Alcoholism runs in families; one in five adult American’s lived with an alcoholic while growing up and are four times more likely to become alcoholics themselves than children of sober parents. Most of the children experiencing family alcoholism encounter some form of abuse including neglect and mental or physical abuse. Long term effects include emotional problems, depression, over compensation, and ultimately substance abuse.
Alcoholism affects a staggering 17.6 million Americans and many of those have families with small children. The best way to deal with family alcoholism is to learn the effects that it has on all of the family members and to address all of the underlying issues. Many of the issues children of alcoholics have are guilt, anxiety, embarrassment, anger, and depression.
- The first step in coping with family alcoholism is to understand the cause of the alcoholism. Depression is the first and foremost cause of alcohol dependency. They often go hand in hand with one another. The irony is that alcohol is a natural depressant and often puts the dependant into an emotional tailspin of highs and lows associated with the alcohol.
- To help a parent cope with the depression, it is important to talk about why they are depressed and show a certain amount of compassion– it is not the same thing as enabling or tolerating the alcoholic.
- Another way to deal with family alcoholism is to understand that it is not the fault of the children. Initially all children feel that their parents drink because of something they have done and it is not always true.
- Realizing that the parent is the one who drinks the alcohol and chooses to continue to drink that alcohol is another way to cope. Intoxication provides a sort of “armor” to people who may have low self esteem and it is easier for the alcoholic to put blame on others and children are the first natural target of that angst.
- An emotional “outlet” for the children of alcoholics is another good tool for coping; writing their feelings into a journal or a diary can often help to put everything into perspective. It is not mentally healthy to keep emotions bottled up, especially the ones that children of alcoholics may have since they deal with a different type of everyday pressure. Since children coping with family alcoholism tend to be introverts, writing out their feelings helps them to focus on the things that are bothering them and may help them to diffuse any potential long term problems.
There are several more ways to cope to with family alcoholism. Family alcoholism is a vicious cycle of dependency and abuse and it often goes unnoticed by family members because of the children’s guilt or embarrassment. Don’t place dependency on the parent – make sure there is a backup plan since they tend to be less than reliable in most situations. Alcohol will mostly come before any responsibility that they have to the children.
Avoid arguing with the parent – the child will always fight a losing battle, especially since the alcoholic most likely will not remember it the next day. The reason behind the argument may not even be a relevant one.
The children should do something that takes their mind off of the situation such as team sports, friends, reading and drawing. Their life at home is often out of control and having something distracting to do often will help them to feel more stable and in control.
It is imperative that children of alcoholics do not start drinking themselves since they are so prone to abuse just through association with the alcoholic parents. And, finally – never tolerate abuse. The children should be removed from the home before abuse can begin or escalate.The mechanics of family alcoholism are varied and complex; there is not an easy fix for the problem since it is so easy to fall back into the cycle of depression and drinking. The natural ups and downs for life are often too much for an alcoholic to handle on their own without counseling and support. Family alcoholism is a large problem in the United States and it is easy to find professional help. Family counseling is an important step in coping as the alcoholic parent often requires a vast amount of support and help that the children alone may not be able to provide on a day to day basis. The key to dealing with family alcoholism is to realize that the children are often times simply bystanders and should try to live normal lives outside their parents.