Three conditions must exist for a person to be an alcoholic, according to the American Psychiatric Association. They are physiological problems, such as hand tremors or blackouts, psychological problems, such as an obsession with drinking and behavioral problems that interfere with living a normal life. An alcoholic in the family can completely disrupt family life, causing harmful effects to children that can last a lifetime.
Harm to the Fetus
If the mother drinks during pregnancy, she can cause harm to her fetus. The baby absorbs the same concentration of alcohol the mother drinks. This mother can cause her baby to have fetal alcohol syndrome, a birth defect that causes low-birth weight, brain deformities and distorted facial features. Children born with FAS have problems concerning attention span, memory, judgment and behavioral problems, such as social skill difficulties. They can be frustrated, angry and hyperactive.
Children who live with an alcoholic can have low self-esteem, chronic depression, loneliness and fears of abandonment, according to a 2003 issue of “All Psych Journal.” Some children believe they are causing the parent to drink and feel guilt and stress. This can manifest itself by young children having nightmares, crying and bed-wetting.
An alcoholic parent can cause depression in older children, too. Older children handle their depression by becoming a perfectionist, staying by themselves, hoarding or by being extremely self-conscious, according to the “All Psych Journal.” These children often feel different from other children and develop a poor self-image, almost imitating the image the alcoholic parent has of himself. Some older children of alcoholics develop phobias.
Problems in School
Children of alcoholics typically do not have a home environment that promotes studying. Therefore, they often do poorly in school and in developing relationships with their classmates or teachers. They often have to repeat a grade or drop out of school. These problems can spiral and can lead to the child lying, stealing and fighting.
Becoming Alcoholics Themselves
Children of alcoholics are four times more likely to become alcoholics themselves, according to the National Association for Children of Alcoholics. The reasons are probably a combination of genetics and environment. The NACoA says that an expanding base of literature supports a genetic link. As for the environment, children often model what they see. A child’s perception of drinking quantity can influence how they will drink in the future. Almost one-third of adult alcoholics had at least one parent who was also an alcoholic.