Children of alcoholics in the UK: Getting help during adulthood is possible!

Growing up in an alcoholic environment can have a lasting effect on a person, and in some cases, may only become apparent in adulthood. An article on the effects of alcoholism on the family and what you can do to get help. More here.

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Parenting priorities: Alcohol or the home?

The children of alcoholics are vulnerable to a range of emotional and psychological problems due to the disjointed and unstable home life they can experience. The home can become a confusing place for a child when one or both parents are addicted to alcohol, with their behavior likely being erratic and influenced by their drinking.

Parental responsibilities will take a back seat to an alcohol addiction because the substance becomes the person’s priority, resulting in many children experiencing:

  • loneliness
  • anxiety
  • fear
  • neglect
  • violence

Growing up in this unstable environment can have a lasting effect on a person, and in some cases, may only become apparent in adulthood.

What effects do alcoholism have on kids?

The strain of living with an alcoholic parent and the dysfunctional nature of the environment can lead to difficulties in later life on both a personal and a professional level. For example, children of alcoholics can often suffer from poor academic performance. This can provide barriers to higher education and further qualifications, and affect future career prospects.

Living with an alcoholic parent can also cause deep feelings of shame or anger in a young person, unwilling to bring friends home for fear of their alcoholic parent embarrassing them or worse. These feelings can manifest in different ways as a person grows up.

The effects of growing up in an environment dominated by an alcoholic parent can be emotional and psychological, can be long-term, and have a significant bearing on how a child’s life turns out. Issues often seen later in life can include:

  • Poor self-esteem – Children of alcoholics can suffer from feelings of inadequacy and have little self-worth, become highly self-critical, and can blame themselves for their parent’s alcoholism.
  • Trust issues – An alcoholic parent may be deceitful in trying to cover their addiction. Experiencing this can cause trust issues which make sustaining meaningful relationships difficult, the fear of getting hurt being overwhelming.
  • Constant desire for approval – A strong desire for approval can develop due to a failure in caregiving in childhood.
  • Fear of abandonment – It may be that a child’s alcoholic parent was absent physically or emotionally, but this can develop into an abandonment issue and cause a child to feel extremely lonely. In some cases this can lead to an attachment to dysfunctional or unhealthy relationships.
  • Difficulties with intimacy – This can also lead to difficulty in forming fulfilling relationships, the inability to convey one’s needs or connect with someone emotionally providing a barrier.

These are just a few traits that some children of alcoholics develop which can leave them vulnerable to mental health issues such as anxiety or depression, or lead to issues with substance abuse.

Do the children of alcoholics develop repeat behaviors?


Research has indicated children of alcoholics are more likely to go on to suffer from addiction themselves. This can be because of a combination of genetic factors and environmental factors. Some may turn to alcohol as a coping mechanism, self-medication for a disruptive and harmful home life.

It is apparent that the presence of an alcoholic parent during childhood can in many cases lead to certain destructive behaviors in the child.

However, there are also many cases in which children of alcoholics grow up without developing mental health problems or emotional issues. In these cases it may be through the support of a non-addicted parent or strong availability of social support during their formative years from friends, other family or teachers.

Where can you go for help?

Dr Niall Campbell, Consultant Psychiatrist at Priory Hospital Roehampton, adds:

“It’s important to remember help is available. Often people don’t recognise these issues in themselves and can develop depressive and anxious states. However, most counselors and therapists will be well aware of these factors and be able to address them if someone seeks help.

This kind of therapy is available privately or through the NHS – your GP or charities such as MIND can recommend good people to go to.

There are also options such as Al-ANON, a group therapy of long-standing, specifically designed for relatives and children of alcoholics and addicts. Their meetings are widely available in the UK and Ireland and are free.”

Are you looking for help?

If you are the adult child of an alcoholic, you can heal from the past! If you’re having trouble knowing where to go, please leave us a comment in the section below. We’ll try to respond to you personally and promptly.

About the author
Priory is the leading provider of behavioural care in the UK including mental healthcare, education and children’s services, adult care and older people’s care. As the UK’s leading independent provider of addiction treatment services, Priory provides professional, specialist treatment programmes for a wide range of addictive substances and behaviours.
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