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    Effects of Parental Alcoholism on Children Essay

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    The Effects of Parental Alcoholism on Children

    Until recently, the impact of alcoholism was measured by its effect on the alcoholic, such as days lost from work and highway fatalities. However, new research has concentrated on the impact of alcoholism on the family, especially the children of alcoholics. Numerous studies have reported on the familial transmission of alcoholism. It has been shown that alcoholics have more biological relatives with an alcohol problem than non-alcoholics. Furthermore, these individuals have a higher probability of developing alcoholism earlier in their lives and experiencing more severe effects of alcoholism.

    There are approximately twenty million children under the age of eighteen growing up in households where one or both parents are alcoholic in the United States alone. These children are unwilling victims of a disease that is generally the center of their childhood existence, shaping their personality and behavior as adults. Because of the familial nature of alcoholism, children are at high risk of developing this illness (Merikangas p. 199). Unless something is done to break the patterns initiated during childhood, a significant percentage (between 50% to 60%) of those who do not become alcoholics themselves will marry an alcoholic upon reaching maturity, thereby continuing the cycle of abuse and depression. Studies of the development of drinking behavior recognize the formation of socially appropriate rules about the use of alcohol and the role of parent behaviors and attitudes in determining drinking patterns (Wilks & Callan p. 326). In addition, clustering of depression, alcoholism, and antisocial personality within families has been frequently observed (Merikangas p. 199).

    Alcoholism is a disease of denial, meaning those suffering from it often refuse to admit they are affected by it. Alcoholics with a long history of family alcoholism have more severe symptoms and more social problems compared to those families without a history of family alcoholism. Parents in such a situation tend to insist to their children that their alcoholic symptoms are neither serious nor permanent in nature. Many alcoholics genuinely believe that their alcoholism is hidden. This is further complicated by the fact that problem drinking is, in part, a function of the definition of oneself as deficient and the concept of alcohol as useful for altering the definition of oneself.

    Consequently, the children of alcoholic parents are confronted with various dilemmas. First, the child sees their parents drinking in excess while simultaneously denying the fact. Second, the child further observes the personality of their parents significantly alter after the alcohol has taken effect, causing greater confusion for the child (i.e., which is my real dad? – from the child’s point of view). In order to cope with the family situation, the child of an alcoholic parent generally learns to go along with the conspiracy of denial and silence. However, generally, the pattern of secrecy that permits this to occur ultimately affects the child’s future.

    Unfortunately, the impact on children from families with an alcoholic parent is both enduring and direct. For instance, these children tend to drop out of school voluntarily in larger numbers than any other group of children studied in this correlation (i.e., duration of voluntary schooling). This has been especially true for affected male children of alcoholic parents. It has been reported that family history positive men with alcoholism have had significantly more suspensions from school, poorer academic and social performance in school, and more premilitary antisocial behavior (Cutter & [missing citation]).

    As previously stated, these children (those with alcoholic parents) also have a greater incidence of problems with alcohol and substance abuse themselves in later life.

    This condition, in turn, leads to a greater risk of developing not only emotional problems but physical problems as well. These problems range from the inability to establish rewarding long-term relationships to difficulty facing reality, traceable to early familial experiences. In many ways, childhood is abbreviated for children whose parents are alcoholics. They learn to parcel out feelings to avoid upsetting the alcoholic parent or to avoid being held responsible for triggering a bout of parental drinking.

    The manner in which the child relates and responds is too often determined by the state of the alcoholic, which can be rather unpredictable. The entire family is, in fact, engaged in a struggle to control an addict. As a result, the methods utilized by affected children to cope with their parent’s alcoholism initiate a variety of behavior that inevitably proceeds into adulthood. The related problems of behavior and adaptation often are not distinguishable for ten or twenty years. Even in maturity, these individuals tend to be unable to trust their perceptions or feelings. Often, they continue to deny, just as their parents had, that anything is wrong. Adult children of alcoholics often doubt their ability to control both themselves and their relationships.

    Most recent data suggests that concordance for alcoholism in parents is a potent risk factor for the development of antisocial personality-conduct disorder in children (Merikangas, p. 203). Due to the fact that their lives were in concurrent states of turmoil and confusion when they were children, they often believe that the mere expression of commonplace and normal emotions (i.e., anger, joy) indicates that they lack control. The manner of coping as children permits affected individuals to survive as adults in a seemingly normal fashion for quite a while.

    However, crises generally begin in their late twenties. Very often, these adults do not relate their problems to having grown up with an alcoholic parent. They become depressed and dissatisfied with life without understanding why. They lack an appropriate perspective of normal behavior and have no concept of their power to alter this situation because the people who were supposed to be responsible for them as children (their parents) were not.

    Therefore, the adult child of an alcoholic has difficulty in identifying needs and/or expressing feelings. They also have substantial fears regarding proper responses and social behaviors which date back to their upbringing. In the end, alcoholism is a very serious disease that must not be taken lightly. It is a legal vice that when used or abused can cause irreparable damage. Alcoholism affects many people and the families of those people, both.


    Works Cited

    1. Cutter, Henry S., & T. J. O’Farrel. Relationship Between Reasons for Drinking & Customary Behavior. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, Volume 45, #4, July 1992, pp. 321-325.
    2. Jones-Saumty, Deborah. Psychological Factors of Familial Alcoholism in American Indians & Caucasians. Journal of Clinical Psychology, Volume 39, #5, September 1989, pp. 783-790.
    3. Merikangas, Kathleen R. Depressives with Secondary Alcoholism: Psychiatric Disorders in Offspring. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, Volume 46, #3, May 1994, pp. 193-204.
    4. Wilks, Jeffery, & V. J. Callan. Similarity of University Students & Their Parents’ Attitudes Toward Alcohol. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, Volume 45, #4, July 1997, pp. 326-333.

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