help them sort out their feelings, explain the disease of alcoholism and help them with what they can do.

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