How Parental Alcoholism Affects Children in their Adult Lives

It is clear that children are affected by their parents’ choices when it comes to alcohol abuse problems. Neglect, abuse and fetal alcohol syndrome are all effects immediately felt by the children of alcoholic parents.

Researchers are still in the process of examining all of the more long-term ways that children are affected by their parents’ drinking habits. New research specifically looks at relationships and how they are impacted by earlier experiences of having had an alcoholic parent.

Kearns-Bodkin and Leonard completed a study in 2008 that examined the effects of both maternal and paternal alcoholism on marriage relationships, looking particularly at the first four years of marriage.

There were 634 couples that participated in the study. The participants were given assessments at the time of their marriage and then again at their first, second, and fourth anniversary dates. The husbands and wives completed questionnaires separately in their homes, and the questionnaires were self-administered.

The results of the study indicate that for both husbands and wives, the perceptions of their marriage relationship was associated with alcoholism in the opposite gender parent.

For example, if a wife had a father who has an alcoholic, there was an associated lower marital satisfaction experienced in the first for years of marriage. For husbands, an alcoholic mother was associated with lower marital satisfaction in early marriage.

Physical aggression in the marriage relationship was also associated with alcoholic parents. Husbands’ physical aggression was impacted by alcoholism in the mother and father, but high levels of physical aggression were associated with alcoholic mothers and nonalcoholic fathers.

Additionally, the study found that wives who experienced high levels of physical aggression from their husbands were largely from a background with an alcoholic mother and nonalcoholic father.

Wives also indicated that they engaged in high levels of physical aggression when they had an alcoholic mother and a nonalcoholic father, but this association was limited to early years of marriage.

The results of the study also find that the husbands’ and wives’ attachment representations were linked with parental alcoholism.

The results of this study provide important information for educating parents about the long-term risks of alcohol abuse. Not only are they impacting their children in immediate ways, but alcoholic parents are also impacting their children’s future marital relationships.

The study also may benefit the adult children of alcoholics in seeking assistance or counseling for marital difficulties. Linking some areas of marital conflict to patterns of behavior in their parents may make identifying problems and solutions more possible.