How Does Alcoholism Affect Children?

Suffering from an alcohol use disorder (AUD) can be frightening. It often feels like you are not in control of your actions, and you end up doing things your sober self would never dream of doing. You may even hurt the people closest to you without ever meaning to. If you often black out when drinking, you may not even remember all the things you have done or said to the people in your life.

Being on the other side of that is also often very difficult. Having a parent who suffers from AUD can be very traumatic. Often, children of parents with AUD have many adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). These ACEs have a negative effect on a child’s mental health and social-emotional development. This typically results in problems both in childhood and beyond that damage the child’s ability to function as an average adult in society.

If you are a parent who is struggling with AUD, you are not alone. A study published by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) in 2014 found that as many as 8% of people 12 years of age and older in Massachusetts suffered from a dependence on alcohol in the years studied (2008-2010).

Alcoholism & Children: 7 Characteristics of the Children of Parents with Alcohol Use Disorder

If you are worried about your alcohol use and how it impacts your children, researching this is important. You are in the right place. In her 1983 book “Adult Children of Alcoholics,” Janet G. Woititz, Ed.D., outlined characteristics of the adult children of people with AUD. This post will cover a few of those characteristics.

Lying When They Don’t Need To

Children of people with AUD often develop the habit of lying to the people in their lives, even into adulthood. In some cases, you could argue that it is easier to tell a small lie than to create an awkward situation. However, the children of people with AUD often lie even when it would be just as easy, or easier, to tell the truth.

For one thing, people with AUD often lie to their partners and children about drinking, so lying comes to be seen by the child as a normal part of intimate relationships. For another, the children of people with AUD often end up feeling like they have to lie throughout their childhood because they cannot let their friends or authority figures in their life know what is going on at home. When you spend your entire childhood lying to the people in your life about what is happening, it becomes almost second nature and a habit that continues into adulthood.

Constantly Seeking the Approval of Others

The children of people with AUD often struggle to have an internalized (self-based) understanding of self-worth. Because of this lack of self-worth, they often seek out the approval of others to see that others value them.

Throughout their childhood, the children of people suffering from AUD often seek the approval of their parent and attempt to manage that parent’s emotions to avoid emotional or physical harm. They may also seek the approval of others in their life to receive the approval they are not getting from their parents.

This leads to continued approval-seeking behavior as an adult. It is often reflected in romantic or other intimate relationships.

Struggling to Relax or Have Fun

The children of people struggling with AUD often struggle to relax, both as a child and later as an adult. They often take themselves very seriously as well. They may want to relax but always feel like they have to be the responsible person in a scenario, even when they are out with friends, or they feel overwhelmed by the responsibilities they are shouldering.

However, the children of a parent with AUD may go in the opposite direction. They may never take anything seriously or struggle to maintain even basic responsibilities, like paying bills and keeping a job.

Both of these situations often result from having to be the “responsible one” as a child. The child may have had to take care of their adult parents when they were drunk or manage household responsibilities from an early age because their parents were unable to do so due to their drinking.

Judging Themselves Harshly

The children of parents with AUD also tend to be extremely critical of themselves. They are often perfectionists who believe that anything less than perfect is a total disaster. When they make a mistake or something happens by accident, it is often very difficult for them to cope with the less-than-perfect results. This often happens in their relationships as well, where they judge themselves for the things they do to other people, even if they were by complete accident.

This typically results from managing their parents throughout their childhood and trying to keep things the way their parents wanted them to avoid emotional or physical violence on the part of the parent with AUD. The results of their mistakes in childhood had very high stakes, and it is very difficult to let go of that kind of thinking.

Guessing What Normal Behavior Is

These kids often feel like they have to guess at what is normal behavior or feel like they are “pretending” to be a normal person well into adulthood. They may feel inherently different from their peers or like they don’t know what to do in social situations because they don’t want the people around them to realize they are only pretending to be normal.

These kids often feel this way because their childhood was not very normal in comparison with their peers. They had different responsibilities growing up and did not have the same experiences as many of their friends. This often makes them feel like they don’t know how “normal people” act or what they are supposed to do to be a functional person.

Overreacting to Changes Outside Their Control

People who grew up with a parent suffering from AUD very often will want to constantly control everything about their life as an adult, and as a result, will struggle to deal with changes that are outside of their control. These might be things like changes at work or local city ordinances, but it could also show up in their adult relationships, like when they are left by a partner who will not consider reconciliation.

This need for control comes from a lack of control and stability in their childhood. The children of parents with AUD often have lots of changes in their lives and don’t know what life looks like from week to week or even day to day. They also often have to try to predict what their parents’ emotions and actions will be. This can lead to a desire to control as many things about their life as possible.

