Children of all ages suffer when a parent has a problem with drinking. Children rely on their parents for care and support – it can be really tough when the person you need to care for you at times of upset and distress is the source of that upset and distress.
Children are never to blame when a parent has a drink problem
You didn’t cause it
You can’t control it
It is not your fault
One in eleven children in Ireland say their lives are negatively affected by a parent’s drinking. Maybe you or some-one you know has a parent whose drinking is a problem? As each child and family is unique, every child will have different circumstances to cope with and will be affected differently.
Here are some of the ways in which parental alcohol problems can affect a child or young person’s life
Isolation and secrecy
Although a parent’s drinking and the effects of that drinking are often very obvious, people can act as if it isn’t happening or it can become a family secret.
Secrecy makes it harder to look for support and help. It can also mean that you miss out on important family celebrations because they are forgotten. Or it might be in case the drinker gets drunk and becomes an embarrassment or worse.
Unpredictable and chaotic lives
It can be hard to know what’s going to happen next, tomorrow, or even next week. Routines like mealtimes and bedtimes may or may not happen. Will Mam or Dad be drinking today? Not knowing what comes next or what to expect makes home an unpredictable and sometimes unsafe place, creating worry, anxiety and confusion.
Conflict at home
When a parent has a drink problem, there can also be fighting, bullying and even violence at home. Sometimes, that might involve the adults only – Other times the children in the home can be directly involved and may get hurt.
Whether or not violence or aggression is directed at you or at some-one else, being a witness when this is going on is often frightening and distressing. When arguments and fights become a regular part of family life, you can find yourself getting anxious waiting for the next fight to start. It is never okay for some-one to use violence or bullying to hurt or control another person.
Neglect means a child is harmed because they were left without something they needed over a period of time. This “something” could be enough food or clothes, a warm and safe home, or it could be the care and affection of a parent.
When a lot of money is spent on alcohol, it can mean that there is little left for things needed by the family. This can include necessities such as food or money for bills as well as clothes and school expenses.
Taking on parental responsibilities
You might find yourself taking on a parent’s responsibilities such as caring for younger sisters and brothers or doing the cleaning and shopping. Some children become like a parent to their Mam or Dad – for example, they mind them and make sure they don’t injure themselves when they’re drunk.
Find out more about children affected by problem drinking parents through Alcohol Action Ireland’s campaign Keeping it in the Family: Children living with problem drinking parents.