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The impact on children of having alcoholic parents

Published 27/01/2008

The problems experienced by the grown-up children of alcoholic parents are even more severe and more widespread than those whose parents suffered from mental health disorders.

That was one of the shocking findings of a landmark UK survey into the childhoods of 23,000 adults across the UK, conducted in 1998 by Professor Martin Callingham on behalf of the National Association of Children of Alcoholics (NACoA).

The survey found that 6.2% of respondents claimed that they grew up in a family where one or both of the parents had an alcohol abuse problem, compared with 4.3% where one or both parents suffered from mental illness, indicating a more widespread problem.

Both groups suffered from considerable stress in childhood and reported clear indications of ways in which their childhood had affected their personality and behaviour of adults, says Deirdre Boyd, CEO of the Addiction Recovery Foundation and editor of the journal Addiction Today, where the results were published.

"The problems experienced by children of alcoholics are more severe and more widespread than those experienced by children of parents with a mental disorder," she adds.

Reported problems included lack of feeling, depression, irrationality, aggressiveness, nervousness, jitters, indecision and a sense of being ‘different to other people'.

Compared to the control group, many more people in both test groups had considered suicide, had eating disorders, had a drug addiction and had been in trouble with the police, especially as a child, as well as having above-average alcohol abuse and mental-health problems themselves.

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