Psychology Today states the mental trauma faced by children of alcoholic parents is similar to what combat soldiers experience. The alcoholic family is a nest of chaos, inconsistency, and possible physical and sexual violence. Children raised in this environment grow into adulthood wearing the scars parental alcoholism inflicts.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explains how important structure is to a child's healthy mental development. The child's ability to develop a sense of trust and security is derived from the parenting skills of his or her mother and father. With one or two alcoholic parents, there is no stability in the home and no structure. Dealing with an alcoholic parent is an unhealthy situation for a child. Constant exposure to drinking parents, verbal abuse, neglect, and uncertainty takes a serious toll on a young child mentally and often physically. Children's birthdays are often forgotten in the home of an alcoholic. Having money to purchase alcohol takes priority over gifts for holidays, and sometimes even for the basic necessities. If one or both parents lose their jobs due to drinking, the family may become homeless.
Family member often hide the drinking habits of a loved one. Many families consistently deny there is an alcohol problem, which enables the drinker even more. Efforts to hold a family together through denial are often due to the embarrassment felt by the parents or siblings of the alcoholic. They also may fear the loss of the alcoholic's children to the foster care system. When children ask, "Are my parents alcoholics?" they do not always get a truthful answer. Other adults in the family often try to keep the situation a secret. Unfortunately, this decision enables the drinker, endangers the children, and makes it difficult for the alcoholic to recovery.
Children of alcoholic parents may exhibit certain characteristics both as a child and an adult:
When you hear children ask, "Are my parents alcoholics?" you know the problem is seriously affecting their lives, and help is desperately needed for the whole family. Children of alcoholic parents can go on to develop a drinking problem as early as their teens or later in life as a result of the anxiety in their own lives and their inability to separate past from present. Family therapy as well as individual therapy may be needed for many years in order to heal the emotional wounds suffered from growing up with alcoholic parents. Children need help as early as possible to help them through the days there is no money for school pictures, when their clothes are dirty, when they have no lunch, and those nights there are alone because their parents are out drinking. These types of experiences cut deep wounds into the mind of a child. Getting the whole family into counseling as early as possible is the only hope to lessen the damage that is being done to the children of alcoholic parents.
If you have a loved one that is an alcoholic and has children, you need to step up and make a plea on their behalf. Offer to help with the costs of the therapy, provide transportation, take care of the children while the parent goes through detox, and offer other help that is not enabling to the alcoholic.