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Alcoholism impacts not only an addicted person's life but also the lives of those around them. For example, an addicted parent's lifestyle can have a notable impact on their children (both in the present and into their adult life).
Children of alcoholics are also referred to as COAs. Most COAs are exposed to abuse or neglect at home. This can lead to emotional and behavioral issues throughout life.
Children exposed to parental alcoholism also have a higher risk of developing a substance use issue compared to children of non-alcoholics. They are more likely to marry or date an alcoholic as well.
In the United States, one in five adults has lived with an alcoholic relative while growing up. One in ten children has a parent who is an alcoholic.
It is also estimated that there are 28.6 million COAs in America. More than 6 million are under the age of 18.Cornell College
Depending on the situation, COAs may be exposed to:
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Alcoholism can affect people from childhood into adulthood. This is primarily due to the dysfunctional homes they grew up in.
Dr. Janet G. Woititz is a psychologist best known for her research and writings about the development of children of alcoholics. According to her research, Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOAs) share 12 common traits:
An adult child of an alcoholic often has an overdeveloped sense of responsibility. They constantly seek approval from others. They also tend to love people they can pity or rescue.
Family patterns of dysfunction often reinforce maladaptive behaviors. As such, the perceptions of children who grew up in an alcoholic home are challenging to overcome.
ACOAs are more likely to have cognitive, emotional, and behavioral issues. As children, they may have coped by taking the role of responsible "parents" within the family. They may have also developed an unhealthy obsession with perfectionism.
Children learn from and model their behavior after their parents or caregivers. Studies show that children of alcoholics are four times more likely than other children to abuse alcohol and other drugs.
Many ACOAs are resilient and have the strength to be better than their parents. They develop coping skills and learn how to function normally in society.
Unfortunately, not all ACOAs adapt as well to normal life. They may struggle with:
Many people have parents, siblings, and other family members with alcohol issues. However, they may never develop alcoholism or any issues with alcohol.
Researchers estimate that genetics account for about 50 percent of a person’s risk for developing alcohol use disorder. A child of an alcoholic is two to four times more likely to develop alcoholism. Environment and other factors play an equal role.
Alcoholism is often a family secret, which is why children of alcoholics rarely seek help, even as adults. These mutual-help groups can help COAs:
Early professional help is essential in preventing severe problems for the child, including reducing the risk of future alcoholism.
Child and adolescent psychiatrists and psychologists can diagnose and treat problems in children of alcoholics. They can also help the child understand they are not responsible for their parent’s drinking problems. ACOAs can be helped even if the parent refuses to acknowledge their problem or seek help.
Children of alcoholic parents are more likely to experience abuse and violence at the hands of their parents. If you suspect that the child of an alcoholic parent is a victim of domestic violence, contact Child Protective Services (CPS).
The best way to help children of alcoholics is to get their parents into treatment for their alcohol addiction as soon as possible.
To help an alcoholic parent, you should encourage them to seek professional help to treat their addiction. Be prepared to calmly explain how drinking affects their child’s life and listen with compassion.
There are various addiction treatments available for alcoholics, including:
They may also benefit from attending an alcohol addiction support group such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).
If the alcoholic parent is resistant to help, you can set up an intervention with a professional interventionist’s help. In some states, if the alcoholic is still reluctant, you may be able to involuntarily commit them with the help of a judge’s order.
While it’s critical for the child that the parent gets treatment, involuntary commitment can disrupt their life and relationship with their parent. It’s better to try and get the parent to go with their own free will if possible.
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