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How children might feel

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Children may have many difficult feelings about how alcohol is affecting their family.

Their feelings may go unnoticed if the home is very chaotic or they don’t have a stable, supportive adult to turn to.

They may feel:¹

Worried or stressed

About responsibilities that they have to take on, about not knowing what will happen next at home, about their parent’s health or wondering where their parent is:

“It worries me; I can’t get on with my life as I am taking care of my mum”

Afraid

Sometimes seeing their parent drunk can be scary for a child. They may also be afraid being harmed, shouted at or blamed:

“My mum was an alcoholic, fights and drunkenness at home scared me.”

Lonely

Children may be unsupported, left alone or cut off from friends or other family members.

“You feel invisible.”

Neglected or unloved

Children can feel very bad if their physical or emotional needs are not being me or they feel less important than alcohol. For example, not being properly fed, clothed or cared for or their problems and opinions being ignored.

“I just wish I had a mother I can go to when I have a problem and mother who would ask how my day’s been.”

Guilty

It’s common for children to feel that the situation is somehow their fault, especially if they don’t understand dependence or if their parent tries to blame them for problems at home.

Confused

By their parent’s unpredictable behaviour, their changing moods, or their reasons for drinking.

“One minute my dad could be the most amazing man in the world … the next he was an ugly, frightening man.”

Frustrated or resentful

That the parent won’t stop or because of the problems the drinking is causing such as arguments, financial hardship or parents failing to take responsibility.

“They just chose alcohol over children”

Embarrassed

Children can feel embarrassed by their parent’s drunken behaviour. The may not want to invite friends over in case their parent does something stupid. They may also be embarrassed that their family has this problem and worry that people will find out.

“When they get drunk, they don’t know what they are doing. It’s embarrassing. I hate it”

“I go to my friend’s house sometimes and she’s been to mine but I don’t really like it, it can be embarrassing if it’s a mess and we’ve got nothing in.”

Hurt or upset

By insults, abusive language or arguments, or from feeling that they don’t matter.

“… Roars at me and calls me scumbag and other bad words which hurt my feelings”

It’s important to know that children can live in very difficult situations without developing significant problems

Read more

Signs a child may not be coping

What you can do to help a child 

Worried about a parent - Information for young people affected by problem drinking

Helpful resources

Family Support Handbook: Helpful information for families affected by someone's alcohol or drug use, including understanding dependence, ways to cope and practical advice.

Parenting positively. Helping teenagers to cope with a parent’s problem drug or alcohol use: Guide for parents of teenagers who are affected by a parent's drug or alcohol abuse, from Tusla / Barnardos

Taking the Lid Off: Resource for families living with addiction and problematic substance use, including understanding of addiction and its effects on others and advice on what helps, based on the evidence.

Support services

Support services for families

¹ All quotes from Bottling it up: http://www.turning-point.co.uk/media/53899/bottlingitup2011.pdf

References:

http://www.aaets.org/article230.htm
Aisling McLaughlin, Tara O’Neill, Claire McCartan, Andy Percy, Mark McCann, Oliver Perra & Kathryn Higgins. Parental alcohol use and resilience in young people: A study of family, peer and school processes Funded by HSC R&D Division, Public Health Agency
Bremner, P., Burnett, J., Nunney, F., Ravat, M. & Mistral, W. (2011). Young People, alcohol and influences. Joseph Rowntree Foundation.
Burke, S., Schmied, V. & Montrose, M. (2006). Parental alcohol misuse and the impact on children. New South Wales: Centre for Parenting & Research.
BOTTLING IT UP: THE NEXT GENERATION. The effects of parental alcohol misuse on children and families. 
Farrell, M.P., Barnes, G.M., & Banerjee, S. (1995). Family cohesion as a buffer against the effects of problem-drinking fathers on psychological distress, deviant behavior, and heavy drinking in adolescents. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 377-385
Hope, A., Curran, J., Bell, G. & Platts, A. (2013). Unrecognised and under-reported: the impact of alcohol on people other than the drinker in Scotland. Glasgow, Scotland: Alcohol Focus Scotland.
Hope A. (2011). Hidden Realities: Children’s exposure to risks from parental drinking in Ireland. NWAF
Hope A (2014). Alcohol’s harm to others in Ireland. Dublin: Health Service Executive
 Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (ISPCC) (2010). “If they’re getting loaded, why can’t I?” A large-scale exploratory survey examining the behaviour and attitudes of young people in Ireland towards teen and parental alcohol use, and the effects of parental alcohol use on young people’s lives. Ireland: ISPCC.
Mylant, M., Ide, B., Cuevas, E. & Meehan, M. (2002). Adolescent children of alcoholics: vulnerable or resilient? Journal of the American Psychiatric Nurses Association, 8:57.
Room R, Ferris J, Laslett AM, Livingston M, Mugavin J & Wilkinson C. (2010). The drinker’s effect on the social environment: A conceptual framework for studying alcohol’s harm to others. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 7, 1855-1871; doi10.3390//ijerph7041855
TAKING THE LID OFF A resource for families living with addiction and problematic substance abuse. ASCERT.
Tusla / Barnados: Parenting Positively. Helping teenagers to cope with A Parent’s Problem Drug or Alcohol Use.
Velleman, R. & Templeton, L. (2007). Understanding and modifying the impact of parents’ substance misuse on children. Advances in Psychiatric Treatment, 13, 79-89.
https://www.barnardos.ie/assets/files/publications/free/childlinks_body21.pdf
http://www.rehabcenter.net/the-impact-of-parental-drug-and-alcohol-abuse-on-children/

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