Alcoholism affects an estimated 76 million adults in the United States according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. This amounts to one out of every four families affected by alcoholism and its effects. Chronic alcoholism, in particular, can have a devastating impact on children, both now and in the future. As addicted parents carry out the destructive behaviors that accompany alcoholism, they nonetheless remain the primary role models for their children.
Alcoholism has long been classified as a disease that affects individuals physically and psychologically. It’s also known as a family disease that easily crosses generational lines. Like everyone else in the general population, people who suffer from chronic alcoholism have children, teenagers, sisters, brothers, wives and/or husbands living in the same home. Sincechronic alcoholism is a lifestyle all its own, it’s inevitable that anyone else living in the home will be affected in one way or another. With children living out their formative years under the care of their parents, the destructive behaviors that drive chronic alcoholism in a parent play a tremendous role in the conditioning of a child. From these experiences, children develop their sense of identity, self esteem and ability to relate with others.
Direct Effects of Chronic Alcoholism on Children
Much like the way children take on the blame for a parent’s divorce, children of addicted parents oftentimes feel responsible for a parent’s addiction. This is especially true in cases where a child may actually be taking care of parent or covering up for a parent’s behavior. Add to this the overall state of instability that’s characteristic of chronic alcoholism and children can quickly develop a range of destructive coping skills that ultimately warp their sense of self. The types of symptoms a child may exhibit under the care of an addicted parent include:
- Feelings of helplessness
- Low self-esteem
Problems at School
The instability children of addicted parents experience at home naturally transfers over into the school setting. The behaviors observed in addicted parents, such as lying, fighting and shirking responsibilities become the behaviors children model. This accounts for why children of addicted parents are more likely to get in fights, be truant on a regular basis and eventually drop out of school altogether. The more direct effects of chronic alcoholism on a child’s school performance also result from the overall instability in the home. These conditions make it difficult for children to study and leave them with a limited ability to communicate and interact with peers and teachers.
Ultimately, growing up in a home affected by chronic alcoholism robs children of their innocence and their childhoods. Early childhood conditioning creates deep-rooted behavior patterns that shape the adult regardless of the type of parents. When chronic alcoholism is an issue, this creates what’s known as the “adult child of an alcoholic.” According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, when left untreated, the adult child is more likely to experience problems with depression, impulsive behavior and/or aggression. Major trust issues become another concern in adulthood as the child has learned not to trust the people closest to him or her. This, in turn, affects the adult’s ability to interact with others and leaves him or her with a poorly developed self-image. Not surprisingly, adult children of alcoholics are that much more likely to suffer from chronic alcoholism themselves or marry someone with addiction problems.