How Alcohol Affects Children

Edited by Living Sober

Last updated March 1, 2013

Hundreds of thousands of children in America are living in homes where alcoholism is present either through a parent, sibling or other relative. Those who are addicted to alcohol often feel that either their addiction only impacts their every day life or that it doesn’t impact anyone (including themselves) at all. Unfortunately, alcoholism affects everyone, from the user to the youngest child in the home. Children who are exposed to alcoholics often suffer serious mental and/or physical side effects as a result.

Children and Alcohol – The Effects

Children, while extremely impressionable and often naive to the trials and tribulations of the real world, are often very intuitive and emotionally sensitive. Therefore, if someone close to them is struggling with alcoholism, they are likely to be affected emotionally and developmentally. The following are some of the ways that alcohol affects children:

  • Issues with blame and guilt – Because children are so sensitive as well as still developing their emotional capabilities, they might confuse their loved one’s alcoholism with being their fault. They might also begin to experience a sense of worthlessness, as their loved one won’t stop using even for them. These emotions often lead to guilt, which can quickly develop into either depression or anxiety in a child.
  • Lack of stability – Children whose parent(s) are alcoholics are often left to fend for themselves, which can be incredibly frightening at a young age. Not having a general routine or structure to follow can often leave a child feel unstable in everything they do. This lack of stability can perpetuate itself into anxiety in a child, as well as promote attachment issues in the future.
  • Loss of trust – It is important that children are able to learn the value of trust, especially in others. When a loved one is constantly breaking promises and/or doing things to betray a child’s trust, a child can begin to feel that nobody is worth trusting if he or she can’t even trust a family member. Therefore, these children are likely to have more trouble making friends, developing relationships or respecting their elders.

Children who are exposed to alcoholism might also begin developing anger issues, experience outbursts in the classroom, lose focus or become emotionally numb over time.

Preventing the Effects of Alcohol

Because children are not in a position of power to help themselves, the only way to prevent them from suffering the residual effects of alcohol abuse is for their primary caretaker to regain control over the situation, even if they are the ones with the problem. Seeking treatment will not only benefit the one using, but will also help save the children involved from having to live through the detrimental side effects that this type of substance abuse can foster.

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