Children of Alcoholics – National Celebration

Children of Alcoholics – National Celebration

Children of Alcoholics Week, February 10 - 18, 2013

Children of Alcoholics Week, February 10 – 18, 2013

Children of Alcoholics – a national celebration, February 10 – 16, 2013, and an international celebration the same week. Why a national and international celebration? To raise awareness about what happens to the silent victims of a parent’s chronic, often relapsing brain disease – alcoholism.

Children of Alcoholics experience brain changes as a consequence of living with a parent's alcohol abuse or alcoholism.

Children of Alcoholics experience brain changes as a consequence of living with a parent’s alcohol abuse or alcoholism.

Before I continue, let me first say – the purpose of this post is NOT to blame or shame parents who are alcoholics because they – and most of those not familiar with this brain disease – do not understand they have a brain disease. They do not understand that the nature of their disease makes it impossible for them to drink any amount and not exhibit the drinking behaviors that can change a child’s life.

Rather, the purpose of this post is to draw attention to what happens to the one in four children under age 18 who live with a family member who abuses or is addicted to alcohol. The purpose of this post is to help all of us better understand what we can and must do to help children of alcoholics (see suggestions below). This is so important because growing up in a home with undiagnosed, untreated, unhealthily discussed alcohol abuse or alcoholism can change the way a child’s brain develops and these developmental changes can make that child more susceptible to developing a substance abuse problem, mental illness or stress-related ailment themselves.

What Happens to Children of Alcoholics

You can imagine what happens when you think about what it’s like to be on the receiving end of a parent’s drinking behaviors and you don’t understand the reason for those behaviors (i.e., the alcohol changing how the brain works). In this video, kids share what it’s like:

Nick News: “Under the Influence: Kids of Alcoholics: Coping”

In her article, “Adult Children of Alcoholics, ACoAs: Qualities and Traits,” Dr. Tian Dayton, Clinical Psychologist and Author, shares the toll alcoholism takes on children as they try to stay out of harm’s way, avoid “triggering” their parent’s verbal or physical wrath, feel embarrassed to bring friends over, become anxious about their parent’s unpredictable behavior, or always feeling the need to take care of their parent instead of their parent taking care of them. The toll can include:

  • Problem with self-regulation
  • Hyper vigilance/anxiety
  • Emotional constriction
  • Loss of trust and faith
  • Unresolved grief
  • Traumatic bonding
  • Learned helplessness
  • Somatic disturbances
  • Tendency to isolate
  • High risk behaviors
  • Survival guilt
  • Shame
  • Developing rigid psychological defenses
  • Distorted reasoning
  • Depression with feelings of despair
  • Loss of ability to accept caring and support from others
  • Desire to self-medicate

Again, to learn more about the toll on children of alcoholics, please read Dr. Dayton’s post, “Adult Children of ACoAs: Qualities and Traits.”

To learn more about the connection between a child’s early experiences, such as those described here that occur when growing up with alcohol abuse or alcoholism in one’s family, and that child’s later-in-life health and well-being, check out the Centers for Disease Control (CDC)’s website, Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) Study, Major Findings.

What Can We All Do to Help Children of Alcoholics

1.  Help them understand their parent’s behaviors change because they drink – not because of anything they (the children) do or don’t do.

2.  Assure them they cannot do anything – not get good grades, not be super good or nice, not take care of their younger sibling, nothing – to make their parent stop drinking nor stop the behaviors they (their parents) exhibit when they drink (yelling, belittling, passing out, hitting, being confusingly nice or loving…).

3.  Help them understand that once their mom has had 3 drinks (and show them what a drink is) or their dad has had 4, the alcohol will most likely change their parent’s brain works and thus their behaviors. This change is caused by alcohol “sitting in the brain” waiting to be metabolized by the liver. [It takes the liver about one hour to metabolize one drink.] Brainstorm what they can do to keep themselves safe when this happens – quietly going to their room, for example.

4.  Assure them they are not alone – let them know that out of four children they know, one is also experiencing living in a family with alcohol abuse or alcoholism.

5.  Share this link from TeensHealth, Coping With an Alcoholic Parent.

6.  If you’re a teacher, general practioner or pediatrician – talk to your students or patients about secondhand drinking as a concept, in a manner that shares what happens when a person drinks too much – it may be the lead into a conversation a child needs in order to share what’s happening in their home.

To Learn More and Take Part in National Children of Alcoholics Week

Visit the National Association for Children of Alcoholics website and the Children of Alcoholics Week website.

Please do what you can – share this post with a teacher, pediatrician, friend or child. Most importantly, talk about it – it won’t go away until we bring this to light where it can be dealt with – for our children’s sake.

Lisa Frederiksen

Lisa Frederiksen

Author | Speaker | Consultant | Founder at
Lisa is the author of hundreds of articles and 11 books, including "If You Loved Me, You'd Stop!," "Addiction Recovery: What Helps, What Doesn't," and "Secondhand Drinking: the Phenomenon That Affects Millions." She is a national keynote speaker with over 25 years speaking experience, consultant, and founder of She has spent more than 14 years studying 21st century brain research in order to write, speak, and consult on substance use disorders prevention, intervention and treatment; mental disorders; addiction (aka substance use disorders) as a brain disease; adolescent addiction treatment vs adult addiction treatment; effective treatment for co-occurring disorders (having both a substance use and mental disorder); secondhand drinking | drugging; help for the family; and related subjects. In 2015, she founded SHD Prevention, providing training and consulting to companies, public agencies, unions, nonprofits and other entities to address the workplace impacts of employee secondhand drinking and alcohol misuse.
Lisa Frederiksen

Latest posts by Lisa Frederiksen (see all)

19 Responses to Children of Alcoholics – National Celebration

  1. Great post, LIsa. This is a silent epidemic and many children are left on their own to suffer the consequences of their parent’s drinking. My half brothers have told stories about being left alone at a young age, yelled at and neglected due to their mother’s drinking. It is not the way a child should be brought up. Thankfully my father took them to Indiana when he was transferred there as they were divorced and he had remarried my mom. They then went on to live in a much more stable environment. Thanks for sharing this information. This is a problem that affects us all!

    • Thank you SO MUCH for sharing your half brothers’ experiences as a child of an alcoholic. I’m sure other readers will see their story in what you’ve written which may be just the help they need to realize it wasn’t “them” and be open to finding ways of dealing with the fallout that can improve their own lives. Very much appreciate your comment, Cathy!

  2. Karen Barber says:

    Thank you for your wonderful list of things all of us can do to help children of alcoholics! We have created a prayer on our website to raise awareness and help others prayerfully consider how they can help children of alcoholics.

  3. Thanks so much for sharing this wisdom Lisa! It’s so important to get your message and teaching out to people who help these children – so that they do not take ownership for the habits of the parents.

  4. Marie Leslie says:

    It just breaks my heart to think of how children and families are so negatively impacted this way. This is a message that definitely needs sharing.

  5. Thank you for bringing awareness to children of alcoholics. The tip are a fantastic way fro everyone to help these silent victims.Spreading the word about this post, Lisa!

  6. Sherie says:

    Lisa, you really are a blessing, sharing the harm and negative effects that happens to a child of an alcoholic. This is an important message and I am sharing it. Keep up the excellent work!

  7. What an enlighening post matched and powerful message. Alcohlism was nothing that ever touhed my life much but for one summer when m uncle showed up on his summer school break with an alcoaddicion none of us had known of….he came to go cold turkey and withdraw but he failed to inform us….it ws ne chaotic, dramatic and at one point terrifing thing to observe!

    • Wow – that must have been a chaotic and terrifying experience! Thanks for sharing, Carl – it may help others better understand why some addicts/alcoholics may require medically supervised detox because the body can become physically dependent on the substance of choice, as well.

  8. Thank you Lisa, for all you do to help alcoholics and their families. It is heartbreaking to realize that the real victims are the children, and I agree with the others’ comments that this is a message that needs to be shared.

  9. Anita says:

    Amazing resources and such a wonderful blessing you are! I will be sharing!

  10. […] whose parents are addicted to prescription drugs today. Lisa Frederikson of recently shared facts about what happens to kids with alcoholic […]

Leave a reply