The use of alcohol and drugs is a human trait with many potentially damaging consequences. The reality is many adults drink or use drugs on social occasions and to relieve stress or emotional symptoms. For some, alcohol and drug use is compulsive and destructive.
The Bad News
The list of potentially negative symptoms of and effects on children of alcoholics is sobering. The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry explains the psychodynamics of the guilt, anxiety, embarrassment, confusion, anger, depression, or lack of trust experienced by a child with an alcoholic parent.
Parental substance use and abuse are also associated with child abuse and neglect, poor school performance, and behavioral problems. In a synthesis of the research, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism suggests that families of alcoholics have "lower levels of family cohesion, expressiveness, independence, and intellectual orientation and higher levels of conflict compared with non-alcoholic families".
Addiction and abuse in a family cause trauma that leads to several distinct family dynamics. The constriction of emotional expression, avoidance of close contact, and impulsive acting out of painful emotions are truly the setting for a painful childhood with lasting negative effects.
The Good News
More children than not emerge from alcoholic families in good shape. Obviously, many factors help children become resilient in their lives with an alcoholic parent. Resiliency factors of insight, independence, relationship, initiative, creativity, humor, and morality protect a child from psychological damage (see Project Resilience). Other protective factors identified by the National Association for Children of Alcoholics are
- a close bond with their caretaker
- developing a strong social orientation and social skills
- receiving positive attention from others early in life
- maintaining family structure of mealtimes, holiday traditions, family rituals
- consistent adult significant others in the child's life
- confronting the active alcoholic
- moderate to high religious observance
The primary predictor of healthy development in a child of an alcoholic? Recovery makes all the difference. When a parent quits drinking, the child's emotional and psychological well-being is greatly restored.