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Alcoholism’s Effect on Children

When I meet with parents who are experiencing alcoholism, I am often told that their children don’t really know what’s going on—they’re too young. Yet I can tell you professionally and personally that you shouldn’t be so sure of that! My work with children and adolescents reveals that they know a lot more than their parents think they know, and often they blame themselves for the conflict in the home. It’s terribly confusing to children to be told by parents not to lie but when the child asks mom why she is crying the response is, “Nothing honey, I’m fine.” It’s crazy making!

Let me be clear though that I am not suggesting you tell the child too much either because they are not parents. It’s okay to say, “Adults have conflicts just like kids do and your dad and I are having a disagreement. We still love each other though. We will work it out.”  It’s okay to use child-friendly terms for alcohol too and explain that when someone has too much alcohol, they act differently. Ask your child if they have questions or if something bothers them but then listen to their responses and don’t make excuses.

If one or both of the adults in the home are under the influence of alcohol, do NOT argue in front of the kids. Choose to talk to your spouse about his/her drinking when they are not under the influence.

Most importantly, get help. Every situation is different so there is no one size fits all guidance.  See a counselor who is experienced in addiction to get wise counsel. Going to support groups like Al-Anon or Celebrate Recovery can also be helpful. Remember, you didn’t cause it, you can’t cure it and you can’t control it.

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