10 Ways Your Drinking Is Hurting Your Kids
As you watch your children grow, you begin to notice some strange behaviors. The teachers are concerned that your daughter is more aggressive than the other kids in her class. Your son has no friends and is bringing home Cs and Ds on his report card.
Where did they learn these behaviors? Negative influences at school, a teacher or coach, their friends’ parents? If your drinking is out of control, there’s a good chance they learned it from you.
Drinking changes the way a parent functions at work and at home, creating an unstable and unsupportive environment. Children who grow up with an alcoholic parent are at a disadvantage in life from early on, often exhibiting the following problems:
1. Greater Risk of Addiction
Life is hard enough for youth – adding an alcoholic parent into the mix can be profoundly scarring. Not surprisingly, many children of alcoholics follow their parent’s example and seek refuge in the bottle. Children of alcoholics are at four times greater risk than other children of becoming alcoholics themselves, and as many as 50 percent will end up marrying someone with a drinking problem.
2. Neglect or Abuse
When a parent has a drinking problem, they are more likely to be abusive or neglectful toward their children. While some alcoholics drink themselves into a quiet stupor, others become aggressive or violent. Studies show that as many as 90 percent of child abuse cases involve at least one alcoholic parent. Instead of focusing on being there for their child, they are seeking out and consuming alcohol, often along with other drugs.
Many children of alcoholics feel responsible for their mother or father’s drinking problem. They may try to hide or get rid of alcohol around the house, and feel guilty that they can’t make their parent stop drinking. A parent in denial may even blame their child for the problem to avoid facing their alcohol addiction.
Some kids also struggle with the guilt of keeping their parent’s alcoholism hidden from friends, teachers, and other people in their lives. Even as they are taught that keeping secrets is wrong, they are living a double life in an effort to protect their family.
Even in dysfunctional families, children love their parents and care about their health and happiness. Children of alcoholics may be plagued by anxiety, constantly worrying about their home life, the health of the parent, and the constant tension and fighting that often permeate alcoholic homes. The stress may cause young children to struggle with bed wetting, nightmares, and frequent crying, along with more health complaints and doctor’s visits later in life.
5. Relationship Problems
If a child can’t trust their parents, they are apt to go through life wondering if they can truly rely on anyone. As a result, the child may shy away from friendships and intimacy, preferring to be alone instead. Who would want to risk bringing a friend home to a drunk and belligerent parent? Or opening their heart to someone only to be hurt again?
6. Unpredictable Routine
Child development experts are continually reiterating the importance of structure and routine in children’s lives. When a parent has a drinking problem, they are likely more focused on finding the next opportunity to drink than maintaining regular eating and sleeping patterns. To add to the inconsistency, their children may be constantly guessing at whether mom or dad will be loving and apologetic, or angry and agitated.
Life isn’t always fair, but that isn’t a lesson children should learn early in life or in what should be the safety and comfort of home. When children grow up with an alcoholic parent, they understandably feel angry – not only with the parent for drinking too much, being inconsistent, and breaking promises, but also at other family members for being powerless to stop it. Some may be resentful for having to care for their siblings as well as their parent and themselves.
If a child feels unsafe or unloved, their anger may manifest inwardly, through such behaviors as self-harm or an eating disorder, or outwardly through fighting at school, bullying, or damaging property. Risk-taking behaviors such as drug or alcohol abuse, risky sexual behavior, and stealing are also more common among children of alcoholics.
Adults often feel powerless to stop someone from drinking, so one can imagine how helpless a child of an alcoholic parent may feel. What starts as feelings of worthlessness, loneliness, and sadness may escalate into major depression or suicidal thoughts later in life.
While some children rebel against their alcoholic parent, others act out by taking on the role of parent. They may become excessively controlled and put pressure on themselves and others to overachieve. While this may result in school and career success, they often find that true happiness is elusive. Underlying emotional problems and resentment may surface in adulthood when the child realizes they were robbed of an authentic childhood.
10. Academic Problems
Studies show that children of an alcoholic parent tend to score lower on reading, verbal, and math tests. Low self-confidence, difficulty with communication and self-expression, and low parental expectations may be to blame.
Children dealing with strong emotions, such as anger, embarrassment, and sadness may find it difficult to concentrate in school. If their parents aren’t conveying the importance of education at home, children may lose motivation and begin skipping classes or failing at school. Some may even do so in an effort to get the attention they need from their parent.
You Are Not Alone
Parents who drink are often blind to the dysfunctional home they’ve created. Or you may understand the harm you’re doing, but feel powerless to stop drinking.
Children need their parents to be positive role models who are supportive, trustworthy, and emotionally available. While in the past you may not have been the parent you want to be, life is full of second chances. Encourage your child to get involved in counseling and support groups such as Alateen, and get help for yourself from an alcohol treatment program.