Alcoholism is defined as “a chronic and progressive disease” with which the person might have problems controlling their drinking, be preoccupied with drinking, and/or has withdrawal symptoms when they decrease their drinking. This is a widespread problem and having one such person in the family can be a traumatic experience for all concerned. Statistics indicate that about one in five Americans have lived with an alcoholic relative during their lifetime. An alcoholic parent is one who’s “excessive drinking interferes with their health, social, and economic functioning.” Children of alcoholics are perhaps the worst affected and can suffer from severe and lasting psychological trauma. It is also a fact that children of alcoholics are much more likely to become alcoholics as adults.
There are different reasons why a person might turn to alcohol in an unhealthy manner. Some people are simply unable to set a limit on the amount of alcohol they consume and this can spiral out of control over a period of time. Others take to drinking as a diversion from issues, like ill health, financial worries, or work stress. In some instances, genetics or family history might be an underlying cause. It is important to note that a person does not take to drink due to someone else’s behavior. So, blaming oneself for the behavior of a family member will not serve any purpose.
Dealing with an Alcoholic Parent
A survey conducted in 2012 by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) indicates that about 7.5 million children in the U.S. have at least one alcoholic parent. A child who lives with such an alcoholic parent might develop various psychological or emotional disorder issues not to mention being subjected to some kind of neglect or abuse. The child is put in a difficult position mainly because they may not be able to approach their parent and find support. The child is likely to be embroiled in a range of conflicting emotions such as guilt, anxiety, embarrassment, confusion, anger, and depression. In addition, they might be unable to form close relationships, primarily because they no longer trust anyone.
Alcoholism can have an adverse impact on the family and relationships. The family members might choose to pretend that nothing is wrong and repress their fears and resentment. In many instances, people in the family may feel a need to cover up for the alcoholic by lying for that individual or cleaning up that person’s messes. Children can end up feeling frustrated and sad if the parent promises to give up alcohol and then fails to keep this promise. When an adult in the family has a drinking problem it can change the way families function. In some cases, the parent may not be able to hold on to a job and this can be an added burden on older children. Sometimes, these children turn into super responsible, mini adults.
It is important for such families to remember that the decision to give up alcohol cannot be forced upon someone. The road to recovery is a long and arduous one, so it is not realistic to expect an overnight transformation. By making excuses for them one will only be keeping them away from the actual consequences of their actions. Teachers, relatives, and caregivers can play a pivotal role in helping the children and families of alcoholics through educational programs and help groups. The child should be encouraged to speak about life and get a patient hearing. Group therapy with youngsters facing similar issues can do away with the feeling of isolation that is often experienced by children of alcoholics. Al-Anon is a free support group for families of alcoholics, while Alateen is targeted at teenage children of alcoholics.
If you are an alcoholic parent, then the first step is acknowledging that you have a problem. Admitting this to yourself will help you seek the help you need and find support. Only then can you help your child. If you are the non-alcoholic parent in the family, then you need to take steps to safeguard your child’s mental and physical well-being. Consulting a child and adolescent psychiatrist to pinpoint any problems the he or she may have developed as a result of your addiction must be a priority. Getting the child help early on can prevent heartache later on for everyone concerned. It is important to ensure that the child realizes that he or she is not responsible for the parent’s drinking problem.
By Michelle Conway