What Are the Effects of an Alcoholic Father on Children?

Alcoholism is a destructive disease.

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, approximately 18 million people in the United States suffer from some kind of alcohol use disorder. This includes anyone whose drinking causes any kind of harm or distress, though not all of these people are considered to be alcoholics. Someone suffering from alcoholism can experience strong cravings for the substance, the inability to stop drinking once they start, a physical reliance on alcohol, and other symptoms. While alcohol abuse can have serious health ramifications for the abuser, including damage to the liver and brain, as well as increased risk for injuries and suicide, not all of the effects of alcohol abuse are felt by the individual struggling with alcoholism.

Often, the effects of their disease are felt most strongly by those closest to the person, namely their children. A child is incredibly susceptible to parental influence and neglect. As a result, growing up with an alcoholic parent can have serious consequences in both the short-term and the long-term.

Having an alcoholic father can have a significant impact on a child, putting them at risk for a multitude of problems during childhood and into adulthood. It is important to promptly identify these situations and take proper steps to ensure the damage done to a child is stopped and future risk is mitigated.

Issues Related to Alcoholic Parents

emotional stressAccording to Psych Central, approximately 28 million children have an alcoholic parent, and children who grow up with an alcoholic parent run a higher risk of becoming alcoholics themselves. This is attributed to the role of genetics and environment in the development of an addiction to alcohol.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), genetics account for roughly half of a person’s risk for developing an alcohol use disorder. However, more than half of the children of alcoholics don’t struggle with the disease, so having an alcoholic father or mother isn’t a sure sign that the child will struggle with addiction later in life.

The environment in which a child grows up can have a serious effect on their risk for alcohol issues in adulthood. Most simply, exposure to alcohol on a regular basis seems to increase a child’s risk for future alcohol abuse. Depression or other physiological difficulties experienced by a parent in the throes of alcoholism can also increase the likelihood of the child experiencing problems with the substance later in life. Alcoholism leading to aggressive behavior or violence can have a similar effect as well.

Alcoholism in the family home can have a significant impact on the most basic operations of the family. Families dealing with alcoholism have been shown to experience problems, such as:

  • Lack of communication
  • Little to no structure in the home
  • Increased conflict
  • Subpar parenting
  • Isolation from the community
  • Financial issues

How Living with an Alcoholic Father Affects a Child’s Daily Life

alcohol and suicide risk Living with an alcoholic father can change a child’s day-to-day life quite a bit, according to Very Well. The idea of “normal life” becomes somewhat abstract, leaving the child guessing what normal life should be like since they often don’t experience it directly. Their ability to enjoy things also tends to be diminished, which is a truly sad factor when it comes to children.

Trust issues often arise in the children of alcoholic parents. Their experience with broken promises and their parent consistently falling short chip away at their ability to trust in the way a well-adjusted child would. This can also lead to trouble developing meaningful and intimate relationships as well as abandonment issues. Trauma in childhood also makes it more likely that the person will go on to develop issues with substance abuse, intimacy, and other mental health problems later in life.

Children of alcoholic fathers also have the tendency to feel like they are different from most children, and this has an alienating effect. They may lie to cover up for their fathers’ behavior, often feeling embarrassed at admitting the truth about what’s going on at home.

Due to a lack of attention from their own fathers, they may seek out attention and approval from other adults.

Even though these children have likely been greatly hurt by the actions of their alcoholic fathers, they often have an innate desire to protect them. As a result, a kind of role reversal often takes place in the relationship between an alcoholic father and their child, with the child “parenting” the father. The child may clean up messes made while the father was drunk or apologize for the father’s actions if he acts poorly in public due to being intoxicated. As a result, the child is often robbed of the traditional protection of a parent.
According to NIAAA, the child of an alcoholic may be more likely to experience some form of abuse in the home, though some studies have found this to be inconclusive. Susceptibility to physical and sexual abuse may be associated with having an alcoholic parent, but the strength of this correlation remains unclear. However, being abused as a child can put a person at a greater risk to experience alcohol problems in the future.

While many behavioral issues may be present in school-aged children of alcoholics, as these children become adults, they remain at a higher risk for various problems. Emotional and behavior issues later in life are common for those who grew up dealing with the alcoholism of a father or mother. According to Adult Children of Alcoholics, some effects that can be experienced down the road include:

  • Isolation
  • Fear of authority
  • Loss of identity
  • Compulsive personality
  • Fear of anger
  • Emotional confusion
  • Fear of abandonment
While it’s clear that the child of an alcoholic parent is at a greater risk to develop some kind of alcohol problem, there are ways to mitigate this risk. Avoiding underage drinking is a big first step in preventing the development of alcoholism down the road. Not only is it illegal, but drinking at an early age has been shown to correlate with alcohol issues later in life.

As one becomes an adult, it is important to keep the consumption of alcohol to a moderate level. Maintaining responsible drinking habits can be a challenge for the children of alcoholics, as their genetic and environmental influences could become impediments in controlling daily intake. It is recommended that females drink no more than one alcoholic beverage per day and males drink no more than two alcoholic beverages per day. Moderate drinking is crucial for someone who is already at a higher risk for alcohol abuse.

Should one have a concern about their drinking habits or their risk for alcoholism, it is always wise to consult a professional on the matter. Doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals can direct a person to specialists, groups, and organizations that can best suit their needs.

If an adult knows that a child is suffering due to their parent’s alcohol abuse, it’s imperative that prompt action is taken. The parent needs professional help in order to get well, and the child needs to be protected. There are various community resources that can help, and oftentimes, it may be necessary to stage an intervention to prompt the father or mother to accept the need for help. Generally, children should not be present at the intervention in the interest of their safety and mental health.

If a child is growing up with an alcoholic parent, the deck is not necessarily stacked against them. They do have a greater risk of developing problems with alcohol abuse, but that does not mean that their fate it out of their hands. There are plenty of resources available to ensure that someone avoids the same mistakes their parent may have made.

Full recovery for an alcoholic parent is the ideal result. While the recovery process can be long and trying, maintaining focus on the child’s needs can be an inspiring factor for the adult. While a person has to find their own personal motivation for recovery and can’t build their foundation for recovery on another person, the goal of being a better parent can be hugely motivating. Therapy is an essential tool, especially in determining what steps need to be taken to improve a situation. Every family dynamic is different, and a therapist can determine the best way to approach the issue with the parent who is struggling and how to begin the process of repairing relationships that were damaged due to active addiction. Depending on the ages of the children involved, certain types of therapists may be more appropriate, such as those with experience treating young children or teens.

Small education and therapy groups have proven to be effective tools for children dealing with an alcoholic father or mother. The opportunity to relate to peers struggling with the same issue can be valuable, especially in understanding the situation. It’s incredibly important that the child understands that they are not the cause of their father’s drinking, as many assume some level of responsibility.

If there is another parental figure in the picture who is sober, that parent can serve as a strong foundation of support for the child. As the child deals with the repercussions of their alcoholic father, they can benefit from an established routine in other areas of life. Knowing that they can rely on consistency from other adult figures can help them to feel safe and protected as they process issues related to their father’s alcoholism.

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