Effects Of Alcoholic Parents On Children And How To Handle

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The addiction to alcohol or any other kind can have devastating effects on the family. If a child is being brought up by alcoholic parents, it might negatively impact their character and behavior in the long run. Parents ought to be role models to their children as they try to emulate them in everything. So what examples of parents enslaved to alcohol will be set for their kids? The pleasures of alcohol are temporary and short-lived, but its effects on the family will be permanent. Keep reading this post as we discuss how to deal with parents that are alcoholics.

Signs Of An Alcoholic Parent

An occasional drink in social situations doesn’t make a person an alcoholic. But if the parent blacks out on the couch while the child is crying out of hunger, then there is a serious problem of alcoholism. Here are a few signs to know if a parent is addicted to alcohol.

  1. The individual cannot stop after a drink and continues to drink until they lose consciousness.
  1. They often do not have control over their actions; they may abuse or shout at their children but do not remember that once the effects of alcohol wear off.
  1. To cover up their addiction, they hide liquor bottles in unusual places such as in the car or the backyard.
  1. When they do not consume alcohol, they show withdrawal symptoms such as nausea, shivering of hands and legs, excessive sweating, and irritation.
  1. They need alcohol, be it to get out of bed early in the morning or to fall asleep at night.
  1. They often face complaints about being drunk at work.
  1. They get annoyed and irritated if someone questions about their drinking.

Parents, who were once responsible and caring towards their children, can turn distant and abusive due to alcoholism. Did you always feel your childhood was not like everyone else’s, or you had to forcefully take up adult responsibilities, which were way above your age? It could be one of the setbacks you had to face due to alcoholism in your parents.

Effects Of Parental Alcoholism On Children

Growing up with parents, who have an alcohol problem, can be traumatic. You might have seen your parent in a miserable state, or you had to look after your younger siblings at a very young age. Such experiences can have some of the below psychological effects (1) (2).

  1. Low-self confidence: Children who are cared for in an encouraging environment tend to feel valued and appreciated. Such kids have self-confidence. But in the case of children who grow up in alcoholic homes, constant exposure to abuse and ridicule makes them blame themselves for the behavior of their parents. Negative thoughts break their self-confidence.
  1. A constant need for approval: This is the consequence of low self-confidence. Children who are subjected to abuse and criticism need constant approval from others. They become people-pleasers and are highly sensitive towards criticism.
  1. Trust Issues: Lying, breaking promises, and withholding love are common with alcoholic parents. Children, who could not trust their parents, tend to develop serious trust issues as they grow up. For example, when a child is left at daycare until late in the night because their parent is drunk at a bar, then that child may not be able to trust anyone.
  1. Anxiety: The behavior of the parent is unpredictable. They easily move from being loving and caring to be abusive. Hence children would always feel anxious as they need to be on high alert anticipating danger.
  1. Anger: When subjected to constant abuse and neglect, children would not know why their life is not like everyone else’s. They would always crave for love and affection from their parents, and when that is denied, they develop a sense of hatred and anger towards the parents as well as the society.
  1. Forced to become adults: When the adults of the house are not fulfilling their duties, then the children would be forced to step up. It could be taking care of the alcoholic parents or the neglected siblings, children are forced to grow up and take responsibilities which are way above their age. Such children are deprived of their childhood rights.
  1. Embarrassment: Usually, children keep alcohol addiction of their parents a secret, fearing ridicule and judgment by others. The child would be cautious talking about the parent. Some would even create a false story around their parents. In such cases, the child would feel totally embarrassed when their carefully maintained secret comes out in the open among their friends or in school.

Parental alcoholism has long-lasting effects and they get carried into the child’s adulthood.

Effects Of Parental Alcoholism In Adult Life

The negative emotions and false beliefs imprinted in the younger age influence their adult lives as well. Here is how some children could carry the burden even after they grow up.

  1. Difficulty in getting into and maintaining relationships: Trust issues and low-self esteem could make it difficult for some to get close to people. Such behavior could cause troubles in their romantic and other interpersonal relationships.
  1. Disruptive behavior: The neglect and abuse at a young age may cause them to develop hatred towards the world. Also, the lack of care and attention could make them aggressive. Growing up with such negative emotions could result in traits like sensation-seeking, aggressiveness, and violent behavior in some individuals ( (3)). Some may even resort to antisocial and illegal activities.
  1. Substance abuse: The children of alcoholics (COAs) aremore likely to become alcoholic than the children of non-alcoholics (4). It could be because they grow up in an environment where alcoholism is an everyday affair. Some COAs may also see alcohol or drugs as a way to cope with the troubles in their life.
  1. Obsession with perfection: Children of alcoholic parents either strive to become super perfectionists or quite the opposite. Having exposed to harsh criticism and abuse at a tender age, they could develop a strong desire to be perfect all the time (probably fearing criticism).