Struggling With Intimate Relationships

Kids of people with AUD often struggle with their romantic relationships as well as other intimate relationships, like those with their own children or even close friends or siblings. They may not feel like they know how to share their emotions with other people.

A lot of these relationship problems are related to issues we already discussed above. People who regularly lie to the people in their lives, are always unsure of themselves and seeking the approval of others, can’t relax, are overly hard on themselves, and cannot let go of things they can’t change will struggle to be comfortable or confident in an intimate relationship where they have to let people in.

Treatment for Alcohol Use Disorder at East Coast Recovery

If you are looking for alcohol treatment, East Coast Recovery in Cohasset, Massachusetts, is here to help you through that process.

Here at East Coast Recovery, we offer an intensive outpatient program (IOP) and a partial hospitalization program (PHP) as well as aftercare treatment. We understand that different clients need different levels of care, and we want to be able to meet their needs.

Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP)

We offer a high-quality intensive outpatient program. Unlike a residential treatment program, IOP does not require that you stay at the facility 24/7. Instead, clients live at home and come to the treatment facility regularly to receive treatment.

IOP often consists of a total of 10 hours of individual and group therapy a week for 90 days. However, at East Coast Recovery, our treatment programs areindividualized, and the length of treatment is determined by a clinician and the client’s needs.

We believe that, in addition to individual therapy, group therapy is important because it allows space for clients to see they are not alone, practice communication, and experience positive socialization.

IOP is a good choice for people who cannot do a residential program because of work, school, or family duties. IOP is also a good fit for people who are coming out of a residential program and need help transitioning back to daily life.

Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP)

We also offer a partial hospitalization program. PHP is in between residential treatment and IOP. We offer PHP to clients who are 18 years of age or older, and it is designed for people who may be considered a safety risk or who have struggled with lower levels of care, like IOP.

During PHP, you would still live at home but would come to our treatment facility daily. In PHP, clients receive a mix of individual, group, and family therapy, and may engage in recreational activities at the facility.

PHP is a large time commitment and is usually the primary focus of a client’s day-to-day life while they are in treatment. This is a good option for someone who needs frequent care and support. We offer a variety of care methods, and they can be fit to the needs of individual clients. The length of the treatment depends on the needs of the client.

Aftercare Treatment Program

At East Coast Recovery, we know the recovery journey doesn’t simply end when a client has completed their program. That’s why we’ll work with you to come up with an aftercare plan that works for you. 

A few common parts of aftercare are:

  • Continuing individual, group, or family therapy
  • Finding a sober support network
  • Participating in meetings, like a 12-step program
  • Finding sober living
  • Pursuing new hobbies and self-care

We will even help you figure out the logistics of your aftercare plan, including finances, transportation, employment, housing, and education.

Finding Help at East Coast Recovery

Are you afraid your children are developing some of these characteristics due to your alcohol use disorder? It is never too late to get treatment. Help yourself and your kids today. To get started, call (617) 390-8349.



How does an alcoholic father affect his son?

People tend to mimic the behaviors modeled to them in childhood, while also developing social-emotional habits that are often lifelong. So a son who sees his father struggling with alcohol use disorder throughout his childhood will develop coping skills from growing up in a dysfunctional home. These behaviors may include lying when he doesn’t need to, constantly seeking the approval of others, struggling to relax or have fun, judging himself harshly, having to constantly guess what normal behavior is, struggling with intimate relationships, and overreacting to changes outside of his control.

What does alcoholism do to a child?

Having a parent who suffers from alcohol use disorder often leads to a child having a number of adverse childhood experiences, also known as ACEs. ACEs have a negative impact on a child’s mental health and often affect the way they view the world as they grow up. These ACEs often lead to a number of behaviors that are not typical of healthy, functional people. These behaviors may include lying when they don’t need to, constantly seeking the approval of others, struggling to relax or have fun, judging themselves harshly, having to constantly guess what normal behavior is, struggling with intimate relationships, and overreacting to changes outside of their control.

What are the symptoms of a child of an alcoholic?

A few common symptoms of a child of someone with alcohol use disorder include lying when they don’t need to, constantly seeking the approval of others, struggling to relax or have fun, judging themselves harshly, having to constantly guess what normal behavior is, struggling with intimate relationships, and overreacting to changes outside of their control.

Table of Contents

FREE Insurance Verification

Download Our FREE East Coast Recovery Model eBook

addiction recovery program and treatment at east coast recovery center