Children of Alcoholics: Common Patterns and Helpful Resources

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Growing up with parents who drink excessively is more common than you might think. According to recent studies, as many as 7.5 million children are living with at least one parent who struggles with alcohol addiction. This translates to nearly one in five American adults having grown up under these circumstances. Clearly this doesn’t prevent many people from living full, productive lives, but there are certain lasting stresses and challenges that can result from this experience. It’s important to recognize the consequences of parental alcohol abuse, and what can be done to help.

This article covers subject matter that may be upsetting for some readers. However, it may also shed some light on a common struggle, and give you some tools to overcome it.

How Parental Alcohol Abuse Can Affect Children

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Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

It is true that most parents want what’s best for their children. However, addiction often makes it hard to be objective about what is happening. Alcohol abuse can make some people unaware of what their children are experiencing. Others may simply find it difficult to face. Regardless, because some of the psychological consequences of parental alcohol abuse can be severe, these problems need adequate attention.

Whether you are a parent, or the child of an alcoholic, awareness is an important first step. Below are five common issues that children with alcoholic parents experience:

Increased Anxiety and Depression

Research shows that these problems are more common in children who grow up with a parent who abuses alcohol. One possible explanation is that daily life in such households can be inconsistent or unstable. Children may not know what to expect from day to day, resulting in long-term feelings of anxiety or depression.

Self-Esteem Issues

While this doesn’t happen in all cases, there are studies to suggest that a parent with a substance abuse disorder is three times more likely to be mentally, physically, or sexually abusive. Even in milder cases, many children of alcoholics experience wide fluctuations in their parent’s mood, and can sometimes internalize them. It goes without saying that this can affect a child’s self-esteem, and that this can be carried forward into adulthood.


Some children may feel personally responsible for their parent’s behavior or struggles. They might believe that if they were better behaved or more responsible their parent might drink less. In some cases, the parent who drinks might unintentionally encourage these guilty feelings through their words or actions.


If a parent’s behavior appears unstable, whether in public or at home, children may also suffer from embarrassment. The fear that others will view their parent poorly, or that it will reflect on them, can reinforce feelings of shame or discomfort. These feelings can also create a pattern of isolation, as a child avoids exposing their embarrassment to friends or relatives.


If a child feels neglected by their parents, or that a parent is prioritizing drinking over caring for them, they might develop strong feelings of resentment and anger. Studies show a connection between parental problem drinking and anger in children, as well as greater chances of a negative outlook on life.

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Impacts on Adulthood

As children grow into adults, many of these patterns, feelings, and behaviors remain with them. Evidence shows that adult children of alcoholics often display higher levels of depression than adults who didn’t grow up in alcoholic households, and that they are more likely to choose alcoholic partners. Many also continue to display coping mechanisms such as behavioral disengagement or denial.

One study, published in 2000 in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol, found that young adults who grew up in alcoholic households were more likely to experience serious drinking problems of their own.  They also showed higher rates of social dysfunction and greater educational difficulties than young adults whose parents didn’t drink.

With therapy, and ongoing life experience outside of the household, many people are able to manage these emotional struggles and move forward. However, it is important to realize that a lot of people have these experiences in their background, and that this is a common part of American life. Healing these emotional issues, and preventing them from being passed on to newer generations is an important part of managing the growing health crisis of alcohol abuse in the U.S.

What You Can Do to Help

children of alcoholics holding hands on bicycles
Photo by Everton Vila on Unsplash

For starters, there are several organizations that provide help and support for children of alcoholic families. The National Association for Children of Addiction offers educational materials, training, and advocacy for anyone touched by this issue. Adult Children of Alcoholics is another support organization, which applies the 12-step model to help members heal and move forward.

Then there are resources that can make it easier to reduce or quit drinking. If you struggle with alcohol addiction, and you are concerned about passing these struggles on to your children, the important thing is not to focus on guilt or worry. We are all human, and we all have our troubles. What matters most is seeking assistance. And the good news is that treatment for alcohol addiction is becoming more accessible than ever before.

One program that can help is Ria Health, which provides treatment for alcohol addiction using telemedicine. Members get access to medications for alcohol cravings, as well as recovery coaching, 24/7 support, and digital tools to track their progress. Best of all, the whole thing can be done through your smartphone, allowing you to continue with your daily life.

While having a parent who struggles with addiction can be hard on a child, seeing that parent fight and overcome addiction can also provide an inspiring and encouraging example. It is never too late to get help for alcohol abuse. Schedule a call with us to get started today.

Written By:
Ria Health Team
Our experienced team is committed to transforming alcohol addiction treatment.
Reviewed By:
Evan O'Donnell
NYC-based content strategist with over 3 years editing and writing in the recovery space. Strong believer in accessible, empathic, and fact-based communication.
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