How Does Having an Alcoholic Parent Affect a Child?

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How Does Having an Alcoholic Parent Affect a Child?

Having an alcoholic parent affects a child in many different ways as no two child’s response to their parents’ alcohol-based substance use disorder is the same. 

Trying to predict exactly how a child will respond is like trying to count grains of sand. 

There are many different factors attached to a child’s response and these can be attached to the parents’ behaviour whilst using alcohol. 

Take a parent who becomes angry whilst drinking, the child may learn not to say or do anything to antagonise the situation.

In turn they may become introvert. They may stop inviting friends over to the house as they are embarrassed.  

One could say the child has become an introverted, loner.  

However, another child with a parent who becomes angry under the influence may become rebellious at school or angry with other children. This is their response to the situation at home. 

In short, the exact way a child is affected cannot be predicted but they can through time be nurtured and supported to help them start talking about how the really feel, make them feel safe and address annegative behaviour patterns they may have developed as a response to their parents drinking. 

An affected child can be nurtured back to happiness and learned behaviours can be unlearned through a parent love and time. 

When working with alcoholics the term ‘powerless over alcohol’ may be used to help make sense of the craving an alcoholic has for alcohol.  

For example, as soon as a drink is consumed the alcoholic immediately craves another and another.

Alcohol has been ingested and the battle prior to taking a drink has been lost by the drinker. As the alcohol is now in control. 

This physical and mental battle with alcohol may continue for years. 

Now let’s consider the same word when trying to understand the child of an alcoholic. They are children and need their parents in order to survive in the world.  

They may want the parent to stop drinking, they may ask the parent to stop drinking. 

Over a period of time, they may realise they are ‘powerless’ over mum or dads drinking as they feel like they may never stop.

They are now the unintended victim of alcohol with both the parent and child encountering their own sense of ‘powerlessness. 

At Abbeycare a family support group is available for the residents’ families. The term family is not restrictive to blood relatives as it can be a loved one or close friend who attends.

In short it is for anybody in the inpatients close network who has been affected by their drinking. 

Family Support Groups are designed to heal wounds, or the pain associated with a loved one’s drinking and the learning from these groups can be taken home and passed onto the child, improving everybody’s wellbeing.

Potential harms to a child of those with an alcohol-based substance use disorder may present as: 

  • Introverted 
  • Extroverted 
  • Angry 
  • Sad 
  • Unexpected behaviours 
  • Problems in school 
  • Issues with food 
  • Underage drinking/drug use 
  • Difficulty keeping friends 
  • Anxiety 
  • Nothing as the symptoms may present in adulthood 

Can an alcoholic have a healthy baby? 

Government guidelines surrounding drinking alcohol whilst pregnant are quite clear. 

As they say don’t do it.  

Years ago, it was deemed acceptable to have say a small glass of wine occasionally whilst pregnant however recent developments are now encouraging total abstinence from alcohol during the full duration of the pregnancy. 

 The first three months of pregnancy are particularly vulnerable for the forming foetus.

Drinking during pregnancy can result in long term damage to the unborn baby and the damage can increase the more alcohol is consumed. 

Many women fall pregnant and may have been drinking alcohol or using drugs before they realise, they are pregnant. 

This is not uncommon and should not cause alarm. If possible: 

  • Stop drinking immediately 
  • Contact your GP to begin the process of care during pregnancy 
  • Phone our clinic if you feel you can’t stop drinking in safety i.e. if withdrawals will begin when you stop 
  • The good news is that many women stop drinking alcohol when pregnant.

    This may be an inbuilt protective factor or just a common component i.e. feeling nauseous around certain foods and drinks. 

    If pregnant and using alcohol many women are scared of the outcome for their unborn child.

    Residential Rehab and a controlled medical detox in the safety of a professionally ran centre designed to help people stop using alcohol and stay stopped may be the solution required. 

    Overuse of alcohol whilst pregnant can result in Foetal Alcohol Syndrome this can present to the child as: 

    • Learning difficulties 
    • Distinct facial features 
    • Behavioural problems 
    • Growth problems 

    Drinking alcohol when pregnant allows the alcohol to move through the pregnant woman’s blood stream into the babies. This can affect the unborn child and is where the risks begin. 

    Miscarriage as well as premature births and low birth weights may also occur. 

    However, scientists and experts can not predict with certainty how each child will be affected so the recommendation is not to take unnecessary risks and to avoid alcohol altogether. 

    How does alcohol affect parenting? 

    Drinking alcohol can affect parenting in many different ways. Some unknown to the parent as they may have lost the ability to step outside the situation and view it from an objective manner. 

    If a parent has an alcohol-based substance use disorder they may be obsessed with using alcohol. An obsession can be time consuming and require a lot of effort. 

    Alcohol may affect parenting in many ways:

    • Distant from child 
    • Unaware of child’s needs 
    • Child feels like alcohol is more important

    These are just some of the ways alcohol affects parenting however there may be more, and alcohol use may switch the parent off to a child’s needs which may result in the child’s behaviour changing. 

    In some cases, those drinking alcohol may also be the child of a parent that used alcohol throughout their childhood they are called Adult Children of Alcoholic Parents. 

    If an adult child of a parent who used alcohol the following signs may be recognised: 

    • Relationship problems 
    • Fear of intimacy 
    • Controlling 
    • Anxious 
    • Low self esteem 
    • Disconnected 
    • Seeking approval of others 
    • Avoidance 
    • Anger 

    It may not become apparent to the parent who is drinking alcohol that there is any issues with their child, however, signs as shown above may manifest through time and affect the child as they reach adulthood. 

    At Abbeycare, a therapeutic programme is delivered, and the patient will be able to attend therapy sessions to address any underlying issues or difficult emotions. 

    Parenting whilst managing an alcohol-based substance use disorder can affect the child in their childhood or signs may present in later life. For a parent using alcohol this may be an unsettling read. 

    Finding out you are pregnant whilst drinking alcohol daily or binge drinking can be a scary prospect.  

    But you are not alone and there is help available to stop drinking whilst pregnant and or as a parent whose alcohol use has spiralled out of control. 

    Sometimes taking that first step and admitting there is a problem with alcohol is the hardest. But help is available. Please call Abbeycare to discuss the options available.  

    A trained professional will answer the phone and support you in your decision to start residential treatment and take back control of your life.


    About the author

    Peter Szczepanski

    Pete has been on the GPhC register for 29 years. He holds a Clinical Diploma in Advanced Clinical Practice and he is a Clinical Lead in Alcohol and Substance Misuse for Abbeycare Gloucester and works as the Clinical Lead in Alcohol and Substance Use in Worcestershire. To read more about Pete visit his LinkedIn profile.