As estimated one in 12 Americans suffer from alcohol abuse or dependence according to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. As a result, an estimated 26.8 million children are exposed, at varying degrees, to alcoholism in the family, placing them at higher risk for alcoholism and other drug abuse than are children of non-alcoholics. Those kids are more likely to experience symptoms of anxiety, depression, antisocial behavior, relationship difficulties, behavioral problems, as well as alcohol abuse themselves.
A week is dedicated to bringing awareness, Children of Alcoholics Week, February 11 — 17, to recognize those who are affected by the addiction of their parents and those who still struggle as adults due to their trauma.
Often our focus will settle only on those who have fallen into alcoholism, but children of alcoholics are some of the most influenced because of their parental observation. Twenty five percent of children who grew up in the home of an alcoholic will become one themselves, and 43 percent of the US adult population has been exposed to alcoholism at some point in their lives.
Children of alcoholics often feel that they’re responsible for their parents’ drinking, which can cause self-doubt, depression, anxiety, and a lack of self-confidence, which can mean lasting damage on their emotional health. Over-responsibility is also extremely common, where the child must take on many parental roles while their parent is intoxicated, including taking care of siblings, cooking, cleaning, and in most cases even taking care of their intoxicated parent. The guilt and premature mental growth of a child of an alcoholic has a chance of leaving them with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as an adult. Not only is their emotional health at risk, but often times they will show signs of physical health distress as well, such as frequent headaches or stomachaches. Additionally, children of alcoholics have a higher risk of developing an addiction problem, which can lead to a life of similar problems as their parents if not lead down a path of proper treatment and recovery.
If you know a child of an alcoholic parent, here are ways you can help:
- Provide them with a safe space. Let them know that they are free to speak about their troubles without judgement around you. This will give them an outlet to release tension and feelings of anxiety, but make sure to pay close attention. In some cases, special authorities may need to step in.
- Reassure them that the problems of their parents are not their own. This is vital for them to know, so they can grow up with a stronger and healthier mind.
- If the parent has expressed interest in recovery, lend a helping hand in getting them and their child the proper treatment they need. This can include assorted levels of counseling (individual, family, group), psychiatric evaluation, and specific trauma focused services.
Community Care Services (CCS) provides many services that can help families and their children cope and find recovery, with several types of therapy, case management services, psychiatric evaluation and medication management, as well as school-based services in the Taylor and Lincoln Park areas. Let us all take the proper steps to help ourselves, our friends, and our families live a fulfilling and healthy life.
Susan Kozak has been a licensed social worker for the past 31 years and currently serves as the executive director of Community Care Services, a position she has held since 2011. This article was first published in The News-Herald on Feb 15, 2018.