There are an estimated 18 million children of alcoholic parents in the United States. More than 10% of those children are under the age of 18. And, per the National Association for Children of Alcoholics (NACOA), every second of every hour, two more babies are born to addicted parents. Read on to learn more about the common characteristics of children of alcoholics. If you know a child who has an alcoholic parent, contact The Ranch TN for information on how we can help.
The Common Characteristics of Children of Alcoholics
Children of alcoholic parents may develop poor coping skills or become hyper-resilient, depending on a variety of factors. Situational factors, including the type, duration, frequency, and severity of the trauma related to parents’ alcohol abuse can have a lasting effect on a child.
Additionally, depending on their coping mechanisms, these factors could either cause the child to become withdrawn and/or experience denial, or gain strength and resilience. Research shows that due to genetic predispositions, exposure to alcohol, and family dysfunction, children who are living with one or both parents that abuse alcohol are generally at a greater risk for several issues. These include:
Mental Health Disorders
If a child internalizes their behaviors, mental health concerns can include depression, anxiety, neuroticism, and negative emotions. These can include low self-esteem, oversensitivity to disapproval, and emotional instability. If the child externalizes their behaviors, mental health issues will likely include acting out, aggression, disinhibitions, impulsivity, and signs of ADD/ADHD.
Problems with cognitive and verbal skills are also likely. Children of alcoholic parents generally have lower IQ, poor communication skills, and lack a general desire to achieve. Co-occurring medical problems can include birth defects, low birth weight, and fetal alcohol syndrome. Children of alcoholic parents may also experience neglect, physical, and/or sexual abuse. They might also be susceptible to a maladaptive disorder. Maladaptive disorders are those that prevent children from learning to cope and adjust to certain situations in a healthy and productive manner. The maladaptive disorder can appear as:
- Minor behaviors like nail-biting
- Severe behaviors like cutting or other forms of self-harm
- Disordered eating
- Avoidance coping such as avoiding stressful thoughts or feelings in order to protect oneself, which actually creates more stress and anxiety and in turn lowers self-confidence. Avoidance coping is illustrated by a desire to seek lower stress situations or avoid higher stress situations.
Additionally, children of alcoholic parents are four times more likely to develop alcohol issues themselves. Some children of alcoholic parents may present themselves as well-adjusted because they exhibit extreme resiliency. They may take on mature roles in the home such as feeding the family, cleaning the home, shopping for food, and other roles illustrating parentification. But beneath the surface, these children may be socially withdrawn.
In addition, they may vacillate between extreme maturity and impulsive age regressive behavior, have a poor self-image or have a general distrust of people and an inability to form satisfying relationships with others.
Some Children Of Alcoholics Are Able To Thrive
While a large number of children of alcoholic parents experience difficulties, many do not. Some may even experience improved outcomes. They may function well and only need support, information, and guidance to be successful. Studies show that children who appear well-adjusted and seem resistant to the negative effects of living with one or both alcoholic parents tend to have positive support and attention from others. These children also tend to exhibit extroversion and sociability traits and share several characteristics in common, including:
- A desire to achieve
- A caring disposition
- A belief in self-help
- Average intelligence
- Good communication skills
Whether a particular child is negatively affected by living with parents who abuse alcohol depends on a variety of factors. Recognizing how a child of alcoholic parents is coping with their experience can be instrumental in providing appropriate support. If you would like to reach out for help with alcoholism or think you would benefit from a family therapy program, contact our recovery center, The Ranch TN at 1.844.876.7680. Our caring staff is ready to help you.