Alcohol is one of the most commonly abused substances in the United States. Although alcoholism can severely impact a person’s physical, mental, and emotional health, its reach spans beyond the person who struggles with it. In addition to its debilitating effect on a person’s individual health, it has the ability to hurt a person financially, socially, and professionally. Its damaging side effects are not limited to just one person. In fact, those closest to a person with alcoholism often are hurt by its effects as well, especially children.

Alcoholism causes a slew of issues to emerge and children can be particularly susceptible to them. In some cases, alcoholism can cause a child to be on the receiving end of physical or mental abuse, but even if that is not the situation, many children struggle with feelings of being insignificant, unloved, or unwanted. Children of alcoholics must simultaneously learn to step into an adult role, which can lead to resentment and anger, while also constantly stressing or worrying over what is going to happen.

Dealing with alcoholism as a child is overwhelming and unfair, but there are resources available to help you identify the problem and work through it. There are a variety of outpatient programs as well as residential programs that could provide the help that your parent needs. While your parent may not be receptive, or you may feel fear in bringing it to their attention, expressing your concerns often comes with more benefits than repercussions; however, if there is any inkling that violence may be the result of your conversation, ask for help when approaching this situation and never do it alone.

Identifying Alcoholism in Your Parent

Because overconsumption of alcohol has become some normalized in pop culture, you may not be sure whether or not specific behaviors indicate a problem is occurring. This can be confusing for multiple reasons. It can send mixed messages about what your relationship with your parent is; it can make it difficult to distinguish between “good” and “bad” decisions, and it can make it difficult to know what behaviors and interactions are appropriate or healthy. You may have difficulty trusting your parents because history has taught you not to and you may struggle with judging yourself because of your parent’s actions. All of these factors can make it difficult to trust your instincts and take action.

Alcoholism shows itself in different ways. Some who struggle with alcoholism are considered “high-functioning” and exhibit very few symptoms. Others will commonly exhibit numerous symptoms. These may include:

  • Blackouts
  • Mood swings
  • Prioritizing alcohol over other responsibilities
  • Drinking alone
  • Increased isolation from friends and family
  • Changes in appearance
  • Making excuses for drinking or actions taken while under the influence
  • Experiencing difficulty at work
  • Increased financial strain
  • Frequent hangovers

The Long-Term Impact of Alcoholism on Children

Alcoholism can have a profound impact on a child’s future. Not only does it impact the way they view themselves and the world around them, it can have a devastating effect on their ability to form meaningful relationships with others and develop trust. Many children struggle with several of the following:

  • Trusting others: Alcoholism is often accompanied by deception. Keeping secrets, lying about activities, and broken promises can make it difficult to believe others. You may struggle with feeling like things will always fall through or backfire.
  • Questioning yourself: It is difficult to not compare your upbringing to others as a child. Alcoholism can negatively impact your relationship with your parent and affect the way you view yourself. You may not feel worthy of love, have low self-esteem, or feel inadequate to others. This can make a person avoid social situations, have trouble establishing meaningful relationships, or become more isolated.
  • Constantly needing approval: When you question yourself and judge yourself too harshly, you often seek validation from others. This can cause you to become heavily invested in how others view or treat you. You may fear criticism and be unable to cope with people being unhappy with you.
  • Fear of abandonment: Children of alcoholics are more likely to end up in toxic relationships because their view of what is “normal” has been skewed. If their parent was not around a lot or emotionally unavailable, a child can struggle with abandonment issues. They may cling to people who are not good for them just to avoid being alone.
  • Exhibiting extremes: It is not uncommon for children of alcoholics to exhibit extreme behaviors. An alcoholic parent may put a child in a situation where they must step up and take on an authority role. As a result, they may become perfectionists, overachievers, and workaholics as a response to their upbringing. On the other hand, a child of an alcoholic may exhibit extremely negative behaviors either lashing out in response to their experiences or exhibiting behaviors they observed.

Children of Alcoholics: How to Talk to Your Parent

It is important to remember going into this conversation that you cannot make someone change unless they are ready to. Your parent may not recognize there is a problem, they may refuse help, and they may continue to engage in dangerous behaviors. The only thing you can do is bring it to their attention, express your concern, and hope they will understand.

Starting this conversation can be incredibly difficult and it is important to prepare before moving forward. If you are concerned about your safety, make sure you have someone with you.

  • Your goal should be to express your concern to them. You may not be able to convince them there is a problem, but sharing how it makes you feel can be impactful.
  • Make sure your parent is sober before starting this conversation. Everyone in the conversation should be sober and have a clear mind.
  • Always use “I” statements. Express your observations and your feelings.
  • Have examples ready to share of specific situations or behaviors you have observed that are concerning.
  • Do not allow the conversation to become derailed or side-tracked by other topics.
  • Use open-ended questions to encourage a dialogue.
  • If your parent does not believe a problem exists, suggest talking to them again in the near future.

Ways to Cope

While you do not have any control over what your parent chooses to do, there are actions you can take to help yourself. Consider any of the following:

  • Ask for help: Seek the help of another adult. You may feel as though you are betraying your parent by revealing the problem, but the situation cannot improve if you cover for them. Asking for help allows you to take care of yourself and ensure your needs are met.
  • Inform yourself: It is important to not take responsibility for your parent’s drinking problem. Educate yourself about the nature of alcoholism in order to gain a new perspective. This can help you disassociate yourself from the situation and remove feelings of responsibility you may struggle with.
  • Learn healthy coping mechanisms: It can be easy to follow in your parent’s footsteps or to try to lash out in the opposite direction. Instead, try to find healthy outlets when you are feeling stressed, anxious, or overwhelmed. Throw yourself into activities that bring you joy and help you make positive decisions for yourself.
  • Acknowledge your feelings: It is okay to feel angry, sad, or confused about your parent’s alcoholism. Express yourself and process those feelings. Burying or ignoring them will only worsen the problem.
  • Break the cycle: While having an alcoholic parent does not mean you will develop alcoholism, it does put you at a higher risk. Studies show that alcoholism has a genetic component that can make children predisposed to developing the addiction themselves. Coupled with environmental experiences, alcoholism is a real risk for children of addicts. Find support in others who do not pressure you to drink and understand your experiences. Do not allow yourself to fall into the same cycle.

If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, we are here to help. Give us a call at 888.855.6877 or send us a message below and one of our admissions counselors will do their best to get you the help you need.


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