It is not necessary for all the COAs to have these problems neither are these problems unique to COAs. Children of non-alcoholic parents could also face these issues due to some other childhood reasons or pressures in life.

How To Deal With An Alcoholic Parent

Your childhood might not have been pleasant but as a grown-up, you might want to bring in a change in your life. Here are a few ways you can deal with an alcoholic parent.

  1. Hate the sin and not the sinner: Your parent must have resorted to excessive drinking due to some problems such as a failed relationship or financial burdens. Try to remember the beautiful moments with your parent when they were sober; this will reduce your negative feelings towards them. However, draw boundaries so that you do not go out of your way to please your parent.
  1. Stay away when your parent is drunk: You may love your parent and want to help them but it is good to stay away from them when they are drunk. A person who is high on alcohol may not be aware of what they say or do.
  1. Stop blaming yourself: It is your parent’s responsibility to take care of you, but when they fail to do so, do not see it as your mistake. Do not blame yourself or carry the burden of fixing them. While it is good to help them turn sober, always being there for them and rescuing them from trouble might make them more dependent on you.
  1. Be open about your feelings: Have an open conversation with your parent. Do not criticize but tell them how much you love them, point out the difference when they are drunk and when they are not. While showing genuine concern push them to seek professional help or go to a rehab center. But you might face denial, ridicule, and backlash. Therefore, decide if you are ready to face such negativity.
  1. Create a support system: You would need enormous emotional strength to deal with an alcoholic parent. Therefore, have a trusted support group with whom you can share your feelings and fears. You can also seek professional help from a counsellor or psychotherapist.
  1. Do not ruin your life: Your parent might be reluctant to change or seek professional help in spite of all your efforts. But do not let that affect your life. Focus on your health, education, career, and happiness. Do not let their darkness engulf you; strive towards a better future.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Do alcoholics have empathy?

According to a study, alcohol use disorder (AUD) leads to reduced feelings of empathy in men (5).

2. What specific behavior in alcoholic parents leads to adolescent substance use?

Lack of responsiveness, warmth, and demandingness in parents dealing with alcoholism can force children to resort to substance use (6). Also, overindulgence, restricting children from expressing their emotions, and not keeping a tab on their activities can result in drug use in adolescents.

Alcoholic parents can have a negative impact on their children’s development, education, and childhood. The effects may linger for years, affecting their self-confidence, leading to trust issues, and may also cause anxiety and depression. These challenges may have an impact on their relationship as well as their professional life. Unfortunately, these children may also fall prey to substance abuse or other addictions. If you’re an adult who still has nightmares about growing up with alcoholic parents, do not hesitate to talk to a mental healthcare professional.

Key Pointers

  • Having alcoholic parents can make your life stressful growing up.
  • Drinking excessively and abusing or shouting at family members are serious signs of alcoholism.
  • Anxiety and low self-confidence are common among children who grew up in such a household.
  • Being open about your feelings, having a support system or group, and a few more tips to deal with alcoholic parents as you scroll through.


MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
1. Anne Werner and Kirsti Malterud; Children of parents with alcohol problems performing normality: A qualitative interview study about unmet needs for professional support; International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Health and Well-being
2. Randi Burns; The effects of parental alcoholism on child development; University of Northern Iowa, UNI ScholarWorks
3. Kenneth J. Sher, Ph.D.; Psychological characteristics of children of alcoholics; Alcohol Health & Research World.
4. Wendy Reich, Ph.D.; Prospective studies of children of alcoholic parents
5. Anne-Pascale Le Berre; Emotional Processing and Social Cognition in Alcohol Use Disorder; National Library of Science (2019)
6. J Berge et al.; (2016); Role of parenting styles in adolescent substance use: results from a Swedish longitudinal cohort study; National Library of Science (2016)
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sanjana lagudu

Sanjana did her graduation in Pharmacy from Andhra University and post graduation in management from GITAM Institute of Management. It was during her first job, she recognized her skills in writing and began working as a freelance writer. Later, she completely moved into content writing and began working as a full-time content writer. Sanjana's articles in MomJunction cover topics related to... more

Scott Kouri

Scott Kouri runs a private practice in Victoria, B.C. He provides his clients with a personal space to talk and share what’s on their minds. He helps them self-discover, change themselves, and grow in their space.  Scott provides general and addictive behavior counseling, CBT for anxiety and depression, among others. The early counseling sessions focus on reducing negative symptoms and... more