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Dr. Steve Frisch, Psy.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in
Chicago, Illinois and Northfield, Illinois.

You can contact Dr. Frisch, Psy.D. at
(847) 498-5611.

Recover from chemical dependency and its toxic impact on family members. Raise your children to choose to be alcohol and other drugs free. Learn how to in Dr. Frisch’s, Psy.D. Recovery book series.


How Alcoholism Impacts Children Raised in an Alcoholic Household: Part One


D
ear Dr. Steve:

I need some help. My best friend is married to an alcoholic. She has a 12-year old daughter and a 14-year old son. Her husband was recently released from prison after serving nine months for his third DWI conviction. The first thing he did when he was released from prison was go straight to his old watering hole and get good and drunk. The longest he’s held a job since I’ve known him is about 14 months. In the past, he has shown a streak of meanness that stops just short of beating my friend, but I think that’s only a matter of time. From my perspective, I can only see things getting a lost worse before they would ever begin to get better. My friend is bright and ambitious but when it comes to doing anything about this situation, she’s totally paralyzed. As much as I love her, she’s made her own bed and I suppose has to lay in it until she gets tired of all his crap. But what about the kids, it’s the kids that concern me. They’re innocents in all of this. Can you tell me what it is that I can say to my friend to get help, if not for her and/or husband’s sake, at least for the sake of these two innocent children?

Sadly, alcoholism is a family disease that negatively impacts every member of the family. Seldom is anyone spared. Your concern for everyone is both touching and well-founded. Oftentimes, a parent will do something for the sake of the well-being of their children long before they will do anything for themselves. I suggest that you encourage your friend to seek professional care and emotional support for her children and herself.

In terms of helpful information you can provide for her, maybe you can most effectively reach her by discussing what we know about how children may be affected by being raised in an alcoholic household.

1.) Alcoholism affects the entire family.
Living with an active alcoholic can negatively affect all members of your friend’s family. It’s not unusual for family members to react differently to the stress caused by alcoholism. Children of alcoholics are vulnerable to not growing in arrested emotional developmental growth. It’s important that your friend understand that the level of either her resiliency or dysfunction can greatly influence how her children will be affected by her husband’s alcoholism.

2.) Many people report being exposed to alcoholism in their families.
It’s important that you stress to your friend that she is not alone in what she is going through. Roughly one in eight American adult drinkers either abuses alcohol or is alcohol dependent. There are an estimated 26.8 million children of alcoholics in the United States. Some research suggests that over 11 million are under the age of 18. Seventy-six million Americans have been exposed to alcoholism in the family. Almost one in five adult Americans (18%) lived with an alcoholic while growing up.

3.) There is strong, scientific evidence that alcoholism tends to run in families. Children of alcoholics are more at risk for alcoholism and other drug abuse than children of non-alcoholics.
Does your friend know that children of alcoholics are four times more likely than non-children of alcoholics to develop alcoholism? Almost one-third of any sample of alcoholics has at least one parent who also was or is an alcoholic. Children of alcoholics are more likely than non-children of alcoholics to marry into families in which alcoholism is prevalent. She can make a difference in her children’s lives if she takes action today!

4.) Alcoholism usually has strong negative effects on marital relationships.
How your friend copes with her husband’s alcoholism will serve as a model for how her children copes with interpersonal difficulties. Compared with non-alcoholic families, alcoholic families demonstrate poorer problem-solving abilities, both among the parents and within the family as a whole. These poor communication and problem-solving skills may be mechanisms through which lack of cohesion and increased conflict develop and escalate in alcoholic families. This leaves your friend’s children vulnerable to recreate in their marriages much of the communication and behavior pattern that they are witness to now.

5.) Alcohol is associated with a substantial proportion of human violence. Perpetrators are often under the influence of alcohol.
It’s important that your friend know that studies of family violence frequently document high rates of alcohol and other drug involvement. Your friend and her children may potentially be at risk for being the target of your friend’s husband potential for violence.

