Children of Alcoholics

By Alice Croal

Childhood, for many of us at least is a time we look back upon fondly. We reminisce about the time when we did not have a care in the world, however for some children in Britain, childhood is a time of fear and isolation.
These children are referred to as COAs (Children Of Alcoholics). Britain has always had a difficult relationship with alcohol and we are constantly reminded of the dangers of binge drinking and its effects to ourselves, what we are less aware of is the effect excessive use of alcohol by a parent has on children.
Alcoholics Anonymous is set up to help support and care for people with an alcohol dependency, but this does not help children who must tackle living with their parents alcohol dependency with little to no support, often experiencing psychological damage along the way.
A recent report from the Priory brought to light the shocking statistics of the effect alcoholic parents have on their children. In the case of child abuse 90% of cases involved at least one parent with an alcohol addiction and that 70% of COAs go on to later develop one or a variety of addictions such as alcohol, gambling, drugs, sex or food. It is not only young children that are effected, around 80% of all teenage suicides come from alcoholic homes and that if a child is raised with an alcoholic parent they are four times more likely to become an alcoholic in later life. This stems from that fact many scientists believe there is a hereditary predisposition to alcoholism. COAs often feel different from other children, and therefore unable to talk about it to anyone, many simply withdraw into themselves to help hide their parents problems from public scrutiny. It is ridiculous that a child should have to protect a parent.
In a report by Martina Tomori about the personality traits and characteristics of children with alcoholic parents the main uniting factor amongst COAs is the feeling of isolation they experience from other children at school. COAs often exhibit behavioral problems, preferring to keep themselves to themselves. The most common effects of living with an alcohol dependent parent are; low self-esteem, loneliness, guilty, helplessness, fear of abandonment and chronic depression. These personality traits can lead to problem with making relationships with others, the Priory report also states that a child from an alcoholic background is 50% more likely to get married to or live with an alcoholic in adulthood. Various non-profit organisations come to the consensus that children can end up blaming themselves, believing it is their fault for a parents behavior.

Isolation (courtesy of MNTC)

So the real question is, what are we doing to help these children? COAs are not few and bar between, in America alone 15% of all children are living with an alcoholic parent and it is estimated that in an average size classroom 6 children will have one parent with an alcohol addiction.
There are a variety of different non-profit organisations that specialize in helping COAs, such as Childline and NACoA (National Association for Children of Alcoholics) and the lesser known Alateen. A press release by Alateen states that they help children by giving them ‘an understanding of the illness and feel the benefits of realising they are not alone. They learn that they did not cause this problem and that they are not responsible for their relative’s or friend’s drinking or behaviour’.
Alateen is a branch of the Al-Anon group set up by Lois Wilson, wife of Bill Wilson, founder of Alcoholics Anonymous. Al-Anon is a world wide organization which focuses on supporting family members of an alcoholic, already making clear that the actions of alcoholics do not just effect them but all those around them with the tagline ‘Someone else’s drinking can affect your life’. Alateen was set up by a teenager in California who had a father in the AA and a mother in Al-Anon. The organisation offers support for children between the ages of 12-17 on how to cope with having an alcohol dependent parent. Support groups are set up and there are 800 groups across the UK and Ireland today. Alateen offers literature such as the book Hope for Today designed for the children of alcoholics which offers ‘daily thoughts and meditations based on the sharings of Al-Anon members with the family disease of alcoholism’. A member of this group, who wishes to remain anonymous commented that it’s ‘good to talk with others in the same age group. Some feel they can’t discuss any issues bothering them with the rest of their family’.
The truth is that there is no easy answer for alcoholics and COAs. We can however hope that with a raised awareness of the dangers of abuse and psychological problems, children in Britain can hope that for the future they will not have to feel alone in carrying the burden of living with an alcoholic parent.