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The Main Effects of Alcohol Abuse on Children

Written by Seth Fletcher on January 9, 2016
Last update: March 5, 2024

Effects of Alcohol Abuse on Children? There's so many!

Family is always the first one to take the hit, right? When something goes wrong in our lives, they’re the first to feel the blow. I mean, it makes sense. But children? Man oh man, the main effects of alcohol abuse on children are just too many. They’re the closest relationship to us and they care about us more than anyone in the world. There may be some exceptions but those family ties… those are real. You'd take a bullet for them! And sometimes those bonds can be extremely painful. The most vulnerable in my opinion are the young minds – the children of the family. Abusing alcohol puts such a large strain on the family and when there are children involved, it’s almost double the strain. Those young minds are so easily manipulated and so easily influenced, every single thing you say or do is engraved in those minds for a very long time. Alcohol is a drug that can start influencing children even before they’re born, while they’re still in the womb. It’ll continue throughout their life and well into their teenage and adult years. This is why if you are suffering from signs of alcohol addiction, don’t hesitate, reach out to us.

The “Why” Stage of Children

You know that “Why” phase kids go through when they’re always asking questions? Well kids may get stuck in that stage for ages when they have a parent or parents who are abusing alcohol… and it won’t be simple questions regarding the fire hydrant or baking sheet. They may ask themselves questions like “Why do they do it? Is drinking a good thing?” “Why won’t they stop fighting?” “Is it my fault?” Alcohol abuse is not something to be taken lightly. It’s a disease. And like all diseases, it requires treatment. Because it may not be contagious, but it can be learned. Your children watch you and look up to you. And children aren’t the only ones who might start asking questions. As an alcohol abuser, parents may start feeling guilty when signs of child neglect pop up. Maybe it’ll be in the form of a neighbour passing a comment or being called in to speak to the principal about your child going to school without breakfast or other meals. And when overwhelming feelings begin to surface, it’s common to start blaming others for your troubles. Our program deals with these kinds of issues. According to The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, teens with alcohol-dependent parents report feeling alone, unloved, depressed or burdened by their alcoholic parents’ lives at home. And unfortunately for the children, there is nothing they can do about it; it is up to the alcohol abuser to make a difference. No one else can make the change for the person or make the person feel better.

Help for Children of Alcoholic Parents

These are some of the things the child of an alcoholic can do to help cope with these burdens:
  • Acknowledge the problem: Don’t try and cover up for the lives of your alcohol-dependent parent(s). It is never your fault and you shouldn’t have to explain that to anybody. Speak up and show your emotions – let them know how much it bothers you. You must admit that your parent has a problem – that is the first step. Not everything is okay, so don’t pretend that it is. Knowing that you are not the cause of the problem will help you cope more effectively.
  • Find support: Don’t bottle up emotions inside. Sometimes it may seem easier not to explain anything and not to face the opinions of others on how to deal with the current situation. But finding someone who you’ll be comfortable discussing your situation and feelings with will make a big, positive difference. Even if your parents aren’t around, it’s important to know that there are others who are there for you. Finding support allows you to gain the courage and strength to try and help motivate the parent who is abusing alcohol or to find the right kind of help your parent needs.
  • Find a safe environment: You may not always feel safe at home. An alcoholic parent can be unpredictable and you may put yourself in harm’s way by staying at home. Find a safe haven – whether it’s the library, a friend’s house, a relative’s house. It’s good to find a safe place before you think it’s necessary, so you know where to go when something happens.

How is Alcohol Abuse the same as Child Abuse?

The fact that you don’t beat your child doesn’t mean you’re not abusing them. There are different forms of child abuse. Neglect is one of them. The RCMP defines neglect as the “failure to give due attention or care to a child, resulting in serious emotional or physical harm.” Neglect is usually a result of negative caregiver relationships and when one or both of the parents are abusing alcohol, there rarely is a positive relationship. Children who suffer from neglect are more at risk for abuse, as well as physical, academic, social, and emotional issues in the future.

Effects of Alcohol on Unborn Baby

A child does not have to be born yet for it to undergo the abuse of an alcoholic mother or parent. Pregnant women who are alcoholic or whose partner is alcoholic are often at risk of:
  • Lack of prenatal care
  • Poor nutrition
  • Stress
  • Violence
  • Poor social support
  • Lack of familial support
If the mother experiences the above, the unborn baby is likely to be affected. The baby will be at risk of:
  • Growth deficiencies
  • Issues with central nervous system functioning
  • Complications with IQ
  • Small eye openings and poor development of optic nerve
  • Small head & brain
  • Joint, limb, ear and heart malformations
  • Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS)
Unfortunately, a child does not shed his/her past as a snake sheds its previous skin. Instead, the past really affects how the child grows up – and for the child of an alcoholic, that might mean growing up with issues like:
  • Anxiety and/or depression
  • Psychiatric disorders
  • Explicit behaviour problems
  • Scoring low on achievement tests
  • Lack of supervision
  • Lack of parenting care
  • Social stigma used against the individual
  • Adolescent substance use and abuse and delinquency

How Do I Protect My Kid From Alcohol? Maybe I Should Just Avoid The Topic…

By not appropriately educating the future generations, we are greatly robbing them of knowledge which could very well save their lives in the future. So you tell your kid about alcohol, now what? Doesn’t that just expose them to alcohol and increase their risk of consuming it at an early age? No, not really. You’ve got to choose the right time and method of communicating this information with your child. indicates that parents should be open about discussing alcohol with their children. Instead of laying down hypocritical rules that forbid your child from drinking when you yourself drink, explain to your child the benefits of waiting until you’re older before consuming alcohol, or what the effects of a hangover feel like, and why your children should not end up in the same situation. Don’t hide your alcohol consumption from your child, because habits will form and this may become a habit that just can’t be shaken off easily.

"Child watches me drink" - What do I do?

Children will often model after what the adults in their lives do, whether they pick up good or bad habits. In order to encourage your children to be open with the topic of alcohol, it’s very important that you are yourself open about your alcohol use. How much do you drink? Why do you drink that amount? What happens when you drink too much without being careful? Discuss with your child the effects you suffer short-term and long-term after drinking. Doing so allows the bond of trust to develop, and it gives your child the knowledge they need to make better decisions in the future. And being open about it also allows the child to learn and form their own opinions about alcohol and its effects on the human body.
Certified Addiction Counsellor

Seth brings many years of professional experience working the front lines of addiction in both the government and privatized sectors.

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