6.) Children of alcoholics exhibit symptoms of depression and anxiety more than children of non-alcoholics.
There is considerable anecdotal clinical evidence that demonstrates that children of alcoholics are vulnerable to experiencing emotional distress. Children of alcoholics display elevated rates of psychopathology. Anxiety and depression are common among children of alcoholics. Younger children who are raised in alcoholic families often exhibit symptoms of depression and anxiety such as crying, bed wetting, not having friends, being afraid to go to school, or having nightmares. Older children may isolate themselves by staying in their rooms for long periods of time and/or cut themselves off from their friends.

7.) Children of alcoholics experience greater physical and mental health problems and higher health care costs than children from non-alcoholic families.
Your friend should know how family alcoholism affects the emotional and physical well-being of her children. Inpatient admission rates for substance abuse are triple that of children who were not raised in an alcoholic family. Inpatient admission rates for mental disorders are almost double that of children raised non-alcoholic families. Injuries are more than one and one-half times greater than those of children who are not raised in alcoholic households.

So what good is this information? What can your friend do with this information? It drives home the point that her children are in the line of fire—their emotional and physical well-being are at risk. Emphasize that she’s the last line of defense between her husband’s alcoholism and the impact that his alcoholism has on her kids. If she remains paralyzed, then her kids will remain exposed to the toxic impact of alcoholism. If she mobilizes herself, if she begins to make choices such as getting professional help for herself and her kids, if she takes her kids to Al-Anon and/or Alateen, her kids don’t have to wind up being another statistic in a column of mine. Emphasize to your friend that with help, she can make choices that will:

1.) Help her children develop autonomy and independence.
2.) Help her children develop a strong social orientation and social skills.
3.) Have her children engage in acts of required helpfulness.
4.) Help her children develop a close bond with a care-giver.
5.) Help her children cope with emotionally toxic experiences.
6.) Help her children perceive their experiences constructively.
7.) Help her children develop day-to-day coping strategies.

We know that the stronger your friend can make her family, the more resilient her children will become. If your friend maintains healthy family rituals or traditions, such as vacations, mealtimes, or holidays, she can strengthen the core of her family. If your friend can model how to safely and respectively confront her husband about his drinking and the impact of his drinking, her children will feel more empowered to assert their feelings and concerns as well. If your friend maintains friendships with concerned people like you, she will partially fill the void created by her husband’s drinking. Lastly, if your friend encourages her children to maintain an observance of a spiritual practice or religious observance, her children will be much more insulated from many of the toxic influences of their father’s drinking.

Perhaps your friend can take her kids to a support group for friends and family members of an individual who drinks and drugs such as Al-Anon and Alateen.

You can contact Al-Anon at:

Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc.
1600 Corporate Landing Parkway
Virginia Beach, Va. 23454
Tel # 757-563-1600
Fax # 757-563-1655
www.al-anon.alateen.org  
1-888-425-2666 for meeting information
Monday-Friday, 8am to 6 pm ET except holidays

You can contact Alateen at Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc.:

Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc.
1600 Corporate Landing Parkway
Virginia Beach, Va. 23454
Tel # 757-563-1600
Fax # 757-563-1655
www.al-anon.alateen.org  
1-888-425-2666 for meeting information
Monday-Friday, 8am to 6 pm ET except holidays


Recover from chemical dependency and its toxic impact on family members. Raise your children to choose to be alcohol and other drugs free. Learn how to in Dr. Frisch’s, Psy.D. Recovery book series—From Insanity to Serenity.

Pathfinder’s Checklist

1.) Alcoholism and drug addiction are family diseases.
2.) All family members are effected by the disease of alcoholism.
3.) One can continue to be affected by family alcoholism even after they’ve left their home and are well established in their adult life.
4.) There are identifiable characteristics that can be attributed to being raised in an alcoholic family.
5.) These identifiable characteristics can erode one’s emotional and spiritual well-being not matter what the circumstances of one’s life may be.
6.) Your friend and her children are not alone in what they’re going through. There’s a community of people who come together to break down the denial and heal the wounds that have been fermenting for years.

G.B.U.

Steve



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