Addiction in the Family: Effects of an Alcoholic Father or Mother

Last Updated on August 24, 2023

child with alcoholic parents In 2017, about 20 million people ages 12 or over had a substance use disorder in the past year and nearly 15 million of these people struggle with alcohol use disorder.1 While addiction takes a heavy toll on the user, leading to serious physical and psychological problems, substance abuse can be just as hard on the loved ones of addicted individuals.

Children of alcoholics often experience severe emotional and psychological distress as a result of a parent’s alcohol abuse, and in some cases, they may also suffer physical harm. The effects of having an alcoholic father or mother are far-reaching, but there are resources for family members of alcoholics that may help reduce the harm and risk for addiction in the future.

Alcohol Abuse in the Home

While responsible alcohol consumption in the home can be a healthy example for children, alcohol abuse in the home has many negative side effects.

Having an alcoholic father or mother at home can affect day-to-day family life in several ways. A parent struggling with alcoholism may disappear for days at a time, leaving children to fend for themselves. In instances like this, children may cope with their parent’s alcoholism in unhealthy ways. For example, an older child may take on the role of parenting and care for younger children in the parent’s absence. This could also put additional strain on the spouse of the alcoholic parent, who is left to work, care for children, and maintain the household duties on their own.

An alcoholic father or mother may also have trouble paying the bills, mistreat, abuse, or neglect their children, drive drunk or high, or get into legal trouble. As a result, parents may split up or get a divorce or friends and loved ones may have to step in to help.2 This lack of security and stability at home can have negative effects on children in the home, including social problems, issues at school, or psychological disorders later in life.

Children of Alcoholics: Effects of Living With an Alcoholic Father or Mother

According to one study, more than 10 percent of children live with an alcoholic parent at home.3 Although many alcoholics may believe their drinking habits won’t affect anyone else, children of alcoholic fathers and mothers are some of the most affected. Sometimes these effects can even go on to impact the children’s lives as young adults and mature adults.

There are many different effects of living with an alcoholic father or mother at home, but these are some of the most common.4

  1. Normalization of alcohol abuse. When children grow up in an environment where alcohol abuse is common and accepted, they may understand this behavior to be normal. This can lead to internal conflict and confusion when they realize alcohol abuse should not be a normal part of life at home.
  2. Trust issues. If a child’s alcoholic father or mother created an environment where dishonesty and broken promises were the norm, a child may develop serious trust problems that can hinder their relationships in the future.
  3. Low self-esteem. Children who grow up in an unpredictable and volatile home environment are also more likely to have low self-esteem. They may realize they are different than their peers, compare themselves to others and feel inadequate as a result. Children of alcoholics also tend to be overly critical of themselves, which can lead to depression, anxiety, and isolation.
  4. Fear of abandonment. Children of alcoholics may cling to toxic relationships later in life because they have a serious fear of abandonment. This often stems from an alcoholic father or mother who was emotionally or physically unavailable due to their drinking behaviors.
  5. A constant need for approval. Often times, children who grow up with alcoholic parents will constantly seek out the approval of others to validate themselves. They may be fearful of judgment and criticism, seek perfection, or overwork themselves to achieve a certain value or prestige via their accomplishments.
  6. Alcohol or drug abuse. In addition to becoming perfectionistic, many adult children of alcoholics may also mimic the behaviors they saw growing up, and develop their own substance abuse problems or addiction. While genetics do play a role in addiction, a child’s upbringing and home environment do too.

Positive Role Models in Recovery

Just as parents can be a negative influence on children when they are abusing alcohol, parents can also be very positive role models in recovery. Starting over after addiction and establishing a more stable and healthy life in recovery is an opportunity to show children that positive change is always possible.

Parents in recovery can also use the life skills they acquire in addiction treatment to manage their time better, cope with stress at home, and improve their personal health. These are all things they can pass along to their children.

Additionally, parents in recovery may also choose to be open and honest about their own personal struggle with addiction to illustrate the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse. In using their own life choices as an example, parents can show their children that the consequences of drug and alcohol abuse are real but there is a better and more healthy way to live.

Parents who struggle with alcohol abuse may feel guilty for their past mistakes and how those decisions may have affected their children. However, many parents also find that the negative effects on their children are extremely motivating in the continuation of their own personal recovery. This kind of mindset can serve as a reminder that parents in recovery have every opportunity to be a positive role model instead of a negative one.

Resources for Families of Alcoholics

If you are a child of an alcoholic father or mother, there are several resources out there that can help you cope. You are not destined to repeat the addictive behaviors of your parent(s) and there are other people out there who have similar life experiences. Seeking help and connecting with other children of alcoholics may help you move past a tumultuous childhood and heal the scars that are left behind. Here are a few resources to check out:

  • Al-Anon: Al-Anon is one of the most well-known support groups for family members and loved ones of alcoholics. Members follow a 12-step program and regular meetings are held all over the U.S. and internationally.5
  • Nar-Anon: Nar-Anon is intended to help family members and loved ones of individuals who are addicted to narcotics or who are in recovery. It is also designed to provide support for family members of alcoholics and much like Al-Anon meetings, Nar-Anon meetings can be found in all 50 states nationwide as well as internationally.6
  • Co-DA: This 12-step group is designed to help individuals in co-dependent relationships, whether they are directly affected by alcoholism or not.7
  • School counselor: For children of alcoholics who are in grade school, middle school, or high school, a school counselor may be a trusted adult who can provide personal assistance and support.
  • Therapist: One-on-one therapy can also help you work through painful memories or current struggles related to a parent’s alcohol abuse.
  • Online support groups: There are also many online support groups where children of alcoholics can talk with one another and share helpful information and resources.

Addiction in the family has long-lasting effects and although parents in recovery cannot erase the past, they can work toward a better future. Call Nova Recovery Center today if you are ready to start over and build a healthy life of sobriety for yourself and for the benefit of your children.


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