Alcoholism: A Family Disorder

Little girl cuddles up to her alcoholic dad

Alcoholism is often perceived as an individual problem, however, it is important to acknowledge the shadow it casts over the entire household. Parents, being the primary caregivers, usually have the biggest impact on their children. For parents with alcohol addiction, their dependency may hinder them from fulfilling their responsibilities and obligations, which leads to neglect and sometimes acts of violence and abuse. They may find it difficult to sufficiently provide their children with basic needs such as nourishment and healthcare, safety and structure, and affection and education. As such, having alcoholic parents can affect children in significant ways, impacting their physical and emotional well-being.

Adverse experiences growing up in a household with one or more alcoholic parents may make children more likely to become a smoker, obese, depressed, or have a substance abuse disorder themselves. They are also more likely to choose a partner with a substance abuse disorder. Moreover, they are more likely to experience psychological problems such as anxiety, antisocial behaviour, guilt, and anger issues that hinder their development and ability to form healthy relationships.

The impact of alcoholism can extend across generations, resulting in intergenerational trauma. Children who grow up with parents who have alcohol use disorder may find themselves drawn into co-dependent relationships, repeating the patterns they witnessed in their own families.

Coping Mechanisms of Children with Alcohol-dependent Parents

Children growing up in a household with alcoholic parents often develop coping mechanisms to adapt to difficult circumstances and to have a sense of stability and control. They include the following mechanisms, which can have long-term implications on a child’s emotional well-being:

Hyper-vigilance

Children living with alcoholic parents may learn they need to be constantly alert for signs of trouble since the adults around them can be unpredictable. While this can help them anticipate and protect themselves in volatile situations, it can also result in chronic stress and anxiety.

Self-reliance

Many children may take it upon themselves to take care of themselves and their younger siblings. At a young age, they may take on more responsibilities typically shouldered by adults. While this can be a valuable trait, it can make it challenging to ask for and feel deserving of help when needed.

Emotional Suppression and Avoidance

Children may learn to avoid confrontation by bottling up their emotions as a means of self-preservation, instead of expressing them in healthy ways. This can lead to difficulty in forming healthy emotional connections later in life.

Perfection-seeking

Some children may strive to regain a sense of control over different aspects of their lives by overachieving and excelling in their academic and extracurricular activities. However, this constant pursuit of perfection may lead to burnout and increased anxiety.

Isolation

Children may withdraw from social activities and isolate themselves from family members and friends. This can lead to low self-esteem and deep feelings of loneliness and alienation, which can hinder their social development.

Imitation and Co-dependency

Children may model their parents’ behaviour, and adopt unhealthy habits. They may inadvertently develop co-dependent relationships, mirroring the dynamics they witnessed at home.
These coping mechanisms are indicative of post-traumatic stress that develops in children who grew up with parents who are dependent on alcohol. It is important to understand and recognise how to provide support and intervention, such as therapy and counselling, to help children heal and develop healthier ways of coping with life’s challenges.

Seeking Help and Healing

People at a group therapy session

Recognising the profound effects on children of parents with alcoholism is a crucial step towards breaking the cycle. It is essential for parents and caregivers to seek professional help to address their addiction and curb its impact on their families.

In Thailand, The Cabin Chiang Mai offers leading programmes designed to treat alcohol addiction effectively and compassionately. We have comprehensive and personalised treatment plans to provide individuals with support tailored to their needs and circumstances.
Our residential programme takes a holistic approach to healing, which includes cognitive-behavioural therapy combined with our modernised version of the 12 Steps, psycho-educational workshops, mindfulness, meditation, and physical fitness, which have proven effective in treating alcohol use disorder.

We aim to provide our clients with a better understanding of their addiction and develop coping strategies to build resilience for a lasting recovery. We also have a family programme to promote the active involvement of family members in the recovery process. After successful treatment, we offer robust aftercare and relapse prevention services and resources.

Located in the mountainous Chiang Mai province in Northern Thailand, The Cabin has a tranquil and relaxed atmosphere conducive to healing and recovery. Our supportive community of professional staff, including licensed and accredited counsellors, therapists, psychiatrists, and nurses, provide world-class treatment and care to our clients.

Contact The Cabin Chiang Mai to learn more about our alcohol addiction treatment programme.

About the Author

Lee Daniel Hawker-Lecesne

Lee Daniel Hawker-Lecesne

Clinical Director at The Cabin (MBPsS, British Psychological Society Number: 479469) Lee is a Registered Member of the British Psychological Society. He graduated from Anglia Ruskin University in the UK with a degree in Behavioural Science and a postgraduate clinical focus on addictions from the University of Bath. Lee is a focused and ambitious individual who has in-depth training and experience in a broad range of clinical psychological interventions in the treatment of addiction, dual diagnosis, and complex trauma.

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