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What are the Effects of an Alcoholic Mother on Children

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  • Effects During Childhood
  • Risks in Adulthood
  • Treatment Options

What are the Effects of an Alcoholic Mother on ChildrenChildren Growing Up in Households with Alcoholism

Alcoholism in the household can have serious effects on all members of the family, especially children. Unfortunately, this is a common situation among many children in the United States.

Findings from National Surveys on Drug Use and Health show that more than 7.5 million children live with an alcoholic parent (over 10% of all children), and almost one in five adults grew up in an alcoholic family.1

Effects During Childhood

Children of alcoholic mothers grow up in chaotic environments and endure significant tension and stress.2 This can lead to mental and behavioral problems over time.3 A recent study found that depression and anxiety were significantly more common in children of alcoholics than in children of non-alcoholics.4 According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, a child being raised by an alcoholic parent will have a variety of conflicting emotions that can lead to future problems.5 Some of the emotions affected by an alcoholic mother include:

  • Guilt – The child may feel that they are the main cause of their mother’s drinking.
  • Anxiety – The child is constantly worried about their situation at home. They may fear sickness or injury of their alcoholic mother. They may also fear altercations and physical violence between their parents.
  • Embarrassment – The child of an alcoholic mother often has the burden of living with a certain degree of secrecy. They do not invite friends to their home out of fear of being embarrassed by their drunk mother.
  • Confusion – The child’s life will often lack routine, which is an integral part of a child’s development. Bedtimes and mealtimes constantly change, and a regular daily schedule does not exist. An alcoholic mother can abruptly change from being loving to angry, regardless of the child’s behavior.
  • Anger – The child will be angry at their alcoholic mother for always drinking, and they may be angry at the non-alcoholic parent for not providing support and protection.
  • Depression – The child of an alcoholic mother will often feel lonely and helpless.

Children who grow up in homes with an alcoholic mother are also more likely to experience episodes of trauma, neglect, or physical abuse.6 A childhood with an alcoholic mother can be filled with chaos, uncertainty, and sometimes even violence. Studies have shown that the rates of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are higher among children living with alcoholic parents compared to peers who did not grow up in an alcoholic home.7 These children do not just suffer while living with an alcoholic parent, as they will carry this trauma throughout the rest of their lives.

Risks in Adulthood

Adult children of alcoholics are more likely to suffer from substance abuse and are at significant risk for developing problems associated with addiction.8-9 These individuals also exhibit higher rates of antisocial personality traits compared to the general population. Consequently, children of alcoholics have difficulties forming close relationships in adulthood.10 There are support organizations in place specifically for Adult Children of Alcoholics that can help those who may be struggling cope with any issues they experience from their childhood.

Treatment Options

Growing up with an alcoholic mother is traumatic and can lead to many negative long-term issues. If you or someone you love is struggling with problems related to being the child of an alcoholic mother, it is important to seek help from a trained professional.

If you are battling addiction and a psychiatric condition stemming from your childhood trauma, please know that there is help available. You can choose from either inpatient or outpatient treatment programs, depending on the severity of your substance abuse.

For more serious addictions, an inpatient program at a rehab center specializing in the treatment of dual-diagnoses (patients with both mental health and substance abuse disorder) may be the safest way to address both issues.


  1. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2012). More than 7 Million Children Live with a Parent with Alcohol Problems.
  2. Nodar, M. (2012). Chaotic environments and adult children of alcoholics. Professional Counselor, 2(1), 43-47.
  3. Raitasalo, K., Holmila, M., Jääskeläinen, M., & Santalahti, P. (2019). The effect of the severity of parental alcohol abuse on mental and behavioural disorders in children. European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 28(7), 913-922.
  4. Mansharamani, H., Patil, P.S., Behere, P.B., Mansharamani, D., & Nagdive, A. (2018). Psychiatric morbidity in children of alcoholic parents. Industrial Psychiatry Journal, 27(2), 226-230.
  5. American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. (2019). Alcohol Use in Families.
  6. Dube, S.R., Anda, R.F., Felitti, V.J., Croft, J.B., Edwards, V.J., & Giles, W.H. (2001). Growing up with parental alcohol abuse: Exposure to childhood abuse, neglect, and household dysfunction. Child Abuse & Neglect, 25(12), 1627-1640.
  7. Hall, C. W., & Webster, R. E. (2002). Traumatic symptomatology characteristics of adult children of alcoholics. Journal of Drug Education, 32(3), 195-211.
  8. Stone, A.L., Becker, L.G., Huber, A.M., & Catalano, R.F. (2012). Review of risk and protective factors of substance use and problem use in emerging adulthood. Addictive Behaviors, 37(7), 747-775.
  9. Cranford JA1, Zucker RA, Jester JM, Puttler LI, Fitzgerald HE. (2018). Parental alcohol involvement and adolescent alcohol expectancies predict alcohol involvement in male adolescents. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 24(3), 386-396.
  10. Kearns-Bodkin, J.N., & Leonard, K.E. (2018). Relationship functioning among adult children of alcoholics. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 69(6), 941-950.
Last Updated on October 23, 2019
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