Alcoholic Fathers

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What is Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)?

Alcohol use disorder (AUD), more commonly known as alcoholism, affects about 14.1 million people in the United States, including fathers.6

AUD refers to a chronic relapsing brain disorder. It’s characterized by the impaired ability to quit or control alcohol use despite the toll it takes on one’s health. AUD can develop after prolonged, heavy alcohol use.4

Those with an AUD continue to drink alcohol regardless of: 

  • Recurrent physical health problems 
  • Continuing mental health problems 
  • Social consequences
  • Occupational consequences
  • Legal consequences

People with alcoholism are dependent on alcohol, but not everyone who drinks heavily is an alcoholic.6, 14 About a third of American adults are considered to be excessive drinkers. However, only 10 percent of them are alcoholics.

10 Signs Your Dad is an Alcoholic

Your father may be an alcoholic if he seems to depend on alcohol. This is especially likely if alcoholism runs on his side of the family or if he also deals with a mood disorder like depression.

If your father is struggling with alcoholism, he will have a harder time quitting or cutting back on alcohol than someone who binge drinks. 

Alcohol addiction changes the brain’s chemical makeup. It makes people want to drink more frequently.

Your dad might be an alcoholic if he:5, 10

  1. Experiences an inability to limit his drinking
  2. Continues to consume more alcohol
  3. Has developed a high tolerance for alcohol that requires him to drink more to achieve the same effect
  4. Neglects his self-care like hygiene and nutrition
  5. Often drinks alone
  6. Seems to let his obligations and responsibilities at work, school, and home fall to the wayside
  7. Lies or makes excuses about his drinking habits
  8. Continues to drink alcohol despite alcohol-induced issues
  9. Has told you about having cravings for alcohol before
  10. Has experienced alcohol withdrawal symptoms such as nausea, mood changes, or tremors

Alcoholic Father Statistics in the U.S.

If your father is an alcoholic, you’re not alone.

  1. About one in 10 children in the United States live with a parent who has AUD. This equates to 7.5 million children.8
  2. An average of 1.2 million children up to 2 years old, which makes up 10.1 percent of this age group, have lived with at least one parent with AUD each year.8
  3. The same is true for 1.2 million children aged 3 to 5 (9.9 percent), 2.4 million children aged 6 to 11 (10.2 percent), and 2.7 million children aged 12 to 17 (11.3 percent).8
  4. In the past year, 1.7 million children reside in a single-parent household with a parent who has a substance use disorder (SUD). Of them, 344,000 lived with their fathers. This means that about 11.8 percent of kids living in father-only homes live with dads who have misused a substance.8
  5. Of the 1.4 million kids in single-parent households with a parent who have AUD, 273,000 lived with their dads. This means that 9.3 percent of kids living in father-only households live with dads with AUD.8
  6. Research suggests that about half (45 to 65 percent) of the liability is rooted in genetics. Kids who grow up with alcoholic fathers face a higher risk of developing alcoholism themselves.9
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How an Alcoholic Father Affects Child Development

As with parents with any kind of substance use, an alcoholic father can have a major impact on his children’s development.13

The effects can start before a baby is even born. Alcohol use before conception is linked to deficits in brain development. 3

Fathers who drink alcohol consistently and moderately or heavily leading up to conception can hurt their offspring’s development due to exposure to paternal sperm. Basically, they can pass down unfavorable genes.3

In addition, children of alcohol parents might:

  • Crave acknowledgment and acceptance
  • Feel unworthy of love
  • Experience shame or guilt
  • Suffer from mood disorders like anxiety and depression
  • Struggle with trust
  • Feel overly responsible for others
  • Grow up with low self-esteem, impulsive behavior, and/or a victim perspective

Sons of fathers who are alcoholics may struggle with poor self-regulatory strategies. But the same can’t be said for daughters, who performed better than boys in one study’s tasks. They were asked to complete the Stroop Color and Word and Tower of London test. This is a neuropsychological test that assessed their ability to prevent cognitive interference when processing stimuli.2

This may be because more research shows that dads spend more time with their daughters talking more openly about the above emotions and internal dialogues.11

Does Alcoholism Increase Risks of Child Abuse/Abandonment? 

Yes, alcoholism is a risk factor for child abuse and abandonment.7

Studies show that alcohol use by a parent may be associated with physical and sexual abuse in children.15, 16

Research has also demonstrated that children of parents who use substances are more likely to be neglected by their parents than children who reside in non-substance using households.15, 16

Substance use and alcohol use by parents and other family members can hurt children from development through adulthood.

5 Tips for Living With an Alcoholic Father 

Living with an alcoholic father can be challenging. However, there are tips that can help the situation:1

  1. Talk to your father about how his drinking affects you
  2. Offer emotional support to your father
  3. Support your other family members if they’re in the picture
  4. Reach out to rehabilitation centers for help
  5. Remove triggers like drinking alcohol in front of your father

How to Confront an Alcoholic Parent 

Only confront an alcoholic parent if it feels safe to do so. 

If you don’t feel safe, refrain from confronting your father. Reach out to one of the resources below for help:

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Treatment & Recovery Options for Alcoholic Parents

There are plenty of treatment options available for people who struggle with alcoholism, including:

  • Inpatient or outpatient rehabilitation treatment centers
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Holistic therapy treatment facilities
  • Family therapy
  • Medication-assisted treatment (MAT)
  • Support groups
  • Local resources
  • A mental health services administration

What to Do if They Don’t Accept Treatment 

The reality is that no one will seek help or try to change if they don’t want to themselves. If your father won't accept treatment, you can’t force him to.

Some states, however, do allow involuntary commitment for substance addiction treatment, including alcohol addiction.12

  • Alaska
  • Arkansas
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • District of Columbia
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Hawaii
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kansas Kentucky
  • Maine
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Mississippa
  • Nebraska
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • Pennsylvania
  • South Carolina
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Virginia
  • Washington
  • West Virginia
  • Wisconsin
  • Montana (alcohol addiction only)
  • Rhode Island (alcohol addiction only)
Updated on January 4, 2022
16 sources cited
  1. Aacap. Alcohol Use in Families.
  2. Adkison, Sarah E, et al. “Impact of Fathers' Alcohol Problems on the Development of Effortful Control in Early Adolescence.” Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, Rutgers University, Sept. 2013.
  3. Alcohol Consumption by Fathers before Conception Could Negatively Impact Child Development.” ScienceDaily, ScienceDaily, 30 Mar. 2020.
  4. Alcohol Questions and Answers.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 15 Jan. 2020. 
  5. Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD).” MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 29 Apr. 2020.
  6. Alcohol Use Disorder.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 4 Jun. 2020. 
  7. Child Maltreatment and Alcohol.” World Health Organization.
  8. Children Living with Parents Who Have a Substance Use Disorder. SAMHSA.gov.
  9. Edenberg, Howard J, and Tatiana Foroud. “Genetics and Alcoholism.” Nature Reviews. Gastroenterology & Hepatology, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Aug. 2013.
  10. Harvard Health. “Alcohol Abuse.” Harvard Health
  11. ​​“Fathers' Brains Respond Differently to Daughters than Sons.” American Psychological Association, American Psychological Association. 
  12. Many States Allow Involuntary Commitment for Addiction Treatment.” Partnership to End Addiction.
  13. Moser, Richard P., and Theodore Jacob. “Parent-Child Interactions and Child Outcomes as Related to Gender of Alcoholic Parent.” Journal of Substance Abuse, JAI, 15 May 2002.
  14. Skerrett, Patrick J. “Heavy Drinkers Aren't Necessarily Alcoholics, but May Be ‘Almost Alcoholics.’” Harvard Health Blog, 17 Jun. 2020.
  15. Substance Abuse and Child Maltreatment.” Child Welfare Information Gateway.
  16. Widom, C S, and S Hiller-Sturmhöfel. “Alcohol Abuse as a Risk Factor for and Consequence of Child Abuse.” Alcohol Research & Health : the Journal of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 2001.

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