The Effects of a Parent’s Alcoholism on Children

Unfortunately, children living in a home with an alcoholic parent suffer the consequences as well. If you’re struggling with your own alcohol addiction, the impact of alcoholism on your children’s wellbeing may provide the motivation you need to begin your journey toward recovery.

The Home Environment of Children with an Alcoholic Parent

Before exploring the specific consequences of living in a home with a parent who struggles with alcohol addiction, it is important to discuss the home environment of a parent who abuses alcohol. People who drink heavily often face consequences, such as job loss, arrests, and legal problems. A parent who is abusing alcohol may be arrested for driving under the influence, and subsequently spend time in jail. Over time, a parent who is arrested repeatedly and/or sentenced to jail may be absent from the home for a period, which understandably has a negative effect on children.

Other consequences come from the effects of parental alcoholism. For example, if a mother who struggles with alcohol abuse has to fight against legal charges, household income will likely go toward court costs and attorney fees, which can cause the family to struggle to make ends meet. A father who loses his job because of alcohol abuse also places a financial strain on the family. Ultimately, financial problems and parental absence from the home can lead to stress and arguments, which harms children living in the home.

The Mental Health Effects of Parental Alcoholism

Parental alcohol abuse can cause a chaotic home environment due to stressors like financial problems, which in turn can negatively affect children’s mental health. In fact, a study in a 2018 edition of the International Journal of Current Research in Life Sciences found that teenagers of alcoholic parents were more depressed when compared to teens without an alcoholic parent; teens of alcoholic parents also had a worse self-concept (1). This suggests that when children live with an alcoholic parent, they may internalize some of the problems that occur at home, leading to poor mental health.

Behavioral Problems among Children in Alcoholic Homes

The dysfunction that occurs in homes with an alcoholic parent can also lead to behavioral problems in children. A 2018 study in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research found that in homes where a father struggled with alcohol abuse, adolescent children had more conduct problems, due to alcohol’s negative influence on parenting (2). When one parent is abusing alcohol, both the alcohol-abusing parent and the non-alcoholic parent may be so focused on the alcohol abuse that they struggle to fulfill parenting duties, such as setting consistent consequences. This can understandably cause children to begin acting out.

School Outcomes in Families Struggling with Alcoholism

Beyond acting out, the disruption that can occur in families with an alcoholic parent can negatively affect children’s performance at school. For example, a 2002 study in Psychological Reports found that children with alcoholic parents had lower academic performance and were more likely to skip school, repeat a grade, and drop out of school when compared to children who did not have a parent living with alcoholism (3). Much like with behavioral problems, it is possible that parents who are consumed by alcohol addiction are not able to fully monitor their children’s school attendance and performance.

Risk of Children Developing Alcohol Problems

Another consequence for children who have an alcoholic parent is they may witness the parent consuming excessive amounts of alcohol and conclude that heavy drinking is normal and acceptable. This type of thinking can lead children with alcoholic parents to develop alcohol-related problems themselves. A study in a 2002 edition of Psychiatric Services found that adults who reported their parents abused alcohol were more likely to struggle with alcoholism themselves. The study also found that having a parent who abused alcohol was linked to having a number of adverse childhood experiences, which could understandably lead to later alcohol abuse among children(4).

Additional Concerns

In addition to alcohol abuse, school problems, and mental and behavioral challenges, the research has found that children with an alcoholic parent can experience a multitude of other problems. For instance, a 2012 study in Drug and Alcohol Review determined that children who had a parent who abused alcohol were at a higher risk for the following (5):

  • Poor eating habits, such as consuming fewer fruits and vegetables as well as more sweets and fast food
  • Low socioeconomic status
  • More time spent on sedentary activities like watching TV
  • Greater likelihood of using cigarettes
  • Lower likelihood of spending time exercising
  • Increased risk of suicidal behaviors

Based on these findings, it appears that parental alcohol abuse can negatively affect a child’s lifestyle choices, to the extent that children are choosing unhealthy behaviors over healthier choices, like exercising and eating a nutritious diet. Parents who are struggling with alcohol abuse may be less likely to encourage healthy choices.

With studies showing that parental alcohol abuse can negatively affect everything from children’s lifestyle choices to academic performance, it is clear that alcoholism harms more than just the person who is drinking heavily.

If you’re struggling with your own alcohol addiction, the impact of alcoholism on your children’s wellbeing may provide the motivation you need to seek treatment and begin your journey toward recovery. Reach out for help today to achieve a life free from alcohol abuse and to provide the best possible future for your children.



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