Children of Alcoholics ‘Damaged’

Children who grow up with alcoholic parents bear emotional, behavioural and mental scars, experts say. The Priory study said children of alcoholics were four times more likely to be addicted to drink and there was a risk of drug and gambling problems. The private health provider said a child’s early life was characterised by chaos, trauma, confusion and shame and, quite often, sexual and physical abuse. The report found 55% of domestic violence occurs in alcoholic homes.

The Priory reviewed existing data on crime, abuse and alcoholism as well as consulting its own doctors and therapists to compile the report. It said the problems children of alcoholics experience in early life had a profound impact later in life.

The report said growing up in an alcoholic household was inextricably linked to abuse. Some 55% of family violence occurs in alcoholic homes with alcohol a factor in 90% of child abuse cases.

Studies have also showed a third of daughters of alcoholics experienced physical abuse and a fifth sexual abuse – up to four times higher than in non-alcoholic homes, the Priory said.

The report said children reacted in one of three ways – either they became withdrawn, went into denial or used the experience to benefit themselves by becoming stronger.

Many of the children of alcoholics, even those who would perhaps have been withdrawn, could grow up to be likeable, kind and intuitive.

But the problems surfaced when they had to confront difficulties.

The report said: “Their feelings about themselves are the opposite of the serene image they present – they generally feel insecure, inadequate, dull, unsuccessful, vulnerable and anxious”.

They also struggled to develop strong personal relationships.

Researchers said previous studies had revealed that 70% of children of alcoholics develop compulsive behaviour around either alcohol, drugs, food, sex, work or gambling, while a half ended up marrying alcoholics.

And they said children of alcoholics were four times more likely to become alcoholics – partly because of genetics – than the one in 20 of the general population that have the condition currently.

Priory addictions expert Dr Michael Bristow said: “There is a widespread misconception that addiction is all about the addict, that it is solely the addict who suffer from his illness.

“The reality? Alcoholism affects the adult alcoholic’s entire family, particularly the children.”

Professor Martin Plant, an addiction expert at the University of the West of England, said: “These findings are not altogether surprising. But what I would like to stress, is that it is not inevitable.

“The children of alcoholics can break the cycle, many end up loathing alcohol and refusing to let it destroy their lives like it may have done to their parents.”