Marriage & Family
The Impact on Children of Alcoholic Parents
The significant and detrimental impact on family life and child development caused by parental alcohol use cannot be underestimated, often putting children in danger. Alcohol use and disorders are a major public health problem. Alcohol abuse in poor and deprived communities is particularly deleterious as the scarce financial resources of the family needed for food, health care, and education are diverted to alcohol. (Pinto, Violet) It rarely exists in isolation as a problem and is commonly intertwined with mental health, bereavement, family breakdown or domestic violence. Children are impacted in a number of different ways: parental alcoholism affects them financially; it affects their home environment; they may be exposed to unsuitable care and care givers or inadequate supervision, poor role models and inappropriate behavior; and their physical/emotional development and school attendance can suffer. Many children whose parents drink at a significant level can often find themselves having to take on the role of care giver, both for their siblings and their parents. Approximately 5-10% of the country's population suffers from DSM-IV alcohol abuse, and this figure appears to be growing. Alcohol use problems affect spouses and children, unfortunately, in addition to the heavy substance users themselves. A recent study estimated that one in four American children have a parent who meets criteria for DSM-IV alcohol abuse. (Brennan, Patricia) It is important to understand the feelings a parent will be experiencing in relation to their alcohol use and to recognize that just because a parent may or may not have disclosed that they have an alcohol problem, it does not necessarily mean the problem is not there. In practice, most standard policies and procedures are reactive to the parent admitting they have a problem. Consequently, workers from universal services often focus on gaining evidence and then initiating procedures, which is a difficult balance to strike as workers often have to make social services referrals when disclosures are made. 'If you do not know what the problem is you cannot fix it' is a good place to start. In fact, it is difficult to meaningfully help a parent before they have accepted there is a problem; you cannot force change or engagement. From both sides, this can be difficult to manage as the positivity of a parent's disclosure can be overshadowed by a reaction to the referral to children's social care. Understandably, this can cause a dilemma for the professional and a great deal of anxiety for the parent. “Encouraged by the disinhibiting effects of alcohol, they find it easier to enter the world outside their family borders in search of relief and self-assertion.” (Tomori, Martina) Professionals often worry about immediate safety when a parent has a drinking problem. Because they did not have an example to follow from their childhood and never experienced "normal" family relationships, adult children of alcoholics and addicts may have to guess at what it means to be normal. They sometimes can't tell good role models from bad ones. Some are not comfortable around family because they don't know what to do or how to react. Many adult children of alcoholics or addicts find it difficult to give themselves a break. They do not feel adequate, 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. Because they judge themselves too harshly, some adult children of alcoholics may take themselves very seriously. They can become depressed or anxious because they have never learned how to lighten up on themselves. They can get very angry with themselves when they make a mistake. Many adult children of alcoholics find it difficult to let them have fun. Perhaps because they witnessed so many holidays, vacations and...