Parental Alcoholism and Child Abuse

Parental alcoholism and child abuse are interlinked. Although alcoholism leaves many victims in its wake, the most defenseless of them tend to be the children of the people who struggle with this substance use disorder.

When parents are struggling with alcohol addiction and alcoholism, they cannot be nurturing. Their roles as providers might also be affected by this condition. Often, they may be unpredictable and violent. Further, they may focus on their own desires and impulses.

In the process, they may attack their children and even harm them. This is why parental alcoholism often gives way to child abuse, neglect, and maltreatment. The children who struggle with these issues, on the other hand, end up suffering from mental health issues, trauma, and substance abuse and addiction later on in their lives.

Alcoholism, Child Abuse, and Trauma

The severe mental health effects of parental alcoholism usually give rise to child abuse and neglect. The affected children, on the other hand, tend to suffer from trauma due to the experiences that they have with their addicted parents.

According to Psychology Today, the trauma that is caused by these issues is similar to what soldiers on active military duty suffer. It is typically linked to inconsistency and chaos - or even violence - especially when parents abuse and are addicted to alcohol.

The children in these families tend to suffer sexual, physical, emotional, and other forms of abuse and neglect. In many cases, these experiences tend to scar them both in their formative years and when they grow up into adults.

For most children, structure is crucial. This is why the CDC - the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - reports that structure is one of the essential of healthy and productive parenting.

Through structure, children - particularly the very young - develop the sense of trust and security that allows them to develop into wholesome individuals. Structure also teaches them about the world in which they live.

When parents start and continue abusing alcohol, their behavior tends to change for the worst. As a result, there is a high likelihood that these parents might not be able to provide structure and stability to their families. Although this is unhealthy even for adults, it tends to be catastrophic to the growth and development of children.

Research studies have now shown that close to 45 percent of the entire American population - about 76 million people - have been exposed to alcoholic behaviors and alcoholism in the family setting. Of this number, more than 26.8 million are children.

This segment of the population has a higher risk of suffering child abuse and later struggling with alcoholism and other substance use disorders than those who did not grow up with alcoholic parents. They also have a higher risk of marrying substance users and alcoholics in comparison to children who were not exposed to problem drinking and abuse by their parents.

Silence and Denial

Psychology Today released a report showing that denial is a major problem that alcoholism brings about. It often makes it difficult for most children to accept the fact that they are growing up in an alcoholic parent.

Denial is a concept that entails distorted thinking. In many cases, it can dominate the household that is affected by substance abuse and addiction. In other instances, parents who are struggling with these disorders often threaten or coerce the children into silence. This ensures that the children are able to cover up violent or shameful behavior. In other further, the children might outright refuse the fact that something might be wrong in their homes.

As a result of denial, the children of alcoholics have difficulties feeling, talking, and trusting. The alcoholics, on their part, are so engrossed in continuing to abuse alcohol that they often forget important milestones in the lives of their children. These include but are not limited to sports events, school events, and birthdays, among others.

Through observation and experience, the children who grow up with alcoholics learn that they cannot trust or have faith in anyone - including but not limited to their parents. The alcoholic behavior, on the other hand, tends to be painful - both physically and psychologically.

In this sort of environment, the children learn how to bury their feelings. This could be because they might be scared that they will attract the wrath of their drunk or intoxicated parents.

Over time, the children never the get the freedom to naturally express their feelings or thoughts. Additionally, they have difficulties developing healthy characteristics and personalities of their own.

Denial - especially when it is constant - also means that children might remain silent about their parent's alcoholism as well as their thoughts and feelings about this issue. This also means that they might not be willing to talk to their parents - both in the present and in the future - about anything trivial or important.

The alcoholic parents, due to their issues and condition - might not also be able to talk to their children about the things that they should to ensure that they have healthy and productive childhoods. These issues include but are not limited to how to solve problems with their homework, how to make friends, or about the right decision making processes to adopt.

Silent Victimization

Children with alcoholic parents tend to be vulnerable, scared, and helpless when faced with their parents' behavior. This is particularly true when their parents are drunk. These children often face and witness sexual, verbal, emotional, psychological, and physical abuse at the hands of their parents.

Unfortunately, young children who are in these situations are not able to psychologically understand the scope of the problems that they are facing in their families. They might also not be able to process what they might be feeling, hearing, and seeing.

Through their struggles to understand and make sense of what is going on, these children often develop in ways that are psychologically different from other children who are lucky to grow up in stable and structured households.

Teenagers who suffered child abuse and domestic violence at the hands of alcoholic parents also have connectivity problems in their brains. The amygdala connects thoughts to emotions. The hypothalamus, on the other hand, is responsible for regulating behavior.

These teenagers often have difficulties controlling their emotions. This is because they were exposed to patterns of behavior that were harmful. Additionally, it could be as a result of the fact that they did not have adults in their lives who could have helped them understand and deal with the experiences that they were going through.

As a result, these teens are often depressed and fearful. They also normalize the unhealthy consumption of substances like alcohol that they tend to resort to similar forms of drug taking as a way to deal with these feelings.

Sexual Risk and Violence

The negative effects of parental alcoholism can also be broken down according to gender. When boys experience and witness domestic violence and child abuse because their parents were drunk tend to express themselves aggressively and violently. As a result, they may assault pets and younger siblings. They might also resort to victimizing smaller children.

Girls who experience these issues, on the other hand, may cut or harm themselves. This could not be because they are trying to attempt suicide. Rather, it would be to ensure that they derive relief - even if such relief is temporary - from the feelings of low self-esteem, self-loathing, emotional numbness, stress, depression, and anxiety that they might be struggling with.

This is particularly true if the girls were emotionally or verbally abused by their alcoholic parents. On the other hand, if they were sexually abused, there is a high probability that they might become sexual promiscuous later on in their lives - from their teens and onwards.

The Cycle of Alcoholism

The children of alcoholics not only face the right of suffering child abuse, they might also end up struggling with alcoholism - in a never ending cycle that tends to perpetrate itself over the long term.

According to the NACA - the National Association for Children of Alcoholics - children who grow up with alcoholic parents have 4 times as high a likelihood as those who did not to develop alcohol use disorders later on in their lives. However, this is not to mean that every child of an alcoholic will also become an alcoholic.

This could only happen if the other factors that surround the condition of the parent also cause the alcoholism to develop in the children. These factors include but are not limited to genetics, environment, demographics, mental health and wellness, and lifestyle.

According to the NHGRI - the National Human Genome Research Institute - most medical conditions like alcoholism are genetic. This is in the sense that the biological children of alcoholics have a high risk of grow up with a heightened hereditary risk of developing this same condition.

When alcoholic parents abuse their children, however, this risk is often heightened. This is because the children will most likely be traumatized by the child abuse and neglect that they suffered in their formative years.

Familial abuse occurring during these years - and even after - could massively increase the risk that these children could engage in behavior that is sexually risky or violent. They could also resort to alcohol and drug consumption while trying to cope with the actions of their parents.

Additionally, the greater the level of abuse that one suffers during childhood due to parental alcoholism - or any other factor - the higher the risk that they will develop addition. In fact, the Depression and Anxiety journal released a report showing that among the children of alcoholics who were abused:

People in this population are often highly traumatized. As such, it is not exactly surprising that other studies have reported that the extent of drug and alcohol abuse is often connected strongly to the psychological, sexual, physical, and emotional abuse that they suffered at the hands of their alcoholic parents. In adulthood, these children might display the various symptoms and signs of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Codependent Relationships

Parental alcoholism has also been linked to child abuse, which in turn often gives rise to the development of codependent relationships among people who struggle with these issues during their formative years.

Although having an alcoholic parent might not always mean that you will grow up into an alcoholic, Psych Central shows that there is a risk that you could have a pathological need for control and perfect.

This could be as a result of the formation of a desire to seek approval from others. It could also be as a result of developing obsessive compulsive disorder due to the abuse you suffered at the hands of your alcoholic parents.

This means that you will seek approval from other people - to such an extent that it sometimes turns out to be detrimental to your own health and wellbeing. This could be due to the fact that you did not receive approval from your parents.

As the child of an alcoholic, you might have become so used to the dysfunction in your family that you might seek out similar traits in your romantic and sexual partners and friends. This is due to the fact that you were already exposed to and became accustomed to codependent relationships earlier on in your life.

In such a situation, your sense of self-worth and happiness will mostly depend on the whims of your partner or friends. While growing up in an alcoholic household, you might have already learned how to conceal your own needs and wants so that you would not make your parent angry - otherwise you would have risked getting harmed.

This will later create the idea in your head that you can only receive care and love from a partner who is similarly abusive or difficult. This is even in situations where alcohol is not at the core of the codependent relationship that you have formed.

Getting Help

Irrespective of the effects of parental alcoholism and the child abuse that you suffered as a child, it is important to realize that you can overcome all these issues and the long term consequences of the pain you suffered growing up. There are recovery programs and rehabilitation centers that can guide you on the road to understanding, health, wellness, and recovery from all these issues.

Organizations We Support