When someone has an addiction it affects everyone around them and none more so than young children who are still learning and developing social skills. Alcoholic parents can have a lifetime impact on a child’s psychological health and development as they grow into adulthood. People who had an alcoholic parent often find it difficult to navigate daily life, relationships and may even have addiction problems of their own later in life.
The severity of a person’s alcohol problem can affect their family differently but even high functioning alcoholic parents can harm their child’s development. An alcoholic parent does not necessarily have to be jobless or an emotional wreck to affect other people. Even those who can hold down a decent or high paying job and appear to be normal on the surface are still influencing their children through their more subtle alcoholic behavior.
Alcoholism is a problem that can have a deep psychological impact and for a child can make their upbringing more complex and painful than other children. A kid who grows up witnessing their parent’s addiction in some way may not understand or be able to participate in normal behavior. They may have self-esteem issues or feel different from others because of the way that they were raised.
High Functioning Addiction and Family Life
The way that a person deals with addiction can vary between individuals and an alcoholic who is high functioning may seem very different from other addicts. A high functioning alcoholic may be well-educated, middle class and have a very stable job. They may appear to be in control of their lives and become very adept and experienced at hiding their drinking habits.
A high functioning alcoholic may seem to be handling their addiction but it is going to gradually affect their psychological health and behavior. For close loved ones and children, there may be signs that their parent is addicted to alcohol that only they can see at home. A parent’s psychological well-being can impact that of their children and alcoholics are damaging their own mental health through substance abuse.
The negative qualities of a high functioning alcoholic are going to be felt mainly by the people closest to them such their spouse and children. Their behavior at home may be very different than what they show to others outside of the family. The impact of a high functioning alcoholic parent can be devastating to the family because there is often little support from people outside the home who aren’t aware of the problem.
The Impact of an Alcoholic Parent
Each member of the family will experience the alcoholic parent’s behavior differently and may react in their own individual way. Children of alcoholic parents are the ones that have most long-term effects compared with spouses or other family members. Children are more likely to experience mental health issues including depression, anxiety, antisocial behavior, relationship problems, and their own issues of addiction.
When children see their parents abusing alcohol, blacking out or being emotionally unavailable because they are intoxicated they can internalize those experiences. They may develop low self-esteem and judge themselves very harshly, believing that they are inadequate. They may have trouble socializing or feeling comfortable at social gatherings because they associated them with their parent drinking.
Children of alcoholic parents also have issues with intimate relationships because they have difficulty trusting people or being vulnerable around others. They may be unable to get truly close to others and develop a healthy emotional attachment that can fulfill their needs. They might struggle especially with romantic relationships which may be too complex for them to handle their emotions.
Because alcoholic parents, even high functioning ones, often become emotionally or even physically unavailable to children they may develop an intense fear of abandonment. Children of alcoholics may grow up to hold onto relationships that they shouldn’t or struggle with their ability to trust people because they are terrified of being abandoned by loved ones. They may worry that people will leave them or grow bored with their relationship with them.
A high functioning alcoholic parent may believe that because they appear to have their drinking under control that their family is not affected by their behavior. The reality is that their addiction affects their family most of all and will have a lifetime affect on how they function in life and relate to others. Children of alcoholic parents may not realize until later on in adulthood that they were deeply harmed by their parent’s drinking habits.
If an alcoholic parent gets help and is able to quit their addiction then they can start to repair the relationship they have with their family. Children may be able to recover from the psychological issues they have experienced due to their parent’s alcoholism. With therapy and treatment it is possible for families to experience positive change and recover from the impact of addiction.