Does Having Alcoholic Parents Increase Your Chances of Becoming One Yourself?

Alcoholism is a disease that isn’t necessarily genetic but does seem to run in families. While research has not yet ruled out alcoholism being a genetic disease, there are several social reasons why alcoholism is considered a family disease.  

Alcoholism is a serious problem and it can be difficult to fight the problem on your own. If your family has a history of alcoholism, then managing the problem becomes even more difficult. Fortunately, treatment at Harris House is available so you and your family members can get the help you need.  

When a family member, especially a parent, struggles with alcoholism, they tend to focus on themselves, rather than on the other people in the family. As they spend time drinking and thinking about drinking, they are not giving love and attention to their spouse and children. This can create problems for the neglected members of the family, which can increase their chances of developing alcoholism, too.  

Along with neglecting family and parenting duties, alcoholics also have issues with their emotions and behaviors. Alcoholics have problems with aggression and violence, and many family members respond by drinking to get over the pain, too. It is also common for alcoholics to lie and struggle to get along with others.  

As alcohol becomes the focus of their lives, alcoholics often have issues with work and money. If they are younger, they struggle at school. Commitments that are not connected to alcohol fall by the wayside and this hurts those who are close to them.  

The statistics are clear: adults like to drink and many of them have grown up with alcoholics in their families. When children are raised in homes with alcoholics, children tend to grow up with emotional and behavioral problems. As one in five Americans have had experience living with an alcoholic, one in four of them could grow up to be alcoholics themselves.


What Happens to Children of Alcoholics?


Along with the possibility of becoming an alcoholic themselves, children of alcoholics have other issues including: 

1. Feelings of guilt and anxiety

Children of alcoholics might experience feelings of guilt that they drove their parents to drink. They also can struggle with anxiety as they worry about what their parents will do while drunk. Children worry about their alcoholic parent’s behavior and whether they will be injured while drunk - especially if driving while drunk.  

As children have these thoughts and worries about their parents, they begin to feel guilty about the way they think. The cycle of anxiety and guilt continues. It is easy to see why children of alcoholics turn to alcohol as a coping mechanism for the mixture of emotions they experience.

 2. Struggles with embarrassment

When parents are drunk, they can do things that might embarrass their children. Because children are ashamed of their parent’s drinking behaviors, they might not want their friends to come over and they might not want to go places with their parents. The feelings of embarrassment can also exacerbate the feelings of guilt because children should have shame about their parents.

3. Difficulty forming close relationships

Depending on the extent of their parent’s alcoholism, children of alcoholics can have struggles with trust which creates problems when developing relationships. Children learn about relationships at a young age and they learn about them from their parents. When parents neglect their children, especially when alcohol is involved, children can struggle with trusting other people. They fear they will be let down, just like mom or dad did to them.  

When children struggle to form relationships, they continue to have problems as adults. Instead, some lonely adults turn to alcohol as a remedy for their inability to form relationships. Or, they form relationships based on alcohol. So relationships might exist, but they are not healthy.

4. Confusion understanding other people’s emotions

Because alcoholics have unpredictable emotions, children become confused about what emotions should look and feel like. Parents who are drunk can be loving one moment, then abusively angry the next. Children do not develop regular schedules, so they become confused about time to eat and what time to go to bed.

5. Anger issues

Children experience anger, but they experience more and unnecessary anger when they have alcoholic parents. And, children’s anger is directed to their parents because they drink. Often, children of alcoholics also are angry at the parent who does not drink because they do not fix the problem.

6. Bouts of depression

With all of these emotional issues, it is easy to see why children of alcoholics can suffer from bouts of depression. The mixture of anger, confusion, embarrassment, anxiety, and guilt can wreak havoc on young developing minds. Throw in uncertainty over food and sleep, and it becomes even easier to see why depression might be followed with addictive behaviors later in life.  

If parents continue their destructive behaviors, their children might learn to do the same. Both alcoholism and depression have treatments available. But, if parents do not get help, they create a poor model for their children. Instead of getting professional help, alcoholics self-medicate. This behavior can be passed down to children who might use self-medication for depression or other psychological struggles.

7. Engaging in risky behavior

Children of alcoholics might also engage in behaviors that are seen as risky. They might act out in different ways at school and at home. Children might skip class or fail. They might withdraw from their classes and avoid their teachers. They also might resort to violence to solve problems. They also might have constant physical ailments, like headaches or stomach aches.  

Some children have more serious problems. Violent behavior might result in suspensions for fighting in school. Violent behavior can also result in police records. Children might also start abusing drugs or alcohol as they look for a way to escape from their problems.  

There are also children who will do the opposite and become hypervigilant about their personal success. They overachieve and try to control everything possible, including their grades. Some might also act as the “de facto” parent at home. While these aren’t necessarily risky behaviors for children, the need for success and control can create problems, especially when success doesn’t happen and control disappears.

8. Suicidal thoughts

Worst of all, children of alcoholics can develop suicidal thoughts and tendencies. When emotional problems become too much to take, some children consider removing themselves completely from the problem. They might consider suicide to get back at their parents. It is important for friends, family, and caregivers to notice children’s feelings and to get them the help they need.  

Fortunately, there are ways to help children of alcoholics avoid becoming alcoholics in their adult lives. Children can go to groups designed to help them cope with their struggles. Getting professional help from outpatient programs or from therapists who specialize in working with children of alcoholics can help, too.


Why Is Alcoholism a Problem in Families?

 The statistics are clear. Children of alcoholics are more likely than children from sober households to be alcoholics. The numbers change regularly but hover around three or four times more likely to be alcoholics.

1. Ease of having the first drink

Part of the problem comes from the easy access to alcohol. If a child of an alcoholic takes the first drink early, then the child has a good chance of continuing to drink. Researchers have found that having that first drink, especially in a family that already has an alcoholic in it, increases the risk of developing alcoholism.  

For children of alcoholics, the best way to avoid becoming an alcoholic is to never have a sip. This can be tough, especially when alcohol is so easy to get in the home of an alcoholic. Children should be taught about the legal drinking age and they should be encouraged not to drink at all.

2 Genetic issues related to alcoholism

While research hasn’t found a confirmed connection between genetics and alcoholism, there are other genetic issues that increase the chances of alcoholism running in families. The genetic issues are connected to how alcohol is metabolized, not whether or not there is a preference for it.  

There are some people who have a genetic predisposition to have an unpleasant reaction to drinking alcohol. There are also people who never experience unpleasant symptoms after drinking. When people do not like how they feel when they drink, they tend to avoid drinking. People who do not experience any negative feelings while drinking do not have a physical reason to stop, so alcoholism is easier to develop.

3. Location, location, location

This might be the determining factor for real estate prices, but a child’s location can also be a predictor of alcoholism, too. When a child lives with an alcoholic, that child’s environment can cause him to start to drink. Children who live in the home of alcoholic experience trauma, violence, and neglect. These can all become triggers that cause children of alcoholics to turn to drugs or alcohol. Children are directly affected by their environments, especially if the environment is harmful and disruptive.