Instead of solely measuring the impact of alcoholism on work productivity and its role in highway fatalities, recent studies now focus on how alcoholism affects the family, particularly the children of alcoholics. Numerous studies have examined the heredity aspect of alcoholism and found that alcoholics tend to have more biological relatives with alcohol issues than nonalcoholics.
Moreover, individuals who grow up with parents who have alcohol addiction are more likely to develop alcoholism at a younger age and face more severe repercussions. In the US, around twenty million children under eighteen years old live in households where one or both parents struggle with alcoholism. These children become involuntary casualties of a disease that significantly impacts their childhoods and subsequently shapes their behavior and personality as adults. As Merikangas (p.199) states, due to the hereditary nature of this condition, children are highly vulnerable to its onset.
Unless the patterns established during childhood are disrupted, a significant proportion (between 50%-60%) of individuals who do not develop alcohol dependence themselves will end up marrying someone with alcohol dependence when they reach adulthood, thus continuing the cycle of abuse and depression. According to Wilks & Callan (p.326), studies on the development of drinking behavior acknowledge the importance of socially acceptable norms regarding alcohol use, as well as the influence of parental behaviors and attitudes in determining drinking patterns. Furthermore, Merikangas (p.199) notes that there is a frequent observation of depression, alcoholism, and antisocial personality clustering within families.
Alcoholism is a disease marked by denial, which often causes those affected to ignore its effects. People with a family history of alcoholism usually have more noticeable symptoms and encounter more social difficulties than those without such a background. In these situations, parents tend to minimize the seriousness and lasting nature of their alcoholic symptoms when talking about it with their children.
Many alcoholics sincerely think that their alcoholism is concealed. The situation becomes more complex because “problem drinking is partially influenced by viewing oneself as inadequate and seeing alcohol as a way to change one’s self-perception.” As a result, the offspring of alcoholic individuals face numerous challenges. Firstly, these children witness their parents consuming excessive amounts of alcohol while simultaneously denying this reality.
Additionally, the child notices that the personality of their parent[s] undergoes significant changes after consuming alcohol. This confuses the child even more, causing them to question who their “real” parent is from their perspective. To deal with this family dynamic, children of alcoholic parents often learn to participate in the “conspiracy” of denial and silence.
Although the secrecy pattern enabling this has consequences for the child’s future, the direct and enduring effects on children from households with an alcoholic parent are significant. These children exhibit a higher rate of voluntary school dropouts compared to any other group studied thus far in terms of schooling duration.
Research indicates that male children of parents who struggle with alcoholism have been disproportionately affected. They have encountered more school suspensions and exhibited lower academic and social performance compared to their peers. Additionally, they have demonstrated a higher tendency for engaging in antisocial behavior prior to entering the military. Furthermore, these individuals face an elevated likelihood of developing alcohol and substance abuse issues themselves later in life. Consequently, this not only gives rise to emotional problems but also places them at an increased risk of physical health complications. These challenges can encompass difficulties in establishing enduring relationships and grappling with reality, all stemming from their early upbringing within their family environment. Ultimately, the childhoods of children raised by alcoholic parents are frequently curtailed in multiple ways.
Children growing up with alcoholic parents frequently acquire strategies for managing their emotions in order to prevent upsetting their parent or being held responsible for their drinking habits. The child’s interactions and reactions are often shaped by the erratic conduct of the alcoholic parent, resulting in an ongoing struggle for the entire family to handle the repercussions of alcohol addiction. Consequently, children develop coping mechanisms that may endure into adulthood and manifest themselves through diverse behaviors. It may take numerous years, potentially even spanning a decade or two, to differentiate between behavioral problems arising from alcoholism and those associated with adapting to difficult circumstances.
Even as adults, these individuals frequently struggle with self-assurance regarding their thoughts and emotions, often imitating their parents by dismissing any problems. It is common for adult children of alcoholics to lack confidence in both self-management and relationships. Recent research indicates that having alcoholic parents substantially increases the likelihood of children developing antisocial personality-conduct disorder (Merikangas p.203).
As children, they experienced concurrent turmoil and confusion in their lives, causing them to believe that displaying typical emotions such as anger or joy indicates a lack of control. Their childhood coping mechanisms allow them to maintain a facade of normalcy as adults, but crises typically arise in their late twenties. They often fail to connect these issues with the fact that they grew up with an alcoholic parent.
Individuals may experience depression without understanding its cause, leading to feelings of unhappiness and discontent. They struggle to comprehend what constitutes normal behavior and are unaware of their capacity to alter this situation. The reason for this lack of awareness lies with their parents, who were expected to assume responsibility for them during childhood but failed to fulfill that role.
The adult child of an alcoholic faces challenges in recognizing their needs and expressing emotions, along with significant worries about appropriate reactions and social conduct. Ultimately, alcoholism is a severe disease that should not be underestimated. It is a lawful indulgence that, when utilized or misused, can lead to long-lasting harm. Alcoholism impacts numerous individuals and their families.
- Cutter, Henry S. & T.J. O’Farrel. “Relationship Between Reasons for Drinking & Customary Behavior.” Journal of Studies on Alcohol, Volume 45, #4, July 1992, pp. 321-325.
- Jones-Saumty, Deborah, “Psychological Factors of familial Alcoholism in American Indians & Caucasians.” Journal of Clinical Psychology, Volume 39, #5 September 1989, pp.783-790.
- Merikangas, Kathleen R., “Depressives with Secondary Alcoholism: Psychiatric Disorders in Offspring.” Journal of Studies on Alcohol, Volume 46, #3 May 1994, pp. 193-204.
- Wilks, Jeffery & V.J. Callan, “Similarity of University Students & Their Parents’ Attitudes Toward Alcohol.” Journal of Studies on Alcohol, Volume 45, #4 July 1997, pp.326-333.