Living with An Alcoholic Parent

Many people who suffer from alcohol addiction have grown up with a parent who also had issues with alcohol abuse. Perhaps the use of alcohol as a way of coping with problems in life is learned behaviour; perhaps it is a subconscious effect of having seen a parent, someone who is supposed to guide you through life, drinking. Whatever the reason, statistically someone with an alcoholic parent is three times more likely to become addicted to alcohol or drugs themselves.

How Does Living with An Alcoholic Parent Affect Children?

Children of alcoholics can experience many problems during their childhood. Our kids are amazingly resilient, but living with a parent who has an alcohol addiction will inevitably take its toll on them. For some children of alcoholics, they effectively have to care for themselves, often from quite an early age, as their parent is not capable of doing so. Most kids will not realise until they are older that the life they are living is not how life is for most of their friends, simply accepting the situation and coping as best as they can.

These children will often feel that it is their fault that mum or dad is always cross and angry. That the inevitable arguments and fights are their fault. Often, children will be afraid to go home after school because they know what will happen when they get there. Dad or mum will be drinking, and they will be afraid to do or say anything that might set off an argument. Or they will try so hard to prevent their parent from drinking at all – hiding bottles wherever they can. Those who are old enough to understand that their family situation is not the same as everyone else’s will often feel ashamed, and will not want friends to visit their house.

Those who are lucky will still have the other parent to turn to, but no matter how hard the sober parent tries, he or she can never quite make up for the problems the situation causes. Furthermore, in many cases, marriages or partnerships will have broken down due to one partner’s problem with alcohol. This creates a further issue for their kids; time spent with the alcoholic parent can be unsafe due to that parent’s drinking.

How Do Children of Alcoholics Cope?

Children are incredibly good at coping with difficult situations, and they will develop a range of coping mechanisms.

Many, though, will become very quiet when at home for fear of doing anything that could upset their parent and trigger another argument, particularly if that parent becomes physically abusive when drinking. Some may struggle at school and not be able to focus because they are too busy worrying about what might happen when they get home. Others may throw themselves into their studies, using this as a means of escape from what goes on in the house.

Many will develop depression as a result of their unhappiness at home. Some may develop obsessive compulsive disorders as an attempt to control their environment. Just as there is no ‘textbook alcoholic’, there is no one description of the child of an alcoholic. Dealing with their particular situation will vary enormously from child to child.

Unfortunately, but unsurprisingly, many kids do not cope very well with their situation. Compared to children in a ‘normal’ home situation, the child of an alcoholic parent is twice as likely to have problems at school, twice as likely to commit a crime, three times more likely to consider taking their life, five times more likely to end up with an unhealthy relationship with food, and six times more likely to be witness to an incident of domestic violence.

What Help Is Available for Children of Alcoholics?

The National Association for Children of Alcoholics is a charity that provides help and advice to children of alcoholic parents, and they can be contacted via email or telephone.

Here at Sanctuary Lodge, we are also able to provide advice and help to alcoholics or their loved ones, so please, contact us today to ask anything, or for more information.