Millions of children grow up in alcoholic households. As they get older, these children may struggle with school, relationships, and mental health. They are also at an increased risk of becoming alcoholics themselves.
The good news is that more than half of these children don’t become alcoholics, and treatment options and support groups are available for those who need them.
The infographic below outlines some of the challenges these children face as well as resources for getting help.
What It’s Like to Be the Child of an Alcoholic
Millions of children grow up in alcoholic households.
- An estimated 17.6 million people struggle with alcohol dependence. 4
- There are about 28.6 million children of alcoholics in the United States. 2
- More than 10% of U.S. children live with a parent with alcohol problems. 5
These children display many of the same characteristics of people with post-traumatic stress disorder or physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, including: 6
- Strong need for approval.
- Need to control environment, self, and relationships.
- Problems with intimacy and trust.
- Inability to relax.
- Fear of abandonment.
- Fear of intimacy.
- Low self-esteem.
They are also at risk of developing alcoholism.
- Children of alcoholics are 4 times more likely to become alcoholics themselves. 3
In addition, they are more likely to become involved with an alcoholic.
- Adult children of alcoholics are more likely to marry into families in which alcoholism is prevalent. 2
- Adult daughters of alcoholic parents are more likely to marry men who are addicted to alcohol. 7
Mental and Behavioral Health Risks
Being the child of an alcoholic can increase the risk of developing:
- Substance abuse. 2
- Depressive symptoms. 1
- Anxiety disorders. 1
- Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. 1
- Phobias. 1
- Bed-wetting. 1
- Tics. 1
These children may also perform worse in school than their peers.
- They often have worse results on cognitive tests than peers of nonalcoholic families. 1
- They are 9 times more likely to have low academic achievement. 1
Not all children of alcoholics become alcoholics, however.
- More than 50% don’t become alcoholics.3
Other factors influence drinking habits, such as:
- Moral values.
- Family dynamics.
- Peer alcohol use.
- Individual reaction to alcohol.
Protective measures can help prevent a child from developing common problems associated with having an alcoholic parent.
- Healthy family values are maintained (family dinners, vacations, traditions, bonding).
- The child has other positive adult influences or forms a close bond with a caregiver.
- The alcoholic adult is approached about his or her addiction and addresses it.
- The household has moderate to strong religious beliefs.
Adult Children of Alcoholics and Al-Anon help those affected by alcoholic parents.
- Adult Children of Alcoholics World Service Organization
- Co-Dependents Anonymous
- Alcoholics Anonymous
Treatment options for alcoholism include:
- Detox centers to ease withdrawal and start the recovery process.
- Inpatient treatment that includes detox, counseling, and relapse prevention.
- Outpatient treatment with individual and group therapy.
- Individual and group counseling to help work through issues from growing up in an alcoholic household.
. Diaz, R., Gual, A., Garcia, M., Arnau, J., Pascual, F., Canuelo, B., Garbayo, I. (2007). Children of alcoholics in Spain: From risk to pathology Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology 43(1): 1-10.
. Cornell College. (2014). Adult Children of Alcoholics.
. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2012). A Family History of Alcoholism.
. National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. (2015). Facts About Alcohol.
. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2016). Alcohol Facts and Statistics.
. Beesley, D., & Stoltenberg, C. (2002). Control, attachment style, and relationship satisfaction among adult children of alcoholics. Journal of Mental Health Counseling 24(4).
. Hinrichs, J., Defife, J., & Westen, D. (2011). Personality Subtypes in Adolescent and Adult Children of Alcoholics. The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease 199(7), 487-498. doi:10.1097/nmd.0b013e3182214268