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How Does an Alcoholic Parent Impact the Family?



Ernest J. Bordini, Ph.D., Executive Director,
Clinical Psychology Associates of North Central Florida    (352) 336-2888
2121 NW 40th Terr. Suite B, Gainesville FL 32605                       
all rights reserved:  WWW.CPANCF.COM


There has been a great deal of research on the impact of alcoholism on the family.  Some of the longer term outcomes are somewhat complicated to interpret because of the contributions of both genetics and experience.  There are direct and indirect consequences, relationship consequences, as well as emotional consequences.


The direct consequences are easy to understand.  For example, health care costs related to alcohol or substance abuse can be substantial, not only for direct treatment of the addiction but for related medical conditions such a GI complaints, liver complications, head injuries, diabetes, hypertension etc.  In addition to health care costs, lost workdays, loss of employment, frequent job changes, lack of advancement can also be a burden shared by the entire family.  Legal costs can be quite substantial for arrests or DUI’s. 


Costs of damaged cars pale in comparison to the potential loss of life.  Motor vehicle accidents are a leading cause of death for late adolescents and young adults.  The risk of teen driving accidents are certainly magnified when alcohol or drugs are added.  Read the linked article for tips on reducing risks of alcohol or drug abuse in teens. 


Children of alcoholics have higher rates of alcohol, substance abuse and eating disorders and have higher rates of dysfunctional marriages themselves.  It probably would be no surprise to learn divorce rates are higher for individuals who abuse or become dependent on alcohol or drugs.  Children and spouses often share the financial impact of divorce.  In addition to the direct emotional costs of growing up with an alcoholic parent, children must also often cope with the challenges of a parental divorce.


Children of alcoholics also commonly experience low self-esteem, shame, isolation from peers and emotional distress. Parental absence through divorce, incarceration or emotional unavailability due to addiction and intoxication likely contribute to issues of trust and insecurity in addition to realistic concerns that harm may come to one’s parent.  While some children may internalize the difficulties, and experience anxiety or depression, other children may misbehave or “act-out.”   Some may blame themselves for the family difficulties and attempt to be the perfect child, while others may take on the role of the “black sheep” of the family.  Some children experience trauma related to physical or emotional abuse by the addicted parent and exhibit symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.  These emotional difficulties can interfere or distract with performance in school, further contributing to low-self esteem. 


Psychologists experienced with alcohol and substance abuse issues, co-dependency, and family dynamics often approach these issues in individual or family therapy.  In many instances addressing marital or family dynamics is an important part of an individual’s alcohol or substance abuse treatment.  Self-help groups for Co-Dependency as well as for Adult Children of Alcoholics can also be found through Alcoholics Anonymous.


Some starts for reading more about the impact of alcohol or drug problems on the family appear in the links on this page.  Clinical Psychology Associates of N. Central Florida does not endorse or make any representations about these books and the opinions expressed therein are solely the opinions of the authors.



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