Alcohol abuse and Children
Updated: Apr 19
Every child deserves to grow up in an environment where they feel safe. Every child deserves parents that are reliable and present in their lives. But unfortunately, not every family functions like this. Alcohol abuse is widespread across the globe and many children suffer because of it. One in five Americans grows up with an alcoholic relative. And an estimate of 3 million children in the UK lives with alcoholic parents. We believe that the number is too high. There are too many children suffering from the side effects of alcohol. Too many children not getting the start in life that they deserve.
An intoxicated adult can be scary. The sudden change in emotion and behavior is what is frightening. The parent does not even need to become angry or violent. A mom or dad who is extra affectionate is also uncomfortable. The abnormal is the unsafe.
It does not have to be a significant amount of alcohol either. Sure, the problems are easy to spot when the alcohol addiction is extreme. However, a parent does not need to drink every day, or a large amount, for the child to feel uneasy.
We talked to a social worker with a long experience working with these types of families. He gave us some insights into the everyday life of these children. "The sound of an opened beer can can be enough to trigger feelings of unease. Many parents deny that their drinking habits have any consequences for their children. But children are constantly aware. As soon as the mom or dad opens the door they know what frame of mind they're in."
So what are the consequences of growing up with an alcoholic parent? There is often a mental impact. It is normal to develop feelings such as uncertainty, anxiety, depression, insecurities and worries.
”He drank everyday after work, like I didn't know.. so he was scary... when he was sober, that was the most scary part, because then I didn't know who he was. Then I didn't know what kind of person he was. ”
Many children feel guilt and shame over their parents relationships with alcohol. However, there is a tendency to hide the problem. The children does not usually like to talk about their home situations or how they truly feel.
”She has no time for me and I'm too embarrassed to bring friends home. What if she is drunk when they meet her... I just want two things. For mom to stop drinking and for her to be like she was when I was younger."
The children often tries to protect their parents when meeting with a social worker. They are scared of the consequences of telling the truth. According to the social worker we spoke to: "It is often the older children that doesn't want to tell us. Younger children can't lie in the same way. Sometimes they are the only ones telling us exactly how it is. It's important to know that we don't want to separate a family. We just want what is best for the children and parents."
"She will drink almost every weekend and hides the bottles from me and dad. […] The worst thing is that I'm so damn mad at her. I think she knows but she doesn't care. If she didn't want me to hate her she would stop drinking. I don't want to end up in an orphanage so I don't want to talk to anyone. P.S I still love my parents."
Children with alcoholic parents often has a negatively impacted school life. A lot of them find it difficult to fit in and the school results are affected. Studies show that children of addicts, on average, have lower grades than others the same age.
Growing up in a situation like this can create problems that will last a lifetime. The foundation to your future adult life is set in your childhood. Mental problems with, for example, anxiety, depression, bad self-esteem, perfectionism, difficulties trusting others and/or a need for validation etc., can make life difficult even as adults.
Another tangible consequence is the increased risk of ending up with an addiction themselves. According to the social worker: "The addiction can be repeated through generations. Someone who was the child in one visit (with a social worker), could a couple of years later be the parent in the same position".
With all this being said, it is important to break the cycle. Every child needs parents that are there for them. That are not when influenced by alcohol: scary, incalculable, shameful and unsafe. A lot of parents do not realize or denies that their relationship with alcohol should have an impact on their relationship with their children. But children notice, understand and feel more than we expect. And a child should not carry these heavy feelings. Every child deserves a safe childhood!
Tip! Check out the music video below. The song is in Swedish but the message is clear enough :)