What are the Effects of an Alcoholic Father on Children?


Published On: November 24, 2023

Alcohol is one of the most addictive substances in the world, similar in its detox process to other drugs such as heroin and other opioids.

However, despite its dangers and risks, thousands of adults across the UK may find themselves developing an alcohol addiction, also known as alcoholism or alcohol use disorder (AUD).

In England alone in 2019, 48% of adults aged 16 or older reported drinking alcohol at least once a week (1), but for others, this number of drinks can be far higher.

Alcohol is an addictive substance due to the changes that it can cause in the brain.

This can cause short-term and temporary changes such as difficulties in using motor skills and incoordination, but it can cause long-term changes such as regulations of serotonin production.

This means that any individual, no matter their social life or demographic, can develop an addiction.

This article will focus on the effects that alcoholic parents (especially fathers, being the more likely gender to consume more alcohol) can have on their children, from childhood to adulthood.

Alcoholic Parents: How Children Are Affected

Symptoms of addiction

If an individual grows up in a house where a parent or parents may be struggling with alcohol addiction, then there are many different experiences that these individuals may have grown up with compared to those who do not have alcoholism within their home.

These effects can take place across many different stages of an individual’s life, most notably in the individual’s early life, but many effects can start to emerge as the individual grows older, affecting their own life and often their career and other important factors.

In both instances, these effects can last long into the individual’s life, and they may not seek treatment immediately, perhaps being unconscious of the effects that their alcoholic parents may have had on them.

This can lead to further long-term effects, as the longer that mental health issues are left untreated, the worse they can get.

By delaying treatment, these individuals may not be able to experience many of the same things that their friends and family do, leading to lower overall well-being.

What Are the Effects of an Alcoholic Father on Children?

person holding child

Many studies have been conducted to determine whether or not alcoholism is more common in men or women. Although there may not be any concrete evidence for either of these to be true, it is known that men are more likely to report drinking regularly or in large quantities.

In one study, 21% of men reported heavy drinking/binge drinking compared to 13% of women (2).

Although this only refers to the quantity of alcohol consumed, individuals are more likely to develop an addiction if they engage in binge drinking regularly – something which men are generally more likely to report.

Because of this, a father’s alcoholism may strongly affect their child, especially when it comes to caring for their child and providing them with opportunities suitable for the development of children.

In many cases, providing children with suitable development opportunities can be increasingly difficult when consuming large quantities of alcohol, and may cause some fathers to become aggressive or violent.

This can be especially damaging to a partner of the alcoholic father, as well as young children.

Psychological and Emotional Effects

A person with clasped hands, thinking

As mentioned above, growing up with an alcoholic parent can have severe and long-lasting impacts on the individual, often lasting well into adulthood and disrupting the individual’s personal life and life development stages.

In general, these effects can be categorised into two main areas: psychological and emotional impacts.

Psychological impacts refer to the behaviours and reactions that the individual may learn as a result of an alcoholic parent. These behaviours are learned as a response to the alcoholic parent, perhaps learning not to say or do specific things while the parent is intoxicated.

These impacts can be especially damaging, often requiring therapy in the future to find the root cause and work towards creating tailored coping mechanisms to deal with the negative impacts.

Emotional impacts refer to the way that the individual can regulate and experience their emotions – often referring to the submission of or the lack of ability to feel specific emotions.

Though these may be psychologically based, the emotional effects can cause very specific emotional damage, often impacting the individual’s relationships – both the finding and keeping of individuals close to them.

The following paragraphs outline some of the more specific examples of common ways in which an alcoholic parent may impact their children and the negative effects that this may have.

1. Higher risk of alcoholism

Repeated studies have shown that alcoholism and alcohol abuse are common within families, suggesting strong genetic factors (3).

This means that children who have alcoholic parents are therefore more likely to develop alcoholism either early in life or as they move into adulthood.

This is especially a risk for young children who may start drinking as a result of their parent’s behaviour, as alcohol can have a substantially greater impact on their development the earlier that alcohol is started to be consumed.

Not only can this cause its specific impacts on the individual’s development – both physical and mental – but it also comes with all the risks of alcoholism itself e.g., alcoholic seizures, delirium tremens (shaking body and confusion), heart complications, and liver disease.

2. Trust Issues

Individuals who grow up with alcoholic parents may experience trust issues at some stages of their life.

This is a learned behaviour, perhaps as a result of the individual’s parents being unpredictable when intoxicated and therefore behaving differently from what is expected or ‘normal’ as well as the risk of physical abuse.

However, the long-term impacts of trust issues can be incredibly harmful to the individual’s life.

Not only can it impact the individual’s social life in terms of close friends and intimate relationships, but it may also impact other areas in their life that they are not aware of such as work/school performance.

Trust issues can take long courses of therapy to learn to manage, especially when putting this into practice in the real world, outside of therapy.

However, there are many different forms of therapy that an individual may engage with, varying in suitability for each case.

3. Self-judgment

Self-judgment refers to being overly critical of oneself and not properly appreciating the positives that the individual may achieve.

Self-judgment in itself can be damaging to the adult child of an alcoholic parent’s mental health but may also lead to further mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, and imposter syndrome.

This may be developed as the result of having an alcoholic parent who was critical or overly harsh of the individual as a result of their alcohol consumption.

Traits such as critical self-judgment can hold an individual back from many opportunities, getting in the way of their everyday life and their ability to progress in areas such as their career or school life.

Person looking sad

4. Unclear Sense of Normalcy

Growing up in a home where alcoholism is present can create an environment that can be constantly changing.

Aggressive or violent alcoholic parents may cause a lot of damage when intoxicated, leading to changes in furniture, safety around the house, and a general atmosphere of unrest or risk.

The same may be true for parents who are very clumsy when intoxicated, creating an unsafe environment for young children or teenagers.

In addition, these children may be unaware of how their normal home life should be, perhaps being disrupted from homework or personal projects due to being needed by an alcoholic parent. This can lead to further issues within the child’s school, social, and personal life.

Having a base where a child can expect the same environment and/or activities can be especially beneficial for children as they learn the benefits of having a routine and keeping to this in terms of family events, schoolwork, and personal time.

Without this, a child can develop further issues, adding to the risks of the other effects of an alcoholic parent on this list.

5. Anxiety

As a result of the effects of an alcoholic parent mentioned previously, or as a development of a mental health issue, individuals who have grown up with an alcoholic parent may begin to experience anxiety.

Anxiety is a very general term but refers to feelings of panic and the different symptoms of this as a result of a series of stimuli or events.

Some individuals may also experience panic attacks as a result of high anxiety. This can cause symptoms such as difficulties breathing, shaking hands/body, increased sweating, and confusion, and can be very dangerous in some situations.

An adult child of an alcoholic parent may develop anxiety as a result of an alcoholic parent due to many factors such as feeling on edge, reacting negatively to specific actions and therefore developing a negative response, or as a result of the general atmosphere of the home of an alcoholic parent.

This can develop in early childhood, but can also continue long into the individual’s life, even after living in a different environment than an alcoholic parent.

6. Embarrassment

Many individuals who are adult children of parents with alcohol use disorders (AUD) may consistently experience feelings of embarrassment.

This can be in several situations:

  • Speaking at school about parents/school-based activities e.g., Father’s Day, Mother’s Day
  • Attending events with an alcoholic parent
  • Being asked about parents by friends/at work
  • Experiencing embarrassing events while in the presence of an alcoholic parent e.g., an alcoholic parent behaving inappropriately as a result of intoxication in the presence of others

Experiencing these feelings of embarrassment consistently can be especially damaging to the individual, as this can lead to further mental health issues as well as the desire to move away from their alcoholic parent – something which may not always be available or safe for the individual depending on their situation.

Examples of mental health issues that may develop as a result of constant embarrassment include anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder.

7. Depression

Although previously mentioned, depression is a mental health condition that is common among individuals who have grown up with alcoholic parents.

In addition, it is common amongst those with alcoholism themselves (a factor previously mentioned to have been a risk for individuals who are children of alcoholic parents) to have developed depression.

Depression is often characterised by feelings of low mood, not wanting to take part in activities that they previously enjoyed, or difficulties in feeling happy or enjoying activities.

This can be a mental health issue that severely impacts an individual’s everyday life, sometimes leading to difficulties in leaving the house which can seriously influence the individual’s performance in school or at work, therefore impacting their future progress.

Depression is a condition that can take a long time to learn to live with. This can be achieved through therapy, though this can take a long time, especially if the individual has not confronted their condition before.

Depression can develop for many different reasons, especially if the child experiences feelings of isolation as a result of an alcoholic parent. This in itself can lead to further issues such as issues with confidence, low self-esteem, and the ability to stand up for oneself.

Looking for a place to start?

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Rehab 4 Alcoholism runs a professional referral service, matching specific individuals’ cases to the most suitable and appropriate care available for them.

After just one initial telephone assessment assessing the individual’s past and current history of addiction and addiction within their family, individuals can be offered expert advice on the next steps for their potential rehabilitation or therapy options.

Though we specialise in alcoholism, Rehab 4 Alcoholism offers support for individuals struggling with all different types of addiction and substance use disorders.

To learn how Rehab 4 Alcoholism can help you, give a member of our friendly and confidential team a call through our dedicated addiction phone line on 0800 111 4108 today.

References

[1] NHS Digital, Health Survey for England, 2019: https://digital.nhs.uk/data-and-information/publications/statistical/health-survey-for-england/2019/health-survey-for-england-2019-data-tables

[2] Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, Excessive alcohol use is a risk to men’s health, 31 October 2022: https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/mens-health.htm#:~:text=Almost%2058%25%20of%20adult%20men,with%2049%25%20of%20adult%20women.&text=Men%20are%20more%20likely%20to,compared%20with%2013%25%20of%20women.

[3] Goodwin, D.W., 1971. Is alcoholism hereditary?: A review and critique. Archives of General Psychiatry, 25(6), pp.545-549.

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