By: Emma Johnson, MFTC
Whether They’re Drinking it or Not, Alcohol in the Home is Impacting Your Kids
The impact of drinking on your kids is more significant than you think. Due to alcohol being legal and something you encounter daily it has become widely accepted and the risks significantly downplayed. The acceptance of alcohol spreads across countless scenarios. In modern-day society, ordering an alcoholic drink when out to eat has become an unspoken expectation, alcohol has become an essential component of celebrations, and it is seen as an acceptable means to “wind down” after a long day at work.
Consuming alcohol in moderation is not problematic, however, alcohol is still a drug. Alcohol falls into the category of depressants and even in small amounts can impact one’s inhibitions, perceptions, and emotions. It is very likely that the person you are when drinking is different from the person you are when you are sober.
The person drinking is usually the last to recognize these emotional, physical, and behavioral changes whereas those around you, especially your children, are the first. The shift in your personality when consuming alcohol becomes very apparent to those who love and cherish the sober version of you. The shift in your presence when consuming alcohol can cause loved ones to have difficulty recognizing the version of you they love.
There is a common misconception that alcohol only impacts the individual who is actively consuming it. Therefore, requests by other family members to decrease or cease consumption is usually met with resistance. However, the truth is that alcohol consumption has an impact on everyone in the individual’s system.
Every relationship undergoes a series of changes when alcohol consumption becomes problematic for one person. Among those most impacted are your children. Although they may not be consuming alcohol themselves and directly experiencing the above symptoms, the negative effects of alcohol are still impacting them.
Consider the Consequences of Your Drinking
Homes, where alcohol is frequently consumed by parents, are often characterized as chaotic or disorganized with consistent instability and uncertainty. The impact of drinking on your kids includes inconsistencies in expectations and interactions that can cause children to become confused and or upset.
Communication & Trust Issues:
Communication is highly impacted by the consumption of alcohol. Children rely on communication to connect, and the influence of alcohol can decline the ability to do so. Alcohol use can also cause one to become more secretive. Particularly if you notice that your child has noticed a difference in your presence and or behaviors, there is a higher likelihood of attempting to hide the alcohol consumption.
Keeping secrets in a family where problematic alcohol consumption takes place can cause children to develop significant issues in trusting others. Children oftentimes face broken promises which cause them to distrust others in the future. For a healthy parent-child relationship to persist, open and honest communication is a necessity and the consistent presence of secrets and lies decreases this opportunity.
Children who grow up in a home where alcohol consumption is frequent may have trouble establishing a sense of normalcy. Due to the lack of a harmonious parent-child relationship, children may experience confusion around what this kind of relationship may look like.
The impact of drinking on kids who are exposed to other families where drinking is not normalized may start to feel ostracized and be faced with further confusion and embarrassment when attempting to determine who is a good role model. Children may begin to exhibit some of the secret-keeping behaviors in response to recognizing their parents are not the same as others and feeling the need to hide them and their drinking behaviors from others.
Alcohol consumption can cause one to become verbally or physically aggressive, defensive, and irrational. Children who grow up in households where this is present are at a higher risk of suffering emotionally. Children raised in a household where frequent alcohol consumption persists are at higher risk of guilt, anger, embarrassment, confusion, low self-esteem and self-worth, depression, anxiety, suicidal ideations, and their own substance abuse. Many times, children blame themselves for their parent’s drinking and why they cannot stop.
Children who endure the regular drinking of their parents are also at higher risk of behavioral issues. Children may begin to withdraw from others socially and physically, stop attending school, and engage in violence or other problematic behaviors such as stealing. Sometimes children may also begin to exhibit unexplained physical symptoms such as stomach aches or headaches.
Lack of Quality Time & Abandonment:
Increased alcohol consumption requires increased time to fuel the habit. Alcohol can quickly become a priority and take precedence over quality time being placed into other things or people. Alcohol consumption makes you emotionally and physically unavailable.
For example, once intoxicated, one may forget previously agreed upon responsibilities, it may decrease the attention and love you supply to your child, it may change your focus to engaging in activities that only involve alcohol, or it may cause you to physically pass out.
Each one of these instances contributes to the neglect of your child. The lack of quality time can quickly escalate to an increased risk of neglect or abandonment of children for parents who heavily consume alcohol. Alcohol becomes people’s focus while other enjoyable relationships or activities are dismissed. The perpetual fear of abandonment can contribute to children’s tendency to maintain poor relationships due to their fear of being left alone.
To regain some of the love and attention children are missing in the home environment, they may consistently seek others’ approval. Sometimes, this causes children to exhibit perfectionist or overachiever tendencies as they try to make up for the lack of attention, love, and support received from their own parents.
As alcohol lowers people’s inhibitions, it also heightens their defense mechanisms and the likelihood of becoming aggressive. Consumption of alcohol increases the chance of verbal, physical, and sexual violence ensuing in front of children or directly towards them. If a child’s parent is to become violent when intoxicated, children may grow up to consistently fear those who are angry which can, in turn, contribute to an avoidance of conflict or confrontation due to history of it becoming violent. On the flip side, children may begin to exhibit more violent behaviors themselves due to experiencing this on a regular basis and as a means for someone to get what it is they want.
Although your kids may not be the ones consuming the alcohol, these wounds develop in childhood and over time turn into scars that carry on through an individual’s adolescence and adulthood. Reevaluating your perception of your alcohol consumption and considering the impact it may be having on your children can be a motivational push in redefining your relationship with alcohol.
Consumption of alcohol will not always result in the above consequences. However, this is a reminder that although you may believe your alcohol consumption is under control and or only impacting yourself, there is more at risk to consider. If you feel you are struggling with alcohol consumption, there are several things you can do to help:
• Support Groups
• Individual counseling
• Family counseling
• Behavioral treatments