five adult Americans lived with an alcoholic while growing
up. Child and adolescent psychiatrists know these children
are at greater risk for having emotional problems than children
whose parents are not alcoholics. Alcoholism runs in families,
and children of alcoholics are four times more likely than
other children to become alcoholics. Most children of alcoholics
have experienced some form of neglect or abuse.
child in such a family may have a variety of problems:
child may see himself or herself as the main cause of
the mother's or father's drinking.
child may worry constantly about the situation at home.
He or she may fear the alcoholic parent will become sick
or injured, and may also fear fights and violence between
may give the child the message that there is a terrible
secret at home. The ashamed child does not invite friends
home and is afraid to ask anyone for help.
to have close relationships
the child has been disappointed by the drinking parent
many times, he or she often does not trust others.
alcoholic parent will change suddenly from being loving
to angry, regardless of the child's behavior. A regular
daily schedule, which is very important for a child, does
not exist because bedtimes and mealtimes are constantly
child feels anger at the alcoholic parent for drinking,
and may be angry at the non-alcoholic parent for lack
of support and protection.
child feels lonely and helpless to change the situation.
the child tries to keep the alcoholism a secret, teachers,
relatives, other adults, or friends may sense that something
is wrong. Child and adolescent psychiatrists advise that the
following behaviors may signal a drinking or other problem
in school; truancy
of friends; withdrawal from classmates
behavior, such as stealing or violence
physical complaints, such as headaches or stomachaches
of drugs or alcohol; or
towards other children
or suicidal thoughts or behavior
of alcoholics may act like responsible "parents" within the
family and among friends. They may cope with the alcoholism
by becoming controlled, successful "overachievers" throughout
school, and at the same time be emotionally isolated from
other children and teachers. Their emotional problems may
show only when they become adults.
or not their parents are receiving treatment for alcoholism,
these children and adolescents can benefit from educational
programs and mutual-help groups such as programs for children
of alcoholics, Al-Anon, and Alateen. Early professional help
is also important in preventing more serious problems for
the child, including alcoholism. Child and adolescent psychiatrists
help these children with the child’s own problems, and also
help the child to understand they are not responsible for
the drinking problems of their parents.
program may include group therapy with other youngsters, which
reduces the isolation of being a child of an alcoholic. The
child and adolescent psychiatrist will often work with the
entire family, particularly when the alcoholic parent has
stopped drinking, to help them develop healthier ways of relating
to one another.
information see other Facts for Families: Child Abuse (#5),
The Depressed Child (#4), Teens: Alcohol And Other Drugs (#3),
Tobacco And Kids (#68), Conduct Disorder (#33). Al-Anon Family
Group (800) 356-9996.
#17 Updated 5/99
Family Resources wishes to thank the (AACAP) for giving
us permission to use this article.
American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP)
represents over 6,900 child and adolescent psychiatrists
who are physicians with at least five years of additional
training beyond medical school in general (adult) and child
and adolescent psychiatry.